The Little Prisoner Revisited

Saturday, May 1st, 2010 Book Review by Valerie Jackson

Some time ago, Wanda Gibson, a member of the Book Review Team, produced a review of a book that clearly hit a chord with a number of our readers. (I republish the review below). The Editor, David Lane, and I wondered whether there were more people on whom  this particular story had had an impact.

If any of you wish to email me and let me know how this has affected you, I would like to record your experiences anonymously for next month’s edition. You will be provided with anonymity and, where you request it, emailed support from me. Those of you who have already written to www.childrenwebmag.com will have your comments and expressions of unity taken into account, so don’t feel that you are required to go through that difficult performance again unless you wish to.

I would like to thank all of you for your reactions and comments.

 There are 3 ways to get in touch:

 1. Leave a comment under the article- the moderator will pass the message on and not publish it;

2. Email the Editor,  David Lane using the contact form

3. For anonymity, email Valerie Jackson directly at valerie@valeriejacksonconsultancy.co.uk

Valerie Jackson is the Board member responsible for the Book Review Team.

Book Review

The Little Prisoner: How a Childhood Was Stolen and a Trust Betrayed
Jane Elliott Harper Element Pub. 2005

 ISBN0-00-720893-6

This is a difficult book to categorise although it clearly belongs in the autobiographical account of abuse in childhood. Jane Elliott recounts a tale of abuse at the hands of a sadistic step father and completely ineffectual mother.

When she was four years old, her life changed. She and her brother were taken into care on a number of occasions when her parents’ marriage failed. She eventually was returned to her mother whilst her brother was never heard of again. When some of the social workers heard that she had been returned to her mother’s care, they apparently resigned in protest. Jane’s mother began a long-term relationship with a man called Richard who turned out to be a most sadistic and calculating perpetrator. Her account is rather disjointed as most autobiographical memoirs of abuse are.

Her mother and stepfather produced three other half-siblings who were all encouraged to use torture and punitive measures against her. Some of her stories are shocking in their primitive simplicity. The story takes a different turn as Jane approaches adulthood. Despite her years, she is still trapped by the demands of the stepfather and his violent bullying tactics. No one, including those with authority and even the police had the courage to stand up to him. Her story is told in a matter-of-fact manner which makes it all the more devastating as a result.

The final chapters describe the court case as she prosecutes her stepfather and her mother. The extended family have been mobilised to beat or kill in order to protect the stepfather. Even after he was found guilty and imprisoned, the pursuit of her didn’t stop until she was beaten almost senseless.

I think the most frustrating aspect of this story is not necessarily the realistic accounts of abuse and torture, but of the lack of belief and motivation to protect others from ordinary men and women, including those who should have known better. There are several examples where patronising, self-righteous individuals created more damage and chaos by simply not believing that human beings can behave in this way towards others.

My concern is that some people will pick up this book anticipating a sorrowful journey through a mildly abusive childhood where everything comes right in the end. This is not the case with this book. There is no really happy ending. There is no apology from the abuser. There is no acknowledgement from those who should have protected her that Jane was right. There is, however, the recognition by Jane that she did the right thing even though the cost was high.

“I suspect that the audiences for books like The Little Prisoner fall into two categories. Firstly there are those who come from stable, happy homes, who can’t understand how anyone can abuse a child, and want to find out about a world they can barely imagine. Secondly, there are those who suffered something similar themselves and find some comfort in discovering they are not alone in the world. They get some inspiration from discovering that not only is it possible to go on to lead happy and normal lives, but that you can actually turn all that misery into something positive.” Jane Elliott

 

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One Response to “The Little Prisoner Revisited”

  1. Michael Napier Says:

    You’ve asked for comment on The Little Prisoner by Jane Elliott. I read
    this book at a sitting, yesterday. I came across it while sorting through
    some of my books (I have thousands), and knew nothing about it before
    yesterday. It reads as if it’s ghost written, but that’s inevitable and
    pardonable when someone who isn’t a writer has a story that needs to be
    told. I believed it all. I have no direct experience of abuse but I have a
    friend who suffered abuse comparable to Jane’s (and the effects of which
    have arguably stolen not just her childhood but a substantial portion of her
    whole life). I have read a little about trauma and recovery (including the
    excellent book of that name by Judith Herman) and am aware how the same
    patterns are seen time and again. Jane’s experiences and her reactions are
    compellingly credible. As with other survivors of abuse one is confronted
    at one and the same time by humanity’s capacity for strength and nobility
    and for unspeakable depr avity, and by painful questions about the nature
    of the humanity we all share and about our own particular share of it.
    Could I myself sink so low, or rise so high? What would I have done, if I
    had been one of Jane’s neighbours? At a practical level, what can I do,
    here and now, to help prevent such abuse in the future? Not being a victim
    oneself, the contemplation of such stories as Jane’s and my friend’s is as
    unsettling an experience as it is possible to have.

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