Michelle Knight’s faith and determination helped her to survive 11 years of captivity and abuse.
“I asked God to let me die if I had nothing left to offer anyone,” Knight said at a United Way of Delaware County event in Lewis Center on Wednesday. “I heard, ‘It’s not your time.’ God made me come back for a reason.”
Knight was the first of three women to be abducted and abused in a Cleveland home by a man she thought she knew.
“If you have that gut feeling, listen to it,” Knight said. “We’ve got to be aware of everything in life, because you never know when tragedy might strike.”
For Knight, it was Aug. 23, 2002, when she was 21 years old. Having already been abused as a child and living as a homeless runaway, she was initially tied up for three days before being fed by her abductor. Thus began years of unimaginable abuse, deprivation and starvation, which included multiple beating-induced miscarriages.
Amazingly, the kidnapper had frequent visitors, who never questioned why some areas of the house were off-limits.
“The smell alone should have warned you, and rooms were boarded up,” Knight said. “People who came into the house heard his bad stories about a dog.”
During her captivity, Knight imagined what she would eat upon breaking free, reflected on the resourcefulness that had allowed her to care for her siblings since she was 8, and found creative outlets in drawing and poetry.
When rescued on May 6, 2013, Knight had to be hospitalized with a bacterial infection, and was told she had days to live.
“I turned to the doctor and said: ‘I ain’t dying today. God has a different plan for me.’”
Incredibly, Knight has not only survived, but has thrived. In the years since, she has been able to regrow her hair, written a memoir (“Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed”), bought a house and car, and is learning to drive. As part of her new life, she has legally changed her name and has 46 tattoos. She also has a fiance who she first met online.
“My life is amazing right now,” she said. “I never though I would love again. It just happened.”
She has seen the house she was imprisoned in demolished; and her captor sentenced to a life in jail. That life ended a month after imprisonment in a suicide.
Much of Knight’s impact statement came from her poems.
“They walk among us, the worst of worst … I will overcome … I will go on, helping others,” she read from one poem.
Knight told her story to journalist Mikaela Hunt as part of the “Room to Grow” event presented by the Women’s Leadership Network of the United Way at the Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center in Lewis Center. Women’s Leadership Network member Michele Savoldi said the organization has raised $485,000 in four years that have gone to support several women’s programs in Delaware County. For more information, visit uwwln.org.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.