Diaries written by two of Ariel Castro's captives are detailed in a sentencing memo
The diaries were written by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus
Psychiatrist Frank Ochberg wrote that the diaries showed the women's "will to prevail"
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus weren’t in the Cleveland courtroom Thursday for the sentencing of their captor, Ariel Castro. But their words, recorded in diaries, gave authorities a window into the horror they suffered for a decade.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty wrote about the diaries in a sentencing memo. Berry, DeJesus and Michelle Knight did “everything humanly possible to retain a sense of normalcy” McGinty said, including marking the passage of time through written diaries.
The diaries provide further details of the women’s life and torment. McGinty reveals that one diary’s descriptions of abuse provided evidence his office used for many of the specific counts against Castro.
Castro has pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and murder. Diaries kept by the women contain descriptions of these crimes, including sexual abuse, being locked in a dark room and being chained to a wall. McGinty says other entries contain anticipation of abuse yet to come, including Castro’s death threats. But the diaries also showed traces of hope, including “the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family.”
Amanda Berry’s entries focused on her mother, according to psychiatrist Frank Ochberg’s assessment of the women’s captivity as part of the sentencing statement. Ochberg, an expert in trauma, wrote that the diaries showed the women’s “will to prevail.”
According to Ochberg, Berry addressed almost every entry in her diary to her mother. Berry’s mother, Louwanna Miller, worked tirelessly to find her daughter. Miller died of heart failure in 2006; those who knew her said it was more like a broken heart.
After Berry learned of her mother’s death, she began addressing her entries to “her mother in heaven.” The entries show Berry at once seeking to “soothe her mother as she prayed for her own deliverance and the health of her little girl.”
Berry’s daughter, fathered by Castro, was born on Christmas Day of 2006. McGinty writes that “when the baby was born she was not breathing. Michelle Knight breathed into the baby’s mouth in an effort to save her.” A difficult endeavor, made more intense by Castro’s threat to kill Knight should the baby die. “Miraculously,” McGinty writes, “the baby survived.”
The sentencing memo provides other descriptions of heroism. Ochberg says that Knight, in addition to serving as a de facto doctor to Berry, also “interceded when Castro sought to abuse Gina.” An action, Ochberg says, that resulted in further physical and sexual trauma for Knight.
Ochberg said that “on rare occasions all four captives were allowed to be together and they managed to share faith and friendship.” He also noted that Berry managed to pass on knowledge and values to her daughter, something the other two women supported “when possible.”
But Ochberg says the bright moments, the remarkable and inspiring ones, should not “paint a rosy picture for normalcy or quick recovery.” Castro, Ochberg writes, “turned truth and commonsense on its head and fed that to his captives.” The beatings, the repeated rapes, the forced miscarriages and the deprivation of basic human sanitation led to complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It is the result of victimization over a long period of time,” Ochberg says, “or in the years when personality and character are being formed.”
Castro “appeared to be evolving in an ever more dangerous direction,” Ochberg writes, “capturing younger and younger women, telling his captives he was hunting for replacements.”
The women must have known that any new captives would not have meant freedom – rather they must have known, Ochberg concludes, “replacement meant death.”