Written by Katherine Webb-Hehn // Photography by Liesa Cole
On a rainy afternoon in February, Jaycee Lee Dugard stood between empty horse stalls on the pastoral grounds of the Red Barn in Leeds, Alabama, as her team prepped for the next event in an all-day Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) training session.
“Today,” she said, her familiar smile widening as she gestured toward a group of a dozen law enforcement officials who waited in a nearby barn, “is about taking my story and using it in a positive way.”
Chances are, you’ve probably seen part of the 36-year-old’s story on TV: the initial news and the freckle-faced photos of Dugard when she first went missing in 1991, abducted on her way to catch the school bus in South Lake Tahoe, California, when she was only 11 years old, how her step-father chased the vehicle on his mountain bike, or those same photos appearing when she was found 18 years later after police discovered she’d been held captive, hidden in an Antioch backyard in a collective of sheds, tents, and lean-tos by Phillip Garrido, a previously convicted sex offender, who repeatedly raped her for those two decades. You probably remember learning of the two daughters she bore, or the details of the case that were made known after the three were recovered—that Garrido had been released early from a 50-year sentence for a 1977 rape conviction after a judge determined he would not carry out “sexual fantasies” without the use of drugs, that the convict claimed to have been healed through God’s guidance, and that even though his parole required him to wear a GPS ankle bracelet and to be visited repeatedly by parole officers, none of the court-ordered surveillance led to Dugard’s recovery.
Instead, in 2009, when Lisa Campbell, a UC Berkeley special events coordinator, met Garrido as he applied to hold a religious event on campus, she noticed he and the young girls accompanying him were behaving strangely. Campbell asked one of her fellow UCPB officers, Ally Jacobs, to look into Garrido.
That’s when Dugard’s story changed. But she was never interested in being the story.
Dugard never intended to play the public role of victim or sit idly by while another specialist described the effects of Stockholm Syndrome to explain away how someone might survive all those years. As Dugard (pronounced doo-guard, not dug-ard) describes in her bestselling books, A Stolen Life and Freedom: My Book of Firsts, in order to survive, she had to make the best of her situation.
Nearly eight years after her recovery, that mentality guides her philosophy as the president and founder of the JAYC Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit with a mission “to be of service to families that have suffered a familial or non-familial abduction or other trauma; to spread the message of compassion and awareness through educational programs; to encourage the collaboration of various entities to provide ‘Protected Spaces’ for families to heal.”
That rainy afternoon at the Red Barn, the Leeds-based nonprofit that offers equine therapy for a wide range of people from differently-abled children to veterans, Dugard told a small crowd that she launched the JAYC Foundation in 2011 to use her story to help others. With similar missions and methods, the two organizations were a natural fit and have partnered for the past three years.
“The horses have a way of connecting with people,” Dugard said. She fit in with the Red Barn staff in muddy boots, worn-in jeans, and a puffy rain jacket. And like the others, Dugard was calm with keen eyes, especially when she talked about the horses, searching for the way to describe how powerful their presence can be.
Ask these women why they work with horses, and their eyes light up. “Love” isn’t a strong enough word. They’ll say things like: They’re something Zen about them. They’re truly magical beings full of beauty, grace.
The same can be said of Dugard.
To found JAYC, Dugard partnered with Dr. Rebecca Bailey, a clinical and forensic psychologist who guided her through her own recovery, using some of the same equine therapy techniques they now incorporate into programming.
Bailey stood by Dugard’s side as the two described their work. Like old friends, they often finish each another’s sentences. The psychologist’s energy, in contrast to Dugard, was palpable—she joked that she’s the clown of the bunch—as her boots stirred in the dirt and pendants danced between a half-zipped down jacket. In their programs, Bailey is the comedian to Dugard’s straight woman, the “loud mouth” or “instigator” as she said, but as the two described their relationship, it was clear they complement one another in more meaningful ways, clear that they relish their friendship. (Later, as Bailey climbed a set of bleachers to “get higher than you because I’m more important,” Dugard laughed, saying, “And now we have that on record.”)
