Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Jaycee Dugard, the 31 year-old woman who was kidnapped at age 11 and not recovered for 18 years. She lived in squalor under the control of her captor Phillip Garrido, a convicted rapist. Diane asked Jaycee why she didn't leave when she was out in public at a local county fair. Jaycee said something profound that really turned a light on for me. She said that Garrido had her so convinced the world was an evil unsafe place and something terrible would happen if she left and that she was safer with him, even though he abused her.

Some of us have things in our life that keep us captive, like past abuse or present battles with addiction. I went to an abusive college when I was young and vulnerable. Liberty University, the legalistic school I attended was under the control of a pugnacious preacher named Jerry Falwell. We were banned from listening to rock music, going to movies, and single dating. We were barraged with sermons about how we were headed for hell but we could be the righteous remnant if we repented. They taught us the world was scary and how evil everyone else was who didn't believe and behave the way we were taught. The angry bi-polar god we were taught about was out to smote and smite the people who didn't follow the old time Religion. We were manipulated into supporting the political hijacking of Christianity that Fawell and Pat Robertson and others championed. As time went on and I continued to think for myself, I made a journey away from this rigid religion. Some Falwellian fundamentalists who are still defensive of the totalitarian environment we were in at Falwell's school respond to my story the same way that some do to Jaycee Dugard. They don't understand why Jaycee didn't run away sooner.

"Hey, don't blame the school. There were no bars on the windows at Liberty, Richard. You could have left."

True, there were not physical bars. But there were psychological bars, the fear that if you leave fundamentalism you will be damned and tortured forever in Hell. Thank God two women at UC Berkeley picked up on what parole officers couldn't see and set Jaycee free. And thank God for those who helped me get free.

In my new novel "Stick Man," I share the lessons I learned about how to recover from rigid religion and reclaim one's life. The story is about a young man named Jeremiah growing up in Pittsburgh who makes a journey from fundamentalism to freedom. Jeremiah comes to believe in God as a loving father who heals him, rather than as a punitive judge who hurts him. On the Amazon page, readers are writing reviews about how the novel has helped them get set free. If you would like to read the reviews of how the book is helping bring healing to readers of the novel, simply visit and search "Richard Rossi Stick Man." If you want to read a longer and more in-depth article on my past in the Religious Right and my story of recovery, visit and you can click on my story under "Most Popular."

And don't believe people who control you through fear, be they politicians, preachers, or newscasters. Get out there in the world and pursue your dreams and live. Your dreams are like the stars, even if you don't reach them all perfectly the way you imagine, they will still guide you to your destiny.