Ariel Castro awoke Friday morning with a surety that comes from knowing where he will be for the rest of his life -- in some prison for kidnapping and repeatedly sexually abusing three women for a decade in Cleveland. But the very public sentencing hearing also capped a televised morality play that moved from denial through acceptance to forgiveness and to a finale designed to allow the victims to regain control over their shattered lives.
Thursday’s proceedings ended as expected with Castro sentenced to prison without a chance of ever being released.
In exchange he avoided facing the death penalty by pleading guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.
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Could the plea agreement have been carried out with far less fanfare? Did the public really need to learn more salacious details of the captivity? Do the harsh proceedings really serve as deterrent to another person committing similar acts? Did the hours before television cameras help the healing process?
The first step in all such processes -- from grief to unhappiness -- is usually denial and Castro, 53, was a prime example.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and with his hands cuffed, Castro spent more than 15 minutes trying to get people to understand what he conceded was inexplicable.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster, and I'm not a monster. I'm sick,” he said. He repeatedly claimed he was a sexual addict and had as little control over his illness as an alcoholic.
“I did not prey on these women. I just acted on my sexual instincts because of my sexual addiction, and God as my witness, I never beat these women like they're trying to say that I did,” he said.
He capped his denial by insisting that the women, whose lives he stole, weren’t even virgins, as though that had any bearing on the captivity. He even said that he and the women were getting along famously despite evidence of their having been beaten so severely that it forced one victim to miscarry.
“I just hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me,” Castro said. “Because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home.”
The only real way to deal with denial is to force some degree of acceptance and Judge Michael J. Russo tried, telling Castro the ugly truth the defendant had tried to hide.
“Sir, there's no place in this city, there is no place in this country -- indeed, there is no place in this world for those who enslave others,” Russo said, pulling no punches.
“You don't deserve to be out in our community. You're too dangerous because in your mind you're a victim, again, as opposed to those who actually did suffer.”
From acceptance comes understanding to give voice to your anger and to move beyond the situation.
It was one of Castro’s victims, Michelle Knight, who was the most dramatic example of that. Knight was the first of the women to be seized by Castro who lured her with promises of a puppy for her son.
“I spent 11 years in hell,” she said. “Now your hell is just beginning.”
Knight said she could forgive Castro, but that she will never forget. She hopes to help other victims of abuse.
“I know that there is a lot of people going through hard times, but we need to reach out a hand and hold them, and let them know that they're being heard,” Knight said.
“After 11 years, I am finally being heard. And it's liberating.”
And from acceptance comes reasserting identity and the will to live. Relatives of the other victims, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, spoke to that in their comments to the court.
“She lives not as a victim, but as a survivor,” Sylvia Colon described her relative, DeJesus. “Her insurmountable will to prevail is the only story worth discussing.”
After asking for privacy for Berry, who has a 6-year-old daughter from being raped by Castro, Beth Serrano asked that her sister have time to reassert control over her life.
“Please let her have control over this, so she can protect her daughter,” Serrano pleaded.
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