TERRY PRONE: Let us hope a woman frozen in childhood learns to live again

THE sunshine made the photographs of Jaycee Lee Dugard’s prison look better than it was.

The WELCOME sign on the tree outside, together with the ornaments of butterflies and bells, gave a crazy look of a happy children’s refuge.

The furry toys, including what were described as “threadbare” teddies, may have given the three children in Philip Garrido’s insane custody some comfort. Studies of orphaned chimpanzees showed that when presented with a wire construction meant to represent their lost mother, they were much more likely to choose and cling to the construction if it was covered in a soft fabric than if it was left bare – even if the hard, uncovered version contained a baby’s bottle of milk for the small animal to drink from. Even a baby chimp needs something soft and warm, something to own and love.

Their captor – or, perhaps, his collusive wife – also allowed the children to have a cat or cats, and their affection for theseanimals is evidenced, not just by the prominent position of the dry cat food container in the chaos they knew as home, but by the presence of other items related to cats, including a jig-saw puzzle.

Caring for animals has always been at least a temporary way to locate the humanity in emotionally-deprived people.

In the 1960s, a film starring Burt Lancaster was made about one of them, a prisoner known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, who raised and studied budgies while incarcerated.

The film portrayed Robert Stroud, who published more than one book on the health of budgies from the prison, as a misunderstood gentle human being. In fact, Stroud was incontinently violent inside prison and out.

His first killing was of a barman who wouldn’t pay the prostitute for whom Stroud acted as pimp. He took the dead man’s wallet as payment for the woman’s services. In prison, he killed again, and was soirrationally and unpredictably dangerous that he served the last 17 years of his life in solitary. The story of his fascination with budgies tends to be told as an indicator that even at that late stage of his life, he, the most emotionally barren of men, could be humanised by contact with animals.

It must be hoped that this proves to be true for Jaycee Lee Dugard’s children, who were, in many ways, in a worse situation than was Stroud, who was at least surrounded by the harsh predictable regularity of the prison system.

The two offspring of an abducted teen mother, on the other hand, were in the volatile care of a convicted rapist.

Garrido’s father maintains he was certifiable due to a combination of head injury and LSD.

To judge by the vapourings on his website and the nonsense he talked to the officers who arrested him, he was undoubtedly living in a parallel universe. Within that universe, kidnapping, imprisonment, rape and failure to provide education or healthcare for the children resulting from multiple assaults on their teenage mother amounted, as he sees it, to a “heartwarming story”.

We don’t yet know if the two younger children were raped by this man. All we know is that their complete lack of social skills led to the questioning which in turn led to Garrido being charged and to Jaycee being united with her mother and stepfather.

None of the witnesses to the significant encounter in the university grounds have specified what precisely is meant by “complete lack of social skills”. Presumably the two children can talk, although two factors might have prevented their development of speech.

One of those factors would have been Garrido’s need to control them, which might have caused him toimpose silence on them. (Just how much control was necessary is questionable. Neighbours seem to have been remarkably complaisant about filthy and visibly odd children playing in the backyard of a house from which they never exited in school uniforms during term time.) The other possible reason for poor verbal development might be depression on the part of their mother, which would be understandable and might lead to silence on her part. Studies show children to be remarkably adept at picking up and being influenced by depression on the part of their mother.

OTHER than the soft toys and the cat-connected clues, the only other positive factor in Garrido’s den of deprivation is the bookshelves. In the photographs, those bookshelves are stuffed with paperbacks. Stuffed to overflowing – books laid flat across the tops of rows of upright volumes.Even in newspaper pictures, it’s possible to make out the thin white lines running vertically down the spines of the paperbacks, indicative of reading and re-reading.

Jaycee was well able to read when, as a child, she was snatched off the street to be tortured for 18 years. So these books, in their bestseller-variety, must have provided some stimulus, albeit a strange one, for the child’s imagination.

They ranged from Danielle Steele’s romantic wallowings to James Patterson’s judicial thrillers, fromPatricia Cornwell’s forensic police procedurals to fantasy novels, including one volume on how to engender greater self-esteem in your children.

They offered the child some insight into the outside world she rarely saw and had undoubtedly been taught by Garrido to fear. He was her protector, provider andinterpreter to such an extent that it seems miraculous that, after spending 18 years with him – more time, remember, than she had spent with her mother and step-father – she still had the emotional intelligence to apologise to her retrieved parents for having bonded with her torturer.

When white children abducted by native American tribes during the 19th century were, after several decades, re-captured by US troops and returned to their families, they tended to reject those families and to yearn for the Indian tribe life.

They did not apologise to their original families for falling in love with their tribal families, but rather resented their “re-captors” and sought to escape whenever they could. The same life-long grieving was uniformly the experience of feral children raised by animals and eventually brought back to civilised living; they pined for what they clearly felt was their real life.

Psychologists have constantly, over the last few days, referred to Stockholm syndrome, whereby kidnap victims develop an affinity and even an affection for their captors. Stockholm syndrome, like the capacity of a mouse to “play dead” is an instinctive coping behaviour which allows victims of physical and emotional abuse to survive.

It would be unwise to believe Stockholm syndrome will emerge as the complete explanation for Jaycee’s reactions, state of development and prognosis for the future.

Also in play will be her genetic endowment.

Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has always maintained that the parenting practices of a couple are less important, in the development of their child, than the genes they pass on to the child.

With luck, what Jaycee inherited from her birth parents may help her overcome the horrors visited on her.

The woman frozen in childhood is long overdue some luck.

As are her children.


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