Yet another call for donations. No, this blog isn’t going to turn into that. But sometimes things happen that move me and I know that many readers have good hearts. It never matters how much you give because I know those in need appreciate every dollar; but it does matter what happens to your hard-earned money.

My friend Jill and I have discussed the Ohio women every day since the news broke. We’ve wanted to help but didn’t want our money to go anywhere but directly to the victims. Jill feels she has found a way to donate that will help the women the most. I’ll let her explain why this matters so much to Gina, Amanda, Michelle.

I’m Jill Brenneman. Amanda graciously asked me to do a guest post on her blog about donations for the Cleveland kidnapping victims. I want to express why it is very important that anyone who can donate does so, because while they are now free from Ariel Castro, their recovery will be a lifetime process.

Donations are being processed by the Cleveland Foundation. While there appears to be more than one donation website, the Cleveland Foundation is the only site that states it will be giving 100 percent of the proceeds to the victims.

My post will refer a great deal to my own life experiences after being held captive for three years until I escaped. It is imperative to me that my purpose is understood: I am using my experiences to illustrate what life is like once one has escaped because there is little information or discussion about it. While much of this discussion is about me and my experiences, the post is about why the three kidnapping victims need our help. While I appreciate whatever concern may be felt about me by those who read this post, I would ask that you please focus on the purpose of the post: Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry need our help. They are the focus of this post. My experiences are only to illustrate the reasons why a former captive needs immediate assistance. This post is about the three women in Cleveland. Not about me.

I was a kidnapping victim in circumstance similar to Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry. I was fortunate to escape after three years. Nonetheless, escaping a captor isn’t even a halfway point to recovery. For three years I was tortured, raped, endured sensory deprivation, placed in restraints that kept me in stress positions for long durations of time, malnourished, and had absolutely no control over any part of my life. Life for me as a captive was always cause and effect — usually with violent consequences. Even involving things I had no control over; for example, bruising from a vicious beating was cause for punishment. I was expected to address basic bodily needs once a day when he came to take me to the bathroom. Anything beyond that was automatically grounds for punishment because it was seen as defiance. This has profoundly impacted my life even though I escaped nearly thirty years ago.

Since my captivity ended, I’ve had eight surgeries in seven years that ultimately were caused by what I suffered in captivity. For many years I considered myself very fortunate. Most of my injuries appeared to just be scars until the years of abuse caught up with me in the form of delayed onset injuries. Delayed onset injuries are those that manifest well after the trauma, undetected until a life event such working at a job that places stress on an already weakened part of the body. A basic data entry job became acutely painful after just a few weeks due to nerve compression related to carpal tunnel, resulting in two surgeries. Another job which required consistent lifting caused numbness and then pain and loss of feeling in my arms and hands from what was eventually diagnosed as cubital tunnel syndrome, which required major surgery on both elbows to relieve nerve compression. I’ve had four knee surgeries since 2009 to repeatedly repair injuries that have developed because my ligaments and cartilage are weak. All these problems are the result of long periods of time in restraints while in stress positions and malnutrition suffered in captivity.

The surgeries alone have amounted to over $2 million dollars in medical bills and have driven me into bankruptcy because the medical costs exceeded my $1 million dollar insurance coverage limit more than once. Because they were delayed onset injuries that developed when minimally stressed by basic jobs I have repeatedly been fired due to being unable to perform the job or from missing too much time due to the injuries, surgery, and recovery.

Many injuries can’t be repaired. My raspy voice is the direct result of trauma and has no resolution. While I have managed to live a semi-normal life physically, I have also literally lost years of income during the times I was unable to work as a result of the injuries themselves.

From an emotional perspective one thinks of the usual, assumed responses. It is assumed an escaped captive will have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It will likely take years of counseling to learn to deal with the most common symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, hyper vigilance, and/or an emotional flat effect. There will also be a process of learning to trust again and developing healthy relationships, especially with men. Part of recovering from captivity is regaining one’s sense of self worth and coping with being treated as damaged goods by people whose opinions of the former captive change once they become aware of the victim’s history.

