“In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen.”
Simon and Schuster has just released A Stolen Life, a memoir by Jaycee Dugard. A portion of the proceeds from the book and audio book (read by the author) will go to The JAYC Foundation, which provides support and services for the timely treatment of families recovering from abduction and the aftermath of traumatic experiences.
About the book : Dugard narrates the story in the present tense, beginning with the harrowing day of her abduction at the age of 11–her confusion, her terror, her absolute powerlessness as Phillip and Nancy Garrido paralyzed her with a stun gun, dragged her into the car, shoved her to the floor, and drove her from Tahoe to Antioch, California, to the dismal backyard compound where she would spend the next 18 years of her life. Scroll down to read an excerpt.
Each chapter is followed by a reflection, in which Dugard, who has been in therapy since her rescue in 2009, reveals her feelings about the ordeal now, as an adult looking back at the suffering of her younger self. Dugard’s writing style is direct and lucid, filled with detail; the naturalness of her writing is all the more impressive given the fact that her formal education stopped at the age of 11.
Dugard writes about discovering she was pregnant at the age of 14, and about delivering two baby girls in her back yard prison. She writes about how dependent she was on Phillip Garrido for everything. For most of the first six years of her captivity, she was locked in a soundproof room. Garrido convinced her that he knew everything she did. She lived in fear of getting “in trouble,” certain that he would use the stun gun again.
When her youngest daughter was two years old, Dugard was finally allowed to begin going out in public. By then, she had been so manipulated by Garrido that she believed his terrible lie: that she was safer in the back yard compound than she would be out in the world, and that her daughters were safer there as well. On outings, she avoided looking people in the eye; repeatedly, she mentions her feelings of invisibility.
Through it all, we see Dugard’s attempt to live as normal a life as possible–caring for a series of beloved pets, creating a school for her children, establishing small routines, and later, keeping the Garridos financially afloat by running the family printing business–often while Phillip and Nancy spent their days in a drug-induced slumber. She even keeps a journal, portions of which are presented–in her own childish print–in the book. Later journal entries reveal Jaycee struggling with many of the things any twenty-something young woman struggles with: her weight, her desire to eat more healthfully and be more motivated. These entries are extraordinarily poignant, infused with Jaycee’s longing, all these years after her abduction, to be with her mother; her desire to be free mixed with uncertainty about where she would go, or how she would take care of her children, if she were ever to leave; her confusion about Nancy and Phillip’s role in her life. After all, they have become her “family,” but she desperately wants to be with her real family, to be held once again by the mother whose face she can no longer remember, but whose love she remembers vividly.
Some of her journal entries include lists of dreams she has for her life. Along with taking a hot-air balloon ride, visiting Ireland, and learning two languages, she dreams of writing a best-seller. She has done just that; the day of its release, A Stolen Life hit #1 on Amazon.
Dugard also explains her reason for writing this book: she will no longer hide Garrido’s secret, she will no longer protect him from the truth of what he did to her. Others will know the brutality of his abuse.
This is a heartbreaking book from a brave and unbelievably resilient young woman, who now looks forward to a normal life for her and her two daughters. It is also inspiring; so much was taken from Dugard, and yet she has chosen to move forward without hatred. While she still experiences loneliness, she writes, she has fully embraced the joys of making home-cooked meals with her family, walking on the beach, and simply being free. Buy the book.
A note about Michaela Joy Garecht: Jaycee’s return to her family in 2009, 18 years after her abduction by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, momentarily gave hope to other parents of missing children–in particular to Sharon Murch, the mother of Michaela Joy Garecht, who was kidnapped from a Hayward, California, parking lot in 1988, and who has never been found.
Having done a great deal of research into missing children while writing The Year of Fog, I followed Jaycee’s case with deep interest. One cannot help but be amazed by the fact that she survived and raised her daughters in such harrowing circumstances, and that she has now turned her efforts to helping other families through the J A Y C Foundation. Scroll down for a link to donate to the JAYC Foundation or to purchase pinecone jewelry to support the foundation. (A pinecone was the last thing Jaycee touched before she was dragged into the Garridos’ car two decades ago. It is “a symbol of hope and new beginnings,” she told Sawyer. “There is life after something tragic.”
Excerpt from A Stolen Life:
In the summer of 1991 I was a normal kid. I did normal things. I had friends and a mother who loved me. I was just like you. Until the day my life was stolen.
For eighteen years I was a prisoner. I was an object for someone to use and abuse.
For eighteen years I was not allowed to speak my own name. I became a mother and was forced to be a sister. For eighteen years I survived an impossible situation.
On August 26, 2009, I took my name back. My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard. I don’t think of myself as a victim. I survived.
A Stolen Life is my story—in my own words, in my own way, exactly as I remember it.
View a video clip of Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jaycee Dugard here.
View Jaycee Dugard’s website, The JAYCFoundation, here.
Purchase pinecone jewelry to support the foundation here.
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Michelle Richmond is the author of The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room, and The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress.