CLEVELAND, Ohio – Amanda Gearhart admits she was struggling with drugs in 2013 when she was hanging out with the wrong friends.
“With Amanda it started with her doctor and being over-prescribed medication and it progressed from there,” said her mother, Althea Falkenstein.
Amanda ended up going to a house on Cleveland’s east side, near East 11th and Buckeye, with a friend.
But when the friend left, Amanda was told she wasn’t going anywhere.
“I was locked in. He had locks on the doors. I actually had a gun put in my face telling me that I was not able to leave, that I was to stay there and I was literally locked in,” said Gearhart.
She describes the next three months as a nightmare.
“I was full of fear. I was full of fear. I thought I was literally going to die in that house,” said Gearhart.
“I was starved; he didn’t feed me. He would give me drugs but sometimes he thought it was funny if I was sick, like if I didn’t feel good, so he really used that against me. Different men would come in the house and so I was used to make money for him, you know? I went through hell in that house,” she added.
Eventually her mother filed a missing person report with Garfield Heights police.
“It was a struggle every day. I was beaten with a 35-pound metal weight if I went to the bathroom without asking. When I was aired on the news as missing and he seen that my head was put through the TV because he knew people were looking for me and the whole time he was telling me that they weren’t,” said Gearhart.
Falkenstein said she and a friend drove through dangerous neighborhoods searching for any sign of her daughter.
“My biggest fear at that point was somebody killing her and I just knew, I was starting to lose hope. What if somebody killed her and threw her in a field and they would never find her?” said Falkenstein.
After three months, Gearhart said her captor, who was high at the time on drugs, had apparently run out of money and started beating her with the weight every hour, telling her she was going to die.
When he passed out, Gearhart said she grabbed the keys and got out.
“When I had those keys in my hand, the only thing I could think to do was run, just run, just go, get the hell away from there. There were people who would come into the house and tell me I was going to die there,” said Gearhart.
Now addicted to new drugs, including cocaine, Gearhart said she wandered the streets after her escape, only concerned about where she would get her next fix.
Eventually, she was arrested by a police officer who she said she initially hated, but now realized, he saved her life.
In May 2013, she was admitted to Cleveland’s drug court, with her mother pleading for help.
“When we got to court, she told the judge that I would let her come home. I stood up and said ‘your honor, with all due respect, I would love nothing more than for my daughter to come home, but if she comes home she’s going to die,’ so they kept her and they sent her to treatment,” said Falkenstein.
“I didn’t believe I could stay sober. I didn’t believe in myself like they believed in me until I could believe in myself and the best thing that could ever have happened to me was drug court. It saved my life,” said Gearhart. “I threw myself into this because I now realize if I don’t and I go back to the way I was living, I might not get a second chance, you know? And this may be it but now I know my story could help others,” she added.
Nine months after being admitted to drug court, Gearhart was celebrating her graduation from the program on Wednesday.
She said she has a job and was interviewing for a second job. She is looking forward to going to school and having a career.
Gearhart said she is free of drugs, does not associate with her old friends, and stays away from the neighborhoods she once visited when she was struggling with addiction.
She looks forward to having a family and a home and plans to do everything she can to help others conquer the challenges she has overcome.
“It’s hard. I have lost friends in recovery that I have gone to treatment with, just watching them die and go to funerals. But it’s a lesson because it could have been me. My mom was looking at urns because she thought I wasn’t going to make it,” said Gearhart.
“She’s a miracle. She’s a God-given miracle,” said Falkenstein, adding, “she should be dead and I know that and her story can help somebody. You know, if it reaches one person, then it’s worth it.”