A long term captive’s emotional and psychological responses are also altered in ways that are less obvious. When freedom has been taken away and replaced with living in abstract fear of death, with violence that is often incomprehensible and in response to uncontrollable events, that devastates one’s psychology and how they view and react to the world after escape.

Freedom is something that I literally have had to relearn, and am still learning. Something as basic and normal as asking a friend to stop at a restaurant because I’m hungry or need to use the restroom are examples of what I have had to relearn. I still take instruction far too literally, fearing an aggressive or violent response even with a friend that I consciously know has no desire to harm me, but subconsciously still react as if captive and face punishment. For example, eating food that I know will make me sick because I was told that is where the friend wishes to eat. Instinctively I take the choice of restaurant irrationally and literally, fearing harm for saying no to the idea, thereby becoming ill from the food — causing an unnecessary and larger problem.

This is PTSD. This takes many years of intense therapy to overcome and it is a lifelong process.

While Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry, they likely have many years of very costly medical expenses and the need for equally costly psychological help in recovering from the trauma and relearning how to live their lives in freedom. Like me, their lives were interrupted at a young age. Now they have to move on with the physical and emotional issues related to what filled those ten years and how to recover and rebuild their lives. While $640,000 has been raised as of May 23, 2013 and that sounds like a lot, it is a drop in the bucket for even one of the women — much less all three, and Amanda Berry’s child. Consider that I have had more than $2 million dollars in medical expenses from three years of captivity. Ten years is much longer and the damage even more profound.

People often erroneously assume victims of crimes such as those faced by Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Amanda Berry will qualify for many safety-net programs offered by the by Federal or state government such as Social Security Disability, Medicaid and Medicare. This is often untrue. These programs often require paying taxes to qualify. The three women in Cleveland have been in captivity, therefore have not been able to pay taxes and may not qualify for Federal or State assistance. Even if they do qualify, the processing time for Social Security Disability, Medicaid and Medicare, can stretch for years. Years in which these women may have no income and no access to health care.

Often the topic of health insurance is discussed. The women in this case are likely to have a large number of injuries that will now be classified as pre-existing conditions, making them ineligible for insurance or causing long wait times without treatment. Insurance companies usually require a long duration of time (usually a year) without any treatment to satisfy their requirements to treat a pre-existing condition. These women need immediate and ongoing treatment. They are already likely scarred from ten years of violence and lack of proper medical attention. They don’t have the luxury of waiting for bureaucratic processes to assess their conditions, determine which portions of their injuries and living expenses qualify for coverage, or cause denial of coverage due to regulations that are inapplicable to a situation such as this. Unfortunately they likely will have to wait for assistance. Thus donations are imperative.

Recovery from long term captivity is a very difficult and expensive process. It requires all the help they can get. Please help them if you are able. After enduring what they had to live through and now have to undergo the lengthy process of recovery, they truly are going to need every dollar that anyone can give and more. I truly hope you can help them.

5 thoughts on “one former slave on helping cleveland kidnap victims

  1. Dear Ms. Brooks and Ms. Brenneman:
    While I would have no doubt about the damage that these three women incurred both psychologically and medically, I am wondering since their cases have been so well chronicled have there been any professionals that have been generous with respect to their services? Also although there is that one website that is a point for donations, are there any other ideas that those in the industry could come up with to raise money that could go directly to these victims? That would be the next question. I am sure that it is going to take quite some time to raise all that they would need but maybe if we had regional functions that could produce revenue for them that would be extremely lucrative at least it would be a start.

  2. Hi Lionel,

    Thank you for responding.

    My belief is that the people at the Cleveland Courage Fund are likely in touch with the victims and their representatives. They know first hand what they victims need or do not need and are giving 100 percent of the proceeds to the victims.

    It is best if we send donations directly to the Cleveland Courage Fund http://www.clevelandfoundation.org/about/cleveland-courage-fund/ and let them do what they see as best.

    The best thing sex workers can do is donate directly and send out the link either directly to Cleveland Courage Fund or to Amanda’s blog post for those who want an explanation as to why this is important to sex workers and our allies.

  3. In Amanda’s 2nd book, she suggests one marketing idea, or “special,” to be that the client brings a donation to your fave charity. I could not thinj of, nor did I have, a favorite charity. Until now.

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