Michelle Knight lived a nightmare every day for over a decade. Abducted by Ariel Castro when she was just 21 years old, she was kept as a prisoner in his house with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. For years, Knight endured horrific brutality at Castro’s hands. What she experienced seems unimaginable to survive, and yet she says it was hope and thoughts of her two-year-old son that got her through her darkest days.
Knight’s hope won out on May 6, 2013 when she, Berry, and DeJesus were freed from Castro’s house of horrors. Now, on the road to recovery, she has written a memoir Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings, in which she describes her ordeal and her unconquerable spirit to survive.
We caught up with Knight who candidly shared her thoughts about staring down her captor, how she’s starting over (with a brand new name and body art), and her dreams for a new life.
Your years in captivity and what you've described are so horrific and unimaginable. Did you ever think you would be freed?
I didn’t think I would ever be freed, but I tried very hard not to lose hope. It is that hope which got me through the darkest days.
Your book is titled Finding Me – what have you discovered about yourself since your release?
I’ve discovered that there is a whole life out there for me to live, and that is a good thing. Sometimes people take things in their life for granted, maybe complain. I think my outlook is different because I know what it’s like to lose myself, my freedom, my being. I am still me, but a stronger version.
How has your path and purpose changed? What are some things you'd like to do or experience now?
I would love to open my own restaurant someday. If my life hadn’t taken a certain path, I probably wouldn’t see all the possibilities that I do now. I am going to cooking school. I am surrounded by people who care about me. I want to be a source of inspiration for people going through a tough time.
Why was it important for you to face Castro in court?
I wanted him to see my face, to hear my voice, and to know that he did not make me weak.
Castro's house was destroyed. What went through your mind as you witnessed its demolition?
So much. I felt free, but sad. Sad that so much happened there, and free from ever seeing the house again.
“I want people, especially people who think a tough situation might never end, to know that they can get through it. They can survive. Maybe they don’t realize they have the strength, but they do. You have to look deep inside for it, but it is there.” — Michelle Knight
Your son Joey was two years old when you were kidnapped. How did thinking of Joey compel your survival?
He is truly the reason why I survived. I couldn’t give up on myself because of him.
We understand you're changing your name to Lillian Rose Lee. What's behind your decision and the name you've chosen for yourself?
That is my favorite flower. I chose to have a brand new start by changing my name.
We know you are expressing yourself through the art of tattoos. Is there one tattoo that is really special to you and why?
My protection dragon on my right arm means a lot to me. It’s like my own shield, my own guard. No one can ever take it away from me.
What's the best part of your life now?
That’s easy. Freedom. Waking up every day, having a cup of coffee, and being able to look out my window. Don’t ever take that for granted.
What can we all learn from your survival story?
I want people, especially people who think a tough situation might never end, to know that they can get through it. They can survive. Maybe they don’t realize they have the strength, but they do. You have to look deep inside for it, but it is there.