Gina DeJesus gets six-foot fence – and lots of love – to protect the heart

Gina DeJesus now has a privacy fence to let her go into her yard in peace. But it was her statement at the sentencing of Ariel Castro that showed how the three Cleveland victims are recovering.

Hennes Paynter Communications/AP/File
This image shows Gina DeJesus in a video posted to YouTube last month in which the three victims kidnapped and held captive for a decade by Ariel Castro thanked the public for its support and prayers.

There is no formula for how to move beyond the sort of trauma that three Cleveland women faced for a decade or more, locked inside the house of Ariel Castro and sexually abused, but experts say it begins with love and privacy.

Gina DeJesus, it seems, now has both. Last week, a six-foot-high privacy fence donated to the DeJesus family at a cost of about $4,000 was completed, letting Ms. DeJesus go into her yard without fearing the paparazzi or public gawkers. Rumor has it, she's even bought some swimsuits to do some sunbathing.

Yet it was the statement read on her behalf at the sentencing of Mr. Castro Thursday that revealed an even more impressive fortification: the love apparent in the DeJesus home.

On Thursday, attention focused on Michelle Knight, and rightfully so. The woman who was held longest by Castro and treated the most brutally was also the only one to confront Castro directly in court. Her defiant statement, read between tears, provided a visceral glimpse into to how she, DeJesus, and Amanda Berry had persevered – and at last overcome.

But DeJesus' statement, read by cousin Sylvia Colon, was a picture of grace in an economy of words. It thanked the judge, the prosecutors, the police, "the great City of Cleveland, and too many others to name.... You are now a part of our family."

It shared the family grief with the Castros, whom the DeJesuses absolved and, with extraordinary largeness of heart, reached out to them in language bearing the honesty and tenderness of struggle endured: "Continue to love and support one another – we promise you that with this recipe you will be triumphant."

And it finished with an admonition that, for the family, all that matters now is what lies ahead: "Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this. These events will not own a place in our thoughts or our hearts. We will continue to live and love."

It continued: "We stand before you and promise you that our beloved family member thrives. She laughs, swims, dances, and more importantly she loves and is loved. We are comforted in knowing that she will continue to flourish. She will finish school, go to college, fall in love, and if she chooses, will get married and have children. She is where we will continue to put in our energy. She lives not a victim, but as a survivor. Her insurmountable will to prevail is the only story worth discussing."

Last week, Ms. Berry showed the world what some measure of recovery from such moral depravity looks like. She appeared onstage at the RoverFest music festival in Cleveland and smiled and swayed as she listened to Nelly.

Now, the DeJesuses have shown the world, in a measure, what the beginnings of recovery feel like.

This was apparent, too, when DeJesus' mother, Nancy Ruiz, told the local ABC station what she felt when she heard that Berry had felt confident enough to appear onstage at a music festival. "She had to have been excited, and I'm so glad about her. There is no words to describe because for her to be out and about – I mean, it's awesome. It's their time, and they need this."

Few have been let inside the private worlds of the three women since their release from Castro's house on Seymour Avenue. And that is as it should be. DeJesus should enjoy every moment of her sunbathing. But the few glances the outside world has been allowed speak to the enormous love that has surrounded the women – and its effect. 

For Berry and DeJesus, perhaps, this is not surprising. Their families had mounted public campaigns to find them, had put up leaflets, had held vigils, had never given up. But even Ms. Knight, who said in court that she felt abandoned, and who said that Castro openly tormented her, saying her family didn't love her, has responded to a decade of physical and emotional torture with uncommon kindness.

The Cleveland Police Department posted on its Facebook page a handwritten "thank you" note Knight penned to the officers. "I am overwhelmed by the amount of thoughts, love & prayers expressed by complete strangers," she wrote.

Then on Friday, Knight visited the neighborhood where she was once held captive and thanked the neighbors for their support. When one woman asked her what she would like to see happen to the house where she was kept prisoner, she answered that she hoped a garden would be put in its place, according to an NBC News report

And in her statement in court Thursday, Knight spoke of the relationship she found with DeJesus in captivity. "I never let her fall, and she never let me fall," she said.

Reports suggest that mutual affection has continued.

"This is a woman with incredible resilience and warmth and she took that moment to show her capacity for love," Frank Ochberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, and a psychiatric expert for the prosecutor, said of Knight, according to a Yahoo report.

A local politician close to the DeJesuses told People magazine that "the women are like sisters," Yahoo says.

That is the story Knight wants to tell going forward. "Writing this statement gives me the strength to be a stronger woman and know that there are more good people than evil," she said Thursday. "I know there's a lot of people going through hard times but they need someone to reach out a hand for them to hold and let them know they are being heard."

The story of the insurmountable will of the three women of Seymour Avenue is now, bit by bit, being heard. And the DeJesuses are correct. It is worth telling.

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