Sunday, August 30, 2009

Prison of the Mind

I have had a morbid fascination this week with the news story from Antioch, CA about the girl kidnapped 18 years ago who was recently liberated from her abductor. Jaycee was snatched off the street between her home and the bus stop as she headed for school in Reno one morning. She was 11 years old. Her stepfather chased after the car and got the license number, but it was never found. Neither was Jaycee. Until last week.

As the story goes, Jaycee was held in a concealed section of yard behind her abductor’s house. She is now 29. She has two daughters, age 15 and 11, fathered by her abductor, who is nearly twice her age, is married, is psychotic, and is a registered sex offender who was visited several times a month by an oblivious parole officer who never looked in the back yard. The abductor’s wife helped him keep Jaycee and her daughters captive. I’m not usually one to pay attention to these sensationalized horrifying stories. So what is it about this horrendous tale that keeps me reading? The key lies in one of the few quotes from Jaycee publicized in the media. The girl said that she feels guilty that she didn’t try harder to escape.

She didn’t try harder to escape. At first. Then she didn’t try at all. Obviously. She and her daughters never left that substandard living situation until very recently. They used a makeshift outhouse. They lived in tents. They had no contact with the outside. Their entire world was that small backyard. No TV. No internet. No conversation with other children. Other people. Only the psychotic abductor, father to the two daughters, and his disturbed wife. Jaycee gave birth to those children out there with no medical attention. They have had no schooling. The thing that fascinates and puzzles me is why they stayed as time went by. Didn’t the children have questions about what lay beyond the fence? Over the course of 18 years, there must have been opportunities to escape that were never taken. A psychologist who is working with Jaycee and her daughters spoke about why Jaycee stayed: “It sounds simplistic, but the real prison was her brain.”

That yard and the constricted life Jaycee and her daughters led can be applied to all of us to some extent, each of us living within our own frame of reference, trapped in our reality, our perspective. It makes me step back and question. What are the walls of my personal prison? What is the fence that I fail to see beyond, the door that I choose not to open? Gives me pause.

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