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Monday, December 15, 2014

Book review: 'Finding Me,' a compelling horror story

Finding Me:  A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight with Michelle Burford/Weinstein Books

At the end, I cried with her.
Finding Me is the story of Michelle Knight, one of the three women locked up by a man who kidnapped them all in similar, separate circumstances, and kept them chained in a house for years in Cleveland, Ohio.

You may wonder: How can one person hold three people captive for so long? Easy, when the victims are bound, threatened, and chained with no access to the outside and strapped to poles in a basement.

I didn't intend to read the book, but there on the shelves of new books at my favorite public library, Fairfax County's, it stood, waiting for me to pick up and skim a few pages, which soon became many more.

It is a sad and painful story of man's inhumanity, about the loneliness which drives a man to commit crimes and kidnap women for sex and companionship, as much as he would steal a dog.

The book opens with Michelle's early memories of childhood and sleeping in a car with her siblings when her family had nowhere to go. As she matured, a family member repeatedly raped her, and she ran away, joining drug dealers in a satisfactory arrangement until she was spotted and returned to her family. 

When she disappeared for 11 years, locked up only a few blocks from her home, no one came looking for her which her kidnapper continually reminded her.

She was raped repeatedly in captivity, sometimes several times a day; starved; beaten; brutalized, threatened with a gun.  She lived without toilet facilities and used a bucket in the bedroom while chained.  It often overflowed with urine which spilled upon the floor.

She got pregnant four or five times, and each time, "the dude" (whose name she avoids using in the book) aborted her child by beating her, throwing her down the basement steps, and punching her repeatedly in the abdomen.

Michelle went eight months without a bath until Ariel Castro told her she stank and allowed her to wash off. Her hair was like concrete, strands glued together with semen and blood.

He brought her a puppy and broke its neck when she annoyed Castro. 

In 2003, the year after Michelle's kidnapping, a new victim, Amanda Berry, joined her, locked in the house. And then Gina DeJesus arrived in 2004.

On a discarded mattress Castro found in the city, Gina and Michelle slept on the floor, chained together, and Castro would have sex with one, while the other tried to tune out the sounds.  When bed bugs were found in the bed, he gave them plastic to cover it. 

He treated Amanda almost like a wife, permitting her child to be born in the home, assisted by Michelle, whom Castro threatened to kill if anything happened to the baby. 

"Jocelyn" was born in a plastic swimming pool, and Castro treated his daughter well, and as the years passed,  Michelle and Gina feared that when Jocelyn matured, "the dude" would violate Jocelyn, too. 

The little girl lived in the house with them all until she was six years old when police rescued the women, after neighbors responded to Amanda's pleas for help when she was able to scream when Castro left the house and a door unlocked on May 6, 2013. Four months later, Castro was dead from suicide in prison, police said.

At the end when she was hospitalized, Michelle sobbed often, overwhelmed by the enormity of her plight, embarrassed by her appearance in front of the hospital staff and the long hair on her legs, the years lost with her toddler son, Joey.  She weighed almost 47 pounds less than when she entered Castro's prison.

Throughout her ordeal, the happy memories of her son and thoughts about his life since her disappearance, and seeing Joey again kept Michelle going and gave her reason and hope to live.

Now, whenever I see a house boarded up, I wonder. 

We can become desensitized to circumstances which look awry.  We can ignore them and look away. 

Who wants to get involved?

It's none of my business.

We can take action and ask.


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