Prologue: Caged

(February 19, 1969)


I was caged.

Then, I was driven.

Driven to Cherokee.

A hazy memory of riding caged in the back of a police car.

Two shadows in the front seat, the county sheriff and a female escort.

Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” buzzing from a tinny transistor radio.

Outside, the Iowa landscape bleak:

Cloudy and cold, condensation and frost riming the windows, piles of dirty snow dotting the countryside.

I, cargo.

Destination: Cherokee’s other place, the outline on the hill.

Shifting, crossing my legs…

Please, can we stop?

Hot and steamy inside.

Shivering, my teeth rattling.

Please…I have to go!

Hear something, George?

Naw, nothin’ important.


Cargo has no voice.

Madness has no voice.

Listen, crazy girl…

Two voices: We have come to take you away, ha, ha…

“I’m crazy, crazy…”

Fragments, crazy-quilt impressions, acid flashbacks…

I, crazy?

* * * * *

From I, Driven: a memoir of involuntary commitment ("Prologue")

© 2008-2010, by Jennifer Semple Siegel

Excerpt may not be used or copied without author’s permission.


Additional excerpts, out takes, and new essays


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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Out Take: "Cherokee, Iowa--Three Challenges in Search of a Triumph" (Essay)



by Jennifer Semple Siegel

This short essay--along with 350+ other pages--did not make it into the final version of I, Driven: memoir of a teen's involuntary commitment. I plan to post some of these "out takes" on this website.

In late September 2004, I traveled to Skopje, Macedonia, where I would spend the 2004-2005 academic year with my husband Jerry Siegel, a Fulbright Scholar.

The plan: to write this memoir.

I had lugged photocopies of articles, letters, and hospital and court records across the ocean.

In my carry-on bag.

After recovering from jet lag, I, not quite sure where to start, sat down at my laptop.

I needed to figure out my purpose for writing this book:

February 1969: Woodbury County, Iowa, committed me, an 18-year-old hippie chick, to the Cherokee Mental Health Institute. At a competency hearing in Sioux City, I admitted to using LSD–evidently enough testimony to force an involuntary commitment.

I had not been convicted of a crime.


I have a story, but how compelling is it? Technically, my imprisonment was inconsequential. Designated as a “screening center patient,” I was tested and warehoused while my psychiatrist lobbied for my release; then, after two months, I was discharged.

But those months represent a bubble in my life–-time itself stopped and expanded far out of proportion to actual time. I was livid, my anger at “The Establishment” palpable and constant, persisting for years and affecting the course of my life. No matter how minute, it was still time not mine.

I must write about Cherokee.


How much of my story do I remember? Letters between my ex-husband and me during my commitment help fill in major gaps, but how will I contend with the drug-crazed Hollywood months leading up to it? I remember major incidents, but details are hazy. Do I fill in with supposition? If so, is this part of my memoir still memoir, or is it fiction?


I will disclose this part of my life. I’ll face whatever consequences befall me; however, my family and friends have not chosen to have their past lives sliced opened and bled.

I’ll change most names and minor details about people. Nonfiction purists may claim I have skirted the truth, but what, exactly, is truth? Yes, this memoir will slash open psychological wounds and expose them, but also minimize inflicting pain on others. I have a moral and, maybe, legal obligation to protect identities, especially those of other ex-patients and ex-hippies who may have indulged in youthful indiscretions.

I’ll use my ex-husband’s actual name, an issue faced head on: I'll present to him an unfinished draft, and I’ll show him every subsequent draft and final product. I’ve read horror stories about ex-lovers, parents, siblings, family, and friends being blind sided by published memoirs, their secrets exposed, without any warning. Who could blame them for being upset?

Before embarking on my ex-pat life, I had told my ex about the proposed memoir; he didn't threaten to sue, though he expressed some unease about exposing our past drug use. We have an adult son, after all.

“But it’s a necessary part of the book,” he says. “It has to be in there. So I’ve been overruled.”

By sharing, I have offered him a voice in my project–-he may prove to be an important ally, instead of a bitter enemy.


Catharsis, to finally leave Cherokee behind, retracing, via the power of the keyboard, my past–-drug use, involuntary commitment, and eventual discharge–-revisiting 18-year-old Jennifer and attempting to make sense of what happened and why.

Future triumph? Perhaps Cherokee, Iowa: memoir of a detoured life will find a home.

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