“I don’t know why my life has turned out the way it did. I sometimes wonder, What was the point of all this pain I’ve been through? Why couldn’t God make it possible for us to never go through hard things? One day in Heaven I’ll have to ask him about that. But for now the only kind of sense I can make out of everything that has happened is this: we all go through hard things. We might wish we didn’t, but we do. Even if I don’t understand my pain, I’ve got to turn it into some kind of purpose.”
Michelle Knight – Cleveland Kidnapping Survivor
On August 23, 2002, twenty-one year old, single mother, Michelle Knight, was desperate to make it to a court hearing that involved her regaining custody of her infant son, Joey. The tragic irony of the situation is that Michelle never should have had to appear in court in the first place. Her mother’s drunken boyfriend, forced himself onto Michelle; Joey inadvertently got in the way, prompting the man to throw the helpless child across the room, where he hit the floor hard. Michelle immediately took her son to the hospital, but the staff on call, didn’t believe that Joey had sustained his injuries from falling in the park, like Michelle had told them, so Joey was subsequently taken away from her and given to child services.
On the day of the custody hearing, Michelle’s mother had promised her a ride to the courthouse. As the hours passed, sensing that her mother was not going to come through for her, Michelle set out to make her way to the court on her own. Stopping off at a Family Dollar store, Michelle asked the store’s cashier, as well as some of the other customers for directions. No one knew the location of the court she needed to go to, except for one disheveled looking man. Michelle was approached by Cleveland school bus driver, Ariel Castro. He offered Michelle a ride, and without much hesitation, due to her running out of time to get to court, and knowing being late would be held against her, she agreed to his offer. While Michelle might have felt Ariel Castro looked like he had just rolled out of bed, and was also turned off by the fact that it appeared as if he were using his pickup truck as a garbage pail, she still accepted the ride from him. The main reason being, that Ariel Castro was her friend Emily’s father, and someone whom she had seen before, and therefore had no reason to mistrust.
Almost as soon as Castro pulled his pickup truck out of the parking lot where the Family Dollar store was located, he mentioned that he needed to stop at his house. Feeling under tremendous pressure to make it to the court on time, Michelle didn’t like the idea. She softened, however, when Ariel, who from that day forth Michelle would only refer to as ‘the dude,’ because she felt monster’s didn’t deserve to have real names, told her that his dog had just given birth to puppies. He asked Michelle if she would like a new puppy to give to Joey as a gift? Knowing how much Joey loved dogs, and animals in general, Michele didn’t hesitate, especially when Ariel informed her, that he would still get her to her court appointment with time to spare.
After arriving at the house, Castro padlocked his front gate, and had Michelle follow him into his cluttered, poorly maintained home. He led her up the stairs and into a bedroom on the second floor, where he told her the puppies were being kept. Michele walked into the room first, and quickly discovered that there were no puppies. Ariel closed the door behind them, and knocked her onto the floor, at which time he proceeded to tie her ankles, hands, and neck with extension cords, and also used wires that ran between two poles, to lift Michelle off of the ground, where he left her to hang, but not before shoving a dirty sock into her mouth, and then he duck taped over it. Before leaving the room, Ariel showed Michelle the loaded gun which he kept with him at all times. When he returned after what seemed like hours, Ariel raped Michelle for the first of countless times.
According to Michelle, he would frequently rape her twice a day, but sometimes, it would happen as many as four times in one day. Castro would tell Michelle he felt justified in his actions because he was molested as a child, his wife had left him, and he deserved to have someone who would stay with him, and pay attention to his needs. After the initial rape, Ariel removed Michelle to the basement of the house, where he chained her to a pole, and placed a motorcycle helmet over her head. There she would stay for the next eight months. He gave her a bucket to use as a toilet, fed her little, and never let her shower. Although she could hear the sounds of the musicians in his band who would come over one night a week to practice, the only person she saw during that eight month stretch was Ariel Castro, when he would come to have his way with her. Michelle Knight was kept on the missing person’s lists for fifteen months, but eventually the police came to the conclusion that she had run away from her responsibilities in regard to Joey, so she was removed from the lists. Joey was adopted by a loving family when he turned four years of age.
