Constantly fearing for their lives
The young women's nightmares didn't end there.
The sexual abuse was rampant, as was the violence and threats thereof.
Castro had a gun that he'd show to Knight, DeJesus and Berry, threatening to shoot them if they ever tried to escape, prosecutors said. At times, they'd play Russian roulette -- where one bullet is loaded, the cylinder is spun and a person pulls the trigger to see whether the gun fires a shot.
Each woman was given one meal a day. They couldn't use the lone bathroom downstairs, and were allowed to shower at most twice a week. After sexually abusing them, Castro would sometimes throw money at them -- money that he'd take back if they wanted him to get anything on the outside.
"He made them believe that their physical survival depended on him," Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney Timothy McGinty wrote in the prosecution investigation report and sentencing memorandum. "And he threatened to end their lives if they did not comply with his every demand."
When Knight became pregnant, Castro acted. He said they devised a plan together, which ended after "several days" following a diet of only tea and a regimen of knee bends and jumping jacks.
But according to authorities, Knight (and DeJesus) explained it very differently: Castro punched, kicked and jumped on her stomach, forced her to do exercises and starved her for days. This happened multiple times, Knight told Harasimchuk, each time culminating in the loss of a baby.
Castro's guilty plea included two counts of aggravated murder.
Amanda Berry also got pregnant. She wasn't given any prenatal care, but was allowed to carry the baby.
And on Christmas Day 2006, the little girl was born in a plastic baby pool (to contain the mess) inside the Seymour Avenue home.
Knight served as the midwife, albeit under great duress. The child wasn't breathing when she emerged, until Knight breathed into her mouth. All the while, Castro loomed over her.
"I remember Michelle saying if that baby died, 'he was going to kill me'," recalled Cleveland police Officer Barbara Johnson, one of the two officers that went inside the home and rescued Knight, during her testimony Thursday.
That baby, miraculously, survived. And so did Knight, Berry and DeJesus.
"I spent 11 years in hell," Knight said Thursday, proclaiming herself a survivor before addressing Castro. "Now your hell is just beginning."
'The damage that was done does not go away'
Over all these years, Castro would go about his life -- working as a school bus driver, jamming in bands with names like Grupo Fuego and Los Boyz del Merengue, going to church on Sundays -- and return home to abuse the young women sexually, physically and emotionally again and again and again.
In court on Thursday, he tried to explain his behavior by saying, "I am not a monster. I am sick." Castro claimed his addiction to sex had compelled him to do things he understands were "100 percent wrong," even as he denied torturing or beating his three captives.
Still, by pleading guilty to the hundreds of charges, Castro has officially admitted to committing numerous sordid crimes. Plus, the stories of the victims and the ample evidence presented by law enforcement officers paint a vivid, horrifying picture of what these women went through.
So how did they make it?
While the four captives were typically kept apart, they did help and draw strength from each other.
Knight, the oldest of them, served as a doctor, nurse, midwife and pediatrician for Berry and her young child, Dr. Frank Ochberg testified Thursday. And she literally put herself in between Castro and DeJesus, taking on physical and sexual abuse herself to protect her friend.
In court Thursday, Knight credited DeJesus -- whom she shared a dark room measuring about 7 feet by 11½ feet -- for saving her life.
"I never let her fall, and she never let me fall," Knight said. "She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse. My friendship with Gina is the only good thing to come from this situation."
The captives kept diaries documenting the forced sex and anticipation of more abuse, the days and nights bleeding together amid the darkness, of being chained to walls and being treated like animals.