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THE three women who escaped evil sex pervert Ariel Castro are now rebuilding their lives, bonding with family and friends as they adjust to their newfound freedom.
The brave souls endured unimaginable conditions inside Castro’s house of horrors before their miracle May 6 escape.
With her long nightmare over, victim Amanda Berry lives with her sister in Cleveland and has reconnected with her dying father.
Now 27, Amanda – who was snatched by Castro in April 2003 – recently made a surprise appearance at the RoverFest concert in Cleveland. She walked on stage with her family and waved at the cheering crowd before joining rapper Nelly.
Victim Gina DeJesus – who was 14 when Castro grabbed her in April 2004 – is enjoying time with family and friends before starting home schooling and applying to college.
Neither woman appeared in court on Aug. 1 when Castro was sentenced to life behind bars without parole plus 1,000 years. Instead, each sent a family member to deliver an impact statement on her behalf.
But courageous victim Michelle Knight, 32, stood before her captor and made an emotional speech about being locked up for over a decade.
“I cried every night, I was so alone,” said Michelle, who is staying with her fellow victim Gina. “I spent 11 years in hell, where your hell is just beginning. You deserve to spend life in prison. I am finally being heard, and it is liberating.”
Michelle became Castro’s first victim in August 2002, when he lured the then-21-year-old into his blue Miata near his home at 2207 Seymour Ave., in Cleveland.
“I remember all of the times you came home talking about what everyone else did wrong,” Michelle added, reflecting on how she was brutally raped and beaten by Castro. “You acted like you weren’t doing anything wrong. You said, ‘at least I didn’t kill you.’ You took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back!”
During her speech, Michelle called Gina her “teammate” in terror.
“She never let me fall. I never let her fall. She nursed me back to health when I was dying from his abuse,” said Michelle.
“My friendship with her was the only thing that was good out of this situation. We said we would someday make it out alive, and we did.”
Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder. Before his sentencing, he offered a half-hearted apology in a rambling statement, claiming that he was “a victim of sex acts” as a child and blaming his sex addiction on the women.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster,” the delusional man said in court. “I’m not a monster. I’m sick.”
After sentencing Castro, Judge Michael Russo said: “There is no place in this city, there is no place in this country, there is no place in this world for those who enslave others. You don’t deserve to be out in our community. You’re too dangerous.”
Michelle also told the packed courtroom: “I will live on. But you will die a little every day. I can forgive you, but I will never forget.”
Last month, the three women offered thanks on YouTube for the emotional and financial backing they’ve received since going “through hell and back.”
And gutsy Michelle showed up at the ramshackle home where she was held captive to thank neighbors for their support. She also said she hopes that after the house of horrors is demolished, the property is turned into a garden.
“Even though Michelle is small in stature,” said a pal, “she has the courage and strength to rival anyone.”