Michelle Knight is one of the three young women who spent a decade in hell, held captive in the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro. It's been about six months since she, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus were rescued, along with the daughter born to Amanda Berry in captivity. In the intervening months, Ariel Castro is dead after apparently hanging himself in jail with a bed sheet while awaiting trial. After six months, Michelle Knight felt ready to speak about what happened to her, appearing on the Dr. Phil Show.
I couldn't help but compare what I saw and read about Michelle Knight with the story of Elizabeth Smart. My comparison, however, wasn't about the details of their lives in captivity; it had to do with their lives outside of captivity. Specifically, I was impacted by the differences in Michelle's and Elizabeth's family experiences. Elizabeth was and is a beloved daughter, whose parents refused to give up hope and continued to search for her. According to one story I saw, when Elizabeth was found, in her home town of Salt Lake City, "people were honking their horns and asking each other, 'Have you heard? They found Elizabeth!'" Elizabeth left and came home to a loving, supportive family and community, incredibly valuable assets in successful trauma recovery. What about Michelle Knight? Dr. Phil McGraw put it this way, "The truth is that three girls were taken, three girls were rescued. Only two girls went home. She didn't have a home."
Ariel Castro brutalized Michelle Knight physically and emotionally. He would taunt her by saying her family didn't care about her, her family didn't love her. Michelle told Dr. Phil, "It would hurt because I knew my family didn't care. And I knew they weren't there for me because they never were." In those times, she admitted to feeling completely alone. Yet, it was family that gave Michelle the strength and determination to survive; not the family she came from but the family she had given birth to. "She did hold on to hope. She had one beacon ahead of her, and that was her two-and-a-half-year-old son," recounted Dr. Phil in an interview. In the absence of a loving family for herself, she chose to become one for her son and this commitment gave her the will to live.
When Elizabeth Smart was taken, her community produced thousands of volunteers to search for her. When Michelle Knight disappeared, the silence was deafening. A story in a Cleveland paper noted Michelle "was the first of the three to vanish. But while Berry and DeJesus were the subjects of extensive investigations, Knight's case quickly was forgotten."
Before Michelle Knight was abducted by Ariel Castro, she was already an invisible person. Speaking of her childhood, Michelle said, "I wasn't allowed out. I wasn't allowed to have friends." Her mother kept her isolated, according to Michelle, so she could continue to collect Michelle's supplemental security payments.
Being forgotten and abandoned was a reality for Michelle Knight and, in that, she is not alone. The absence of family and relationships, having no home to go home to, is a sad reality for some. As the holiday season approaches, when others are entering warm homes and hearts, the chill of isolation and broken relationships are very real and that loss is especially painful in contrast.
This holiday season, if you've become isolated from your own family, can you find a way to bridge that gap? If someone in your family is missing, can you spare the time to seek and find? If you come from a loving, supportive family, can you include just one more? People shouldn't be invisible ever and, in truth, they're not. We come into contact with invisible people all the time. What we need to do is stop long enough, look up -- from our lives, from our thoughts, from our phones -- and see.