Cleveland Abduction: Courage, faith, riveting TV drama

No one should have to suffer what Michelle Knight and her fellow captives did in Ariel Castro’s house of horrors. With gripping realism and tender reflection, Lifetime’s movie tells this absorbing story from abduction to liberation and beyond.

In May 2013, three women missing for years were found in a Cleveland house, finally free from a twisted monster’s abuse and enslavement. Castro abducted the women – Michelle, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus – to help satisfy his sexual appetite. The film is based on Knight’s 2014 book, Finding Me. Berry and DeJesus release their own book this year.


Decade enslaved
In 2002, Michelle (Taryn Manning) accepted a ride from Castro (Raymond Cruz), who invited her into his house to get a puppy for her son. She entered.

Big mistake. Soon she was hogtied and hanging from a ceiling hoist for 24 hours. She spent nearly eleven years as his slave. How did she survive this horrendous nightmare? Michelle’s refusal to break – and the sources of strength that sustained her – fascinate and inspire.


Amanda Berry
Amanda Berry (Samantha Droke) and Castro (Raymond Cruz). Photo by Bob Mahoney; Courtesy Lifetime. Copyright © 2015

Multiplied abuses
The movie sensitively but realistically portrays her ordeal. The real Michelle says Castro raped her sometimes more than six or seven times daily, impregnating her five times. Each time, Castro forced an abortion by beating her, jumping on her stomach, or pushing her down stairs, etc.

He chained her to a pole in the basement, then to a bed in an upstairs bedroom, naked and with only a bucket for a toilet. She once went nearly eight months without bathing.

When television reported that Amanda (Samantha Droke) and later Gina (Katie Sarife) were missing, Michelle suspected Castro. She eventually encountered both women, spending years chained to Gina.


Delivering Amanda’s baby
Michelle helped deliver Amanda’s baby, fearing harm if Castro’s child died. Amid birth complications, Michelle tenderly administered CPR, saving the baby’s life.

Filmmakers have deftly depicted both physical and mental/psychological abuse. I found myself wincing and grimacing – sometimes looking away – even feeling a measure of the anguish the actresses portrayed.


Source of strength
The rescue, Castro’s sentencing (life, plus 1,000 years), and Michelle’s re-entry process are effectively conveyed, as is a significant source of her inner strength. At one point during captivity, she assures Gina, “God is in this room. Every day with me, he’s here. He’s not let me down yet.”

Later, as Castro worries about his family’s reaction if he’s discovered, Michelle tells him, “It’s not about what your family thinks; it’s only about God.”

“Where was God when he let you get into my car?” asks Castro.

“You know where he was,” replies the plucky Michelle. “The only time that we don’t see him is when we’re scared to look. …He’s just waiting for you to open your heart. You can ask him to take the pain away and tell him, ‘I’m ready to change.'”


Giving thanks
After her release, the real Michelle’s video statement conveyed similar sentiments. Wearing a crucifix, she thanked the public for their support and said:

“I don’t want to be consumed by hatred. … God is in control. We have been hurt by people, but we need to rely on God as being the judge. God has a plan for all of us. The plan that he gave me was to help others that have been in the same situation I have been in….”

Her convictions echo a biblical affirmation: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love [him].” Michelle eventually forgave Castro, who committed suicide a month into his sentence.

Cleveland Abduction is a powerful reminder of the impact that faith – and the courage it inspires – can have in the bleakest of circumstances. Perhaps too intense for younger children, the movie is well worth watching and contemplating for teens and adults. Premieres May 2 on Lifetime 8 pm ET/PT

Rusty Wright


— by Rusty Wright

Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

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