“She came into my program two days after she was recovered,” Bailey said, her eyes mocking a cartoonish whoa. “We did a lot of hiking, walking and eating with the animals. … Later, we learned we had a lot in common. She told me she wanted to have a program working with animals, too, and I was like, ‘Oh, sure,’ but then she brought her diary from before she was taken, and there it was in print. You can call it whatever you want depending on your spirituality, but we believe something was bringing us together.”
So together, they founded JAYC. The acronym, an obvious nod to Dugard’s first name, also stands for “Just Ask Yourself to Care.” It also encapsulates that gut instinct Lisa Campbell felt when she saw Garrido on campus that day, the moment that led to Dugard’s recovery.
The LEO training, Dugard said, uses those elements from her story, the instinct as well as the lack thereof. “There wasn’t a lot of communication between agencies in my case. We talk a lot about that. We use some of the mistakes and opportunities, using the horses to take participants’ defenses down, so we can talk about this in a positive and fun way.”
“Law enforcement need supportive, directive, common sense communication,” Bailey added. “When you approach it that way, they tend to be more open to input. And we use a ton of humor.” They invited the group to watch and see for themselves.
The team jogged through the rain into the adjacent barn where the law enforcement participants were waiting. Often, JAYC sees groups of all men. The day before, an all-male team from Leeds PD attended the workshop at Red Barn, but waiting for them that day was a group of mostly women, with only two men in attendance, diverse in their careers—a dozen investigators, parole officers, attorneys, and a game warden.
The Red Barn staff brought in Ziggy the horse, who was described as being “very chill.”
Bailey asked LEO participants to discuss hurdles they experience in their jobs. They called out different struggles (“red tape” or “random BS”) and the JAYC team created actual hurdles (AKA buckets) for the group to guide Ziggy through, together. A few people stood on either side of the horse, slowly guiding him as the others shouted encouragements or tried to dissuade their progress, mimicking the day-to-day communication breakdowns in their fields.
Joy O’Neal, executive director of Red Barn, watched and explained that with equine therapy, there’s generally a counselor and a horse professional—someone to guide the people, someone to guide the horse. That afternoon, the JAYC team consisted of Bailey leading the exercise, while Margie McDonald and Daniel Shook kept an eye on the horse. “Jaycee,” O’Neal said, “uses her story to motivate, to move them all forward.”
O’Neal’s daughter, Alexis Braswell, also stood with the spectators. Braswell partnered with the JAYC team to write their reunification program, working with children of high conflict divorce. “It’s a constant reunification when kids are going back and forth between parents,” O’Neal said.
In fact, JAYC currently offers five different programs, the full details of which can be found on their website, JAYCfoundation.org, where you can also watch Bailey and fellow therapists, Jane Dickel and Cynthia Psaila, guide families through exercises with the horses. As Bailey said, “The horses are able to subtly express an idea that all the words in the world could never do.”
Later, Dugard and Bailey explained that the day is all about getting law enforcement to slow down and rethink preconceptions. Each LEO course varies depending on the group, depending on the circumstances. Some days, they focus on strengthening communication; on others it’s about encouraging self-care to stave off the compassion fatigue common among child advocates.
“It sounds hokey,” Bailey said, “but we try to bring compassion and authenticity to law enforcement. We want them to know that we understand a little of what they go through and that we respect them, and that we might just have a different perspective to offer. We always say to people, ‘When you leave, think of what the horse taught you.’ People often tell us they realize they come into things too strongly.”
The Leeds chief of police had been by earlier in the day to personally thank JAYC for the program. One of his lieutenants, Mancil Scogin, said in an email that the training “focused on being more sympathetic and compassionate when dealing with victims of violent crimes and their families.” He added that his department would be more cognizant of victims and their families needing proper support from both law enforcement and social service agencies.
