I am Amanda Berry. I am Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. I am those three girls in Cleveland who were abducted and kept from the rest of the world for ten years.
Until recently the whole country was fixated on their terrifying ordeals until political scandals and the Oklahoma tornado pushed them out of the news. Everyone seems to have forgotten about them. But not me. I haven’t forgotten because I am one of them. I AM the abducted Cleveland women. But in some ways my story of kidnapping, torment and slavish captivity is much worse.
I’m 23 years old, the same age my own harrowing ordeal began. I was kidnapped by Marsha and Dennis Henderson, at the age of zero (0). I was abducted by them right after being pushed out of Marsha’s womb on April 5th, 1990, in Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California. A day later I was forcibly taken to Marsha and Dennis’ home on 3318 Bel Mira Way in the town of Evergreen, on the outskirts of San Jose.
From that point on my life was nothing but torture. I had to cry in order to be fed. I had to excrete in diapers, which were most humiliating to wear, but Marsha and Dennis insisted I wear them until I was at least two-and-a-half years old! I was forbidden from roaming around the house freely until I was four or five, forbidden from eating my toys and small objects, and from reaching on to the kitchen counter for knives and other allegedly “dangerous” silverware. It was horrible.
At age five I was forced to go every day to this concrete building with other kidnapped victims to be indoctrinated in the ways of our oppressors. I was made to finger-paint and write my name, a name I had no say in choosing. While on the playground I tried commiserating with other abductees, asking if they were enduring the same treatment by grownup kidnappers. But they were all just like, “You mean your mommy and daddy?” That’s when I knew there was no hope of rescue by my peers.
Marsha and Dennis forbid me from leaving the house alone. At age six I tried to escape through a window, but they caught me and made me sit in the dreaded “time-out chair.” Other abductees then began coming into our home every April 5th to celebrate my birth, accompanied by their own captors with balloons, toys and cake. I don’t know how I endured it, but I did.
At age eleven I successfully escaped, but only for a while. An officer from the Evergreen Police Department brought me back home to a crying Marsha and Dennis; “Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, is this your daughter?” From that point I knew the law was not on my side, too.
Marsha and Dennis then began demanding so-called “chores” from me, like washing the dishes, taking out the trash and recyclables, vacuuming the floors, and worst of all: cleaning my room. YES! Cleaning my room! I called the police when it came to that, but again the law was not on my side. The officers who showed up that night simply gave Marsha and Dennis a written warning not to allow “phony 9-1-1 calls” from their “domicile” anymore. And so I eventually started coping with my incarceration the best way a captive knows how –drugs.
Purchased from fellow captives my age, I did drugs of all kinds throughout my confinement during my teen years. Then Marsha and Dennis found some pot, needles and a crack pipe in my room one day. They were furious and seemingly “upset.” They cried and kept saying something about “not believing their ‘daughter’ would do this stuff,” and made me go to this “rehab” place for weeks. I tried to escape then, too, but police brought me back just like before.
I later sought comfort through inviting boys from school into my room secretly at night. I’d let them in through my window to recount my horrid tale of imprisonment. But eventually the moaning and thumping became so loud it woke Marsha and Dennis up one night, and so the boys –all seven, at once– were chased away, at the point of Dennis’ shotgun, no less (yes, my captors owned guns). My bedroom window was sealed and a security system was installed in the house to prevent my escape and the “intrusion” of any more male concubines.
Once on the way home from school I tried hitchhiking my way out of my capitivity, but the guy who stopped to help me escape strangely offered me money if I go with him. He was a trucker. And much to my chagrin, one hour, $50 and a couple sexual favors later he dropped me off a block where we first met, a block away from Marsha and Dennis’ homes. It was hopeless. I was so trapped.
When I would come home from high school with a bad grade on my tests, Marsha and Dennis would become upset and would ground me for the weekend, and eventually brought a lady into our house to teach me one-on-one the basics of algebra and geometry. When I finally had enough of her propaganda I threw a glass of water in her face. I spent every afternoon the next three months in a psychologist’s office, forced to talk about my “feelings.” I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life sitting on his couch every afternoon. But thank God in a weird way for that trucker guy, because $50 and a few sexual favors later the psychologist declared me “suitable for home life and general society,” and said I would not have not see any more shrinks, probably.
Eventually Marsha and Dennis began talking about my future in college. Of course I protested, as I had taken quite a liking to dancing by the time from my ballet classes Marsha and Dennis bullied me into taking after school. But ballet classes made me feel so restricted. I wanted to dance my own way, a way that the constraints of clothing simply could not allow. It was the best way to release the stress of being abducted, I suppose.
One of my fellow 17-year-old abductees got me a drivers’ license that had my real name and age (19) on it, the one I always wanted to go by: Mercedes. Mercedes Bends. But guess who found it while invading my purse one day: yes, my abductors. “No daughter of ours is going by the name of…” blah-blah-blah… You can imagine the rest. So I got another ID: Mercedes Spreads. Just as long as “Mercedes” was on it, I was content. Thankfully I was able to trick my two abductors into allowing me to escape enough to attend “ballet” classes at night…at Mr. Likum’s Gentlemen’s Club (and grille) in downtown San Jose.
How my abductors must have longed for me to come home at the hour I told them I would so many of those “try out” nights. It must have been as torturous on them as it had been on me being their captive for almost 18 years. And I LIKED it! I liked them feeling helpless, just as Mr. Castro must feel right now in that Cleveland jail cell.
Come to find out, Mr. Likum’s Gentlemen’s Club paid a lot more than ballet ever could. And I made lots of friends, too. I told them about my captivity, and they were very sympathetic and understanding, and slipped me an extra $20 now and then due to my lifetime of servitude. I eventually made enough money that one night I finally managed to escape, making away with Bruno, one of the bouncers I made friends with at Mr. Likum’s. I only had a bag of three-days-worth of clothes with me, a toothbrush, and my pills and bong (but no tampons, for strangely over the past couple months I had no need for them. Go figure.).
So in the words of the great freedom fighter and gay activist Dan Savage, “It gets better.” So if I had met you during your captivity, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, I would have told you: it gets better. Your captivity did not end as easily as mine, but it did. And I share a bond with you in that. People making me clean dishes and take out the trash; people who demanded I come home at a particular time and get good grades; people I had no choice to be born to —some call them “parents,” I’ve heard— and who named me anything but Mercedes….yes, dear fellow captives, I can relate. I feel your anguish and trauma.
Although my relationship with my rescuer, Bruno, did not work out, I still managed to escape with his help. He’s in prison currently –something about “rape of a statue” or statutory something… Now I’m with Scooter, who takes good care of me and my dancing career, and has hit me only a few times, nothing too bad. But no matter what, Amanda, Gina, and Michelle, things will get better. You will recover from your captivity, as I did.
May Great Earth Goddess bless you all and grant you eternal bliss.
Bridgett “Mercedes” Henderson,
Professional Dancer, Perpetual Massage Therapy Student
San Jose, California