In the years that followed, Castro would abduct other young girls: Amanda Berry in 2003, and Gina DeJesus in 2004. He would put them through pretty much the same torturous process as Michelle. He was, however, beyond thrilled when he learned Amanda was going to give birth to his daughter. Michelle became pregnant five times over the course of her eleven year captivity, and each time, the repugnant, Ariel Castro, would do vile things to her in order to make sure she miscarried. Sadly, because of what was done to Michelle during her imprisonment, she can no longer have children. (As an aside: Unlike the three kidnapped girls, he did not keep his granddaughter, Jocelyn, locked up inside the house all of the time. He would take her out in public, especially to church on Sunday, where he would introduce the little girl to everyone as his girlfriend’s daughter. He gave Amanda, Gina, and Michelle more freedom inside the house, because he didn’t want Jocelyn to see her mother or two aunts in chains. He would also videotape Jocelyn’s birthday party every year, and according to Michelle, ‘the dude’ really thought they were a family).
The memoir, “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed,” was written by Michelle Knight, and co-authored by Michelle Burford. On May 6, 2014, Weinstein Books, published the 252 page memoir, which is dedicated to Knight’s son Joey. The memoir not only describes, in detail, the first day of Michelle Knight’s captivity, but also the subsequent eleven years that followed. Additionally, Michelle’s less than ideal childhood and teen years, which were also fraught with abuse, are detailed in chapters at the start of the memoir.
Due to her parents lack of financial resources, Michelle and her siblings alternated between sleeping in the family’s station wagon, or with a large number of other family members in cheap housing in high crime areas. When Michelle turned five years of age, a family member, who is not identified by name in the book, would come and sexually molest her most evenings. The man threatened to kill her if she told anyone, and the behavior continued on until she ran away in her teens. While on the run, she slept under a bridge, having nothing but the insulation of a garbage can to keep her warm. For a short period of time, she was given a roof over her head in a decent house, while working as a drug runner for a guy named Sniper. After having to leave Sniper’s home, due to him being arrested, she moved back under the bridge where she was eventually spotted by one of her father’s friends, and soon after returned to her parent’s custody.
On May 6, 2013, Amanda, Gina, and Michelle were granted their freedom from their long, heinous ordeal, thanks to Ariel Castro making a mistake. When the deplorable Castro left his home, he forgot to lock one of the doors tightly enough. Amanda was able to pull it open just enough so that her desperate pleas for help were heard by Castro’s neighbor, Charles Ramsey. The neighbor helped Amanda escape by kicking out a lower portion of the door. It didn’t take long for police to arrive on the scene and discover Gina and Michelle inside the house. In the end, to avoid not only a trial, but a possibility of a death penalty conviction, Ariel Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts that included kidnapping and murder. At his sentencing, he was sentenced to life in prison plus 1000 years; of that, he would barely serve one month. He hung himself in his cell and was found dead on September 3, 2013.
Michelle Knight has changed her name to Lily Rose Lee, and is currently enrolled in culinary school. She one day hopes to open up her own restaurant. When she is not attending class, she likes to draw, sing, and socialize with friends. She is currently estranged from her family, and makes it clear that at this moment in time, she has no desire to see any of them. She does, however, hold out hope for the day when she might get to see her son Joey again. In the meantime, she looks at least once a day at the photocopied pictures of Joey, that her lawyer was able to get for her from Joey’s adoptive parents. For those of you who are interested in the story, but don’t have the time to invest in the book, a movie about the ordeal called “Cleveland Abduction” was released on May 2, 2015. Taryn Manning, who plays Pennsatucky on “Orange is the new Black,” portrays Michelle Knight; and Raymond Cruz, who played Julio Sanchez on “The Closer,” plays Ariel Castro.
Rather than write an ending paragraph to finish the post, I will end the post, as I began it, with a quote from Michelle Knight’s memoir.
“When I was on my last breath in that house, God kept me alive for a reason. I believe the reason is so I can help others who have been in my situation. When I’m feeling lost, that’s the purpose I hold onto. Becoming a voice for those who can’t speak, sharing love with other people around me – that’s the only way I’ve been able to find myself again.”