Bailey said a kind of renewed awareness is exactly what they’re hoping for. She shared a story of an officer in Kansas City who participated in their LEO program, how he visited a house one day on a call, and a man answered the door claiming there was no child inside. The officer returned to his vehicle and thought about Dugard’s story. “So,” Bailey said, “he went back and politely asked to go inside. He found a kid in that cellar. I don’t know if that’s Jaycee’s story or us arming him to trust his instinct, but it worked.”
“That’s why it’s so important to us to offer all of this programming for free,” Dugard said.
The $20 million Dugard was awarded in a settlement with the State of California was the initial seed for JAYC, but as programming is in higher and higher demand, Bailey said they’re now seeking grants to continue.
Right now, they receive more requests for programming than they can fulfill. Partnering with organizations across the country like the Kansas City Mounted Patrol, New Hampshire UpReach, and the Red Barn help them to enter communities with the equipment—and horses—they need.
“We are cut from the same cloth,” O’Neal said of their partnership. “What we primarily do at Red Barn is work with children and adults who live with disabilities. We see a lot of kids who are in foster care, or who are adopted, who have been neglected. We also work with children who have disabilities, children with autism, genetic disorders, amputations, PTSD, depression, anxiety—you name it. We serve about a hundred kids a week with our 16 horses.”
She watched as the first LEO training ended, the group successfully guiding Ziggy through the hurdles then hashing out the program postmortem, laughing as the JAYC team held a makeshift graduation ceremony.
“We help the children, and now we help the people who help the children,” O’Neal said.
After the ceremonial ending, the small crowd lingered in the barn, thunder drawing nearer, a few people deciding to make a run for the parking lot before any flash flooding worsened along the rural access roads to the Red Barn.
Those who remained swapped contact information, shaking hands and sharing a few last stories or thoughts. “All of my cases are crimes against children,” said a Shelby County investigator, who preferred to remain anonymous. “I wanted to come out here to learn different ways to deal with these cases, to get a different perspective. I’ve never been to a training where we had a survivor sharing a story in this way.”
Her colleague, a Shelby County deputy added, “One thing we learned here is to be careful not to overlook the little signs… In (Dugard’s) case, there were signs and clues that could have resulted in her being found sooner. Those things got missed. Trust your gut if something doesn’t seem right. Take the time to do the extra follow up.”
As a Jefferson County Game Warden, Kerry Bradford is part of a team that has tracked poisonous snakes and their traders in Birmingham, darted black bears in Ensley, or removed wild hogs from rural communities in the county—a job that’s brought him out to Red Barn many times.
“When I heard they were having this class, I said, ‘sign me up.’” Beyond enforcing the game and fish laws or removing animals from dangerous situations, Kerry said his line of work crosses paths with police investigations. “We’ve made child pornography cases connected to poisonous snake trading. Where we’re operating, we typically encounter shake and bake meth labs, but a lot of times, there’s just that moment of realizing you need to look a little deeper. With those guys, there’s generally something else going on.”
Kerry added, “Today was a great reminder of that. And it enforced that our job—when we come across people—is to pay better attention. One of the greatest takeaways here is that we can be more effective through teamwork. From the social workers to us to other law enforcement and all the way up the chain, we have the responsibility to talk to one another, because we have a better opportunity to catch someone when we do.”
Programs at the Red Barn
Weekly riding lessons for children with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities and special circumstances, such as foster care, adoption, social delays, and grief.
Traditional day camps with art, music, outdoor education…and horses! Camps are inclusive for children with or without disabilities or special circumstances.
We love helping others learn about equine assisted therapies. Come learn to better your horsemanship skills, become an instructor, or start your own agency.
TAKE THE REINS
It is our honor and privilege to serve active or inactive military personnel. We offer a customized experience for each individual or group.
For more information, visit theredbarn.org.