updated 05/08/2014 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/09/2014 AT 9:40 AM ET
There’s a hard life – and then there’s the stuff of nightmares. Before Aug. 22, 2002, Michelle Knight was living the former. After growing up poor on Cleveland’s rough west side and suffering long-standing sexual abuse at the hands of a relative, she had run away, lived for a time under a bridge and given birth to a son who’d been placed in foster care.
At 21, “I thought my life was going nowhere,” Knight tells PEOPLE’s Elaine Aradillas. And then her path crossed Ariel Castro’s.
Kidnapped and held for more than a decade by Castro, who was the father of a friend, she endured horrors almost beyond imagining until her headline-making rescue along with Castro’s two other victims, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, on May 6, 2013.
Now, 33, Knight is marking the first anniversary of her freedom with the publication of her memoir, Finding Me.