WOODMERE — “I want to be a voice for the voiceless. When I came out of the house, I had no one.”
That was the message Michelle Knight, now known as Lily Rose Lee, shared with a crowd of people this past Saturday during an appearance at Barnes & Noble speaking about her new book, “Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness after the Cleveland Kidnappings” that focuses on how she is overcoming fear and building a new life.
Ms. Lee was kidnapped in 2002 in Cleveland at the age of 21 and held prisoner in a house with two other women, all of whom suffered extreme cruelty and abuse. She was freed in 2013 when another captive, Amanda Berry, escaped from the house seeking help from a neighbor.
Last weekend, Ms. Lee’s manager, LaTasha C. Watts, interviewed the author then opened the floor for questions from the audience.
Ms. Lee said that she wants to share her story to connect with others who are struggling and let them know that other people also are going through hard times.
“We all need somebody to lean on,” she said.
Everyone needs a strong support group, she said. Ms. Lee said that when she first left the house on Seymour Avenue, some people only wanted to be around her to get their “15 minutes of fame.” She did not know who she could trust. She soon joined a program called Onsite, a series of therapeutic and personal growth workshops designed to help individuals rediscover themselves. She met a horse named Waylon, who helped her open her heart and trust again.
“I found that I had to toss the negative people to the side,” she said. “I will survive without them.”
Ms. Lee talked about her legacy and said that she appreciates the little things in life, such as smelling roses or watching deer outside. Small gestures bring her happiness, she added.
One of the things that has helped Ms. Lee recover from her traumatic experience is her love of animals. She is currently fostering two bearded dragons, adopted a kitten, fosters flying squirrels and has five rescue dogs. In addition to her variety of pets, Ms. Lee said that she appreciates the love and support of her husband and family and enjoys art, writing, slam poetry, singing, dancing and gardening.
“I have fears and frustrations but when I get up in the morning and not think about what happened, everything will be OK,” she said. “There is life after darkness.”
Audience members asked why Ms. Lee changed her name. She said that Lily represented a peace lily, and her best friend who took care of her is named Rose. Lee is her son’s middle name. Another man asked why Ms. Lee never wanted to leave Cleveland after experiencing so much pain here. Ms. Lee said that a person hurt her, not the city of Cleveland.
Sally Bennett, 59, drove two hours from Cambridge, Ohio to see Ms. Lee. She was working at her job displaying closed captioning for a local TV station when Ms. Lee along with Ms. Berry and Gina DeJesus escaped.
“Her story meant a lot to me,” Ms. Bennett said. “I wanted to see her in person.”
Jennifer Joslin, 32, of Brunswick said that she enjoyed the presentation and read this book and Ms. Lee’s first book, “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed.”
Donna Makosky-Woods of Cleveland said that Ms. Lee’s books have helped her work through her own struggles from past experiences.
“She’s inspiring,” Ms. Makosky-Woods said. “She gives me hope.”
Ms. Lee assured the audience that she plans to write a third book.