Monday, August 29, 2011

A Stolen Life

I was 5 years old when Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped, and I was 24 when she was finally discovered.

A Stolen Life is Jaycee's memoir, a look into those 18 years that were taken from her and her family. She recounts, sometimes in vivid detail, the horrors she faced at the hands of Phillip Garrido and his wife. She explains how she came to rely on him and, most shockingly, to want to protect him from those who would be looking for her. She explains that he was her life, her only connection to the world and human interaction.

Jaycee was only 11 when she was abducted, just a shy girl who desperately wanted to fit in with the other kids but had a hard time putting herself out there. She was so young and didn't understand the world yet; when Garrido told her how cruel the outside world was, she believed that she was better off living in a tent in his backyard. When his parole officers came to the house to check on him, she made to sure to keep quiet so they wouldn't take her away from the protected environment she knew. Even when she bore two children, both the products of Garrido's abuse, she was too afraid to do anything to save herself or them.

So much of this book was shocking. It's hard to understand how Jaycee felt safe and loved by Garrido and his wife, but with 18 years of brainwashing that started at such a young age, I suppose it's not impossible. Garrido had her believing that she was actually helping other girls, because since she was the one bearing the brunt of his "problem" (his sexual issues) he would not go out looking for more victims.

There were many times the justice system failed Jaycee. Parole officers routinely showed up at the Garridos' home and no one noticed, or seemed to care, that there was more to the property or that children were living at the residence. Garrido's mental health was being monitored by therapists, but even when he admitted to speaking to and hearing "angels" no one took a closer look or really tried to help him.

But what is perhaps the most shocking thing of all is that, had it not been for Garrido's delusion that he could get away with bringing the whole family to his parole officer's building, no one would have known Jaycee Dugard was still alive.

This is not a memoir for the faint of heart, nor is it one you should pass up simply because the subject matter is difficult. There were times I wanted to put the book down and forget any of it ever happened, but that would have been yet another injustice for Jaycee. Her story should be told. It should be used as a warning: don't overlook the little things. There are people out in the world who need our help, who are too scared or too weak to speak up for themselves, and if you see something out of place you should tell someone. No one looked out for Jaycee for 18 years, and in the end she almost didn't look out for herself. It's a miracle she made it through her ordeal and lived to tell her tale from the freedom of her own home. We should all listen.

4 out of 5 stars.


  1. Sometimes there's a news story that really touches my heart, and this was one of them. I believe I am the same age as Jaycee (we were both born in 81, I think...) and I live fairly close to where it all happened, so it feels somehow personal. I could have been her, you know? Anyway, when I saw the news report that she'd been found alive, I just cried and cried. It's not often there's a "happy" ending to stories like this (not that anything about this story other than her rescue can be called "happy"). Nice review, too. :)

  2. To have that moment where you think it could've been you would be so surreal. I'm glad as well that Jaycee got her happy ending, even if it was a long time coming.