I spend a great deal of time in the car, and I pass the time with audio books. I’ve finished hundreds of them over the last few years, and I vary the material to cover a wide variety of biographies, non-fiction, educational, historical and fiction. As a result, I have been exposed to a wide range of human depravity, both real and fictional. Between dictators, serial killers, highly dysfunctional families, fictional criminals, and detailed analysis of the criminally insane mind, I thought I had heard it all when it comes to the depths of human depravity. Then I happened upon a book that made much of that pale in comparison. That book is “Finding Me”, by Michelle Knight.
Michelle was the first of the three young women who were kidnapped by Ariel Castro in Cleveland. She was held captive for eleven years before the women finally escaped in May of 2013. Although all three women endured unspeakable cruelty, her story was something that I simply wasn’t prepared for. I was prepared to hear about her being used as a sex slave, but the mental, sociological and physical abuse she suffered was beyond anything I could have imagined.
To make matters much worse, this poor young woman came from a life of poverty, where she was routinely raped by a family member, and had lived through a period of homelessness, and had her two year old child taken away by child services because of the actions of her mother’s boyfriend. The child couldn’t be in the same house as him for his own safety, and on the day she was snatched, she was trying to get to an appointment with the courts to get him back. There was almost nothing in her upbringing that was positive, except for the extreme love she felt for her son, which was the one thing that allowed her to endure the most disgusting, humiliating, depraved cruelty that I have ever heard of. In the end, she and the other two victims escaped, but by that time her son had been adopted to a good family. It was decided by all involved that the best thing for the child would be to not be made aware of his past, and for mother and child to not be reunited. It makes the movie “Cast Away” look like a trivial concept.
The whole book is jarring to the extreme, but I want to highlight the religious component of it. The last of the three young women to be snatched, Amanda Berry, became pregnant as the result of being routinely raped by Castro. Michelle became pregnant several times over the course of her imprisonment for the same reason, but each time Castro kicked her in the stomach until she miscarried, then would beat her violently after claiming the pregnancy was her fault, then punishing her with more beatings after accusing her of aborting his baby. To add to that sickness, he would constantly remind her how not a single one of her family members was looking for her, which was unfortunately true. But back to the religious part, Castro actually was excited about having a baby by Amanda. Towards the end, he was attending church every Sunday with the six year old child, because he felt that she needed to be taught about God.
Equally confounding, Michelle became more religious throughout the ordeal. At one point, she was so sick from his abuse that she was on death’s door, and claims to have had a near death experience with the whole white light thing and god’s voice telling her it wasn’t her time yet. She credits God with her surviving that moment. As an atheist, I simply cannot understand how anyone could come to that conclusion, given the lifetime of suffering she had endured. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to promote this book. Without reading this memoir, I doubt that anyone could possibly comprehend what this woman went through, as well as the two other victims. It is horrific.