Over the past three days I’ve been completely consumed by Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, “A Stolen Life.” Jaycee was abducted by two strangers on her way to school in 1991 at age 11. For the next eighteen years, she was held in captivity by Phillip and Nancy Garrido until her rescue in 2009. She endured years of sexual and psychological abuse and gave birth to two daughters with her captor, the first when she was only 14 years old.
Jaycee’s memoir covers a vast range of topics, from her life before the Garridos, to her kidnapping, sexual abuse (including many gruesome “runs” when Phillip Garrido would get high on crank [meth] and rape her continuously for days), her 1st and 2nd pregnancies, daily life in the backyard compound, excursions out into the real world, Garrido’s printing business, using the internet to have “school” for her children, Phillip Garrido’s religious zeal and beliefs, dealing with her constant internal debate of fleeing or staying the Garridos, and her life post-recovery. The book is a mixture of 1st person narration and real journal entries from her time in captivity.
What interested me most in Dugard’s account was that in spite of being almost entirely isolated from the “real world” for 18 years, she lived vicariously through the TV and internet and many of her entries seem as if she had a relatively normal life. She talks about her love of Star Trek, watching the twin towers fall on TV, her favorite Kelly Clarkson songs and waking up to make coffee and watch the Today Show. But then she reminds her audience that she lives in a tent, pees in a bucket and eats fast food every day. What a bizarre existence! And most amazing of all– she says that in spite of the Garridos ruining her childhood, taking her away from her family and abusing her for 18 years, she isn’t full of regret and she isn’t full of hate– she just wants to get on with her life.
The most frustrating element of this book is just realizing how terribly easy it would have been for Jaycee to escape and how terribly the police failed her. First of all, Phillip Garrido was already a convicted rapist on probation. His parole officer showed up all the time, but never thought to look in the backyard. There were dozens of times when the Garridos took Jaycee in public and she could’ve easily escaped, but once her daughters were born, she felt she couldn’t leave without taking them with her. Also, most frustrating of all, Jaycee had internet access for a huge portion of her captivity, but Phillip warned her that computers tracked everything you did online and that he would check up on her. If only she knew how to erase her search history, she could’ve been freed in the mid-nineties!
To properly appreciate A Stolen Life, you have to be an animal lover. If I hadn’t grown up with many pets, I’m sure I would’ve been bored by half of the book. She spends so much time detailing all of her different pets, because aside from her children, that’s all she had for 18 years. Of course, this was all part of Garrido’s method of manipulating Jaycee: Jaycee wants a cat, Garrido gets her a cat, she spends every day for months playing with it and Garrido takes it away; Jaycee gets a new cat, Garrido takes it away; Jaycee finds two cats, neighbor dogs kill the cats; Jaycee gets a pet bird, Nancy Garrido leaves it out in the cold and it freezes to death, and so on and so forth. It’s actually very frustrating to read because every time Jaycee gets a pet and talks about the process of naming it and training it and loving it, you know its only a matter of time before Garrido takes it away or something kills it, and then Jaycee is heartbroken again.
The only part of the book that I found rather dull was the extremely detailed accounts of her equine therapy post-recovery. I appreciated all that Jaycee had to say about seeing her mom and family again, getting to know her little sister (who was a baby when she was kidnapped and is now in college) and becoming independent, but all the info on horse therapy almost seemed corny and dull. So a bucket of grain represents Jaycee’s story and the horse represents the media, so a shed represents the Garridos and a horse represents Jaycee– unfortunately all of this at the end of the book was rather boring to me after such an amazing and emotional recovery. In my opinion, she should’ve ended the book after reuniting with her family and talking about her new life with them– the dullest part of the book shouldn’t be the ending.
At any rate, I highly recommend this book to everyone. It can be extremely frustrating and depressing at times, but it is an amazing first hand account of the best and the worst of humanity. What Jaycee lived through is completely unbelievable and her story is definitely the most interesting memoir I’ve ever read. 4.5/5 stars.
OH– and for those of you who were wondering, Phillip and Nancy confessed to their crimes in court. Phillip received a punishment of 431 years in jail and Nancy received 36 years – life.