June 4, 2011
Yesterday in El Dorado superior court in Placerville, CA Phillip Garrido was given life in prison and his wife Nancy was given 36 years for the kidnapping and sexual enslavement of Jaycee Dugard. Although the case received international media attention when it first broke in 2009 the graphic details of the abuse suffered by Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at the age of 11 and held captive for 19 years, had not been made public until today.
When I read about it in the paper I couldn’t help but to compare it to the autobiography of Harriet Jacobs who was born into slavery. She wrote the slave narrative under a pseudonym and it is called Linda Brent, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In the book Jacobs recalls confining herself to a small garret for several years to escape the sexual advances of her philandering owner. Similarly Dugard lived in a tent in the backyard of the Garrido’s property for 19 years until she was rescued, but unfortunately for Dugard she could not escape the advances of her captor. Dugard was raped repeatedly and had two children by Phillip Garrido.
The element of the story that most reminded me of something from the antebellum South was that Jaycee had to go by another name while in captivity. Phillip Garrido called her Snoopy and eventually she chose the name Alissa for herself. It was this kind of resocialization that led Dugard to believe that she was living a normal life and that the people who had stolen her off the street really loved her, therefore she refused to run away even when Phillip Garrido went to prison for a parole violation. Dugard said that she never ran away because if she did she wouldn’t know how to take care of herself or how to make money. She worried that her two girls would starve to death.
I once read in an article that when West Africans were marched from the inlands of Africa to the slave fortresses on the coast in preparation for the brutal middle-passage, everyone would be chained or bound together except the women with very small children. The reason being that the possibility of a woman running away with a baby in her arms was very low and if she did try to run then she wouldn’t get far; thus the baby in itself served as a form of shackles.
The Jaycee Dugard case is a reminder that slavery is not merely the physical ownership of a human being but it is mental control as well. Once a person convinces another person that they cannot take care of themselves then they have effectively transformed that individual into a submissive being. Just like the pimp does the prostitute, like the missionary does the native, like the master does the slave, and like the police do the poor.
The Jaycee Dugard story is woefully sad and I pray that she will have the ability to rise up from slavery like my ancestors did.