Looking at a school picture of Curtis Miller as a smiling little boy, you would never imagine his mom could do the things she and her boyfriend are in prison for.
“You literally took my soul away from me,” said Curtis.
For the first time since he was rescued - Curtis Miller is telling his story. He says his nightmare started when his mom Susan Bardo took him away from his dad in Detroit and got a new boyfriend named Carl Pellinen. To hide, they pulled him out of school and moved to Escanaba.
“And that is when it got really crazy,” said Curtis.
From the outside the home he lived in looked like many others in its U.P neighborhood, but inside Curtis lived in unimaginable conditions.
He was beaten, raped by his mom as her boyfriend watched, and from 10-years-old- to 15-years-old, for five long years, he was forced to live alone in the attic.
“I was in prison,” said Curtis.
They would leave him in the attic for 23-hour stretches, only once a day giving him a meal of rice or oatmeal. When they left, to ensure he didn’t leave, they duct-taped his legs. His muscles wasted away.
“When he un-duct taped me to go to the bathroom - l literally fell on my knees."
That bathroom break came only once a day. He had accidents as he sat bound in duct tape and waiting.
“It caused rashes to build up on my body.”
He wasn’t just a physical prisoner, he was a psychological prisoner. His mom and her boyfriend told him if he left the attic, people were waiting to kill him. When police came to rescue him, he was terrified.
Investigators arrested his mom and her boyfriend, who are now serving up to 50-year sentences in prison. They took Curtis to the hospital and went to work to find his dad.
“When we first got that phone call I thought, this is going to be hell on earth,” said Missy Parker-Miller, Curtis’ adoptive mom.
Missy, who happens to be a social worker, had just married Curtis’ dad. They had tried to find Curtis, but always thought his mom, while hiding from them, was caring for him.
She says when police told them what Curtis had been through they were devastated.
“He was very angry at his birth mother and her boyfriend and he was taking that anger out on everyone around him,” said Missy.
“I admit when I first came down here I thought everything was a threat and I had to protect myself,” said Curtis.
“I was afraid of him,” said Missy. “I told my daughter to lock her doors at night. I just did not know what he would do, but I saw Curtis as a person who had been hurt. I hoped he could heal.”
Missy and Curtis’s dad focused on learning how to help him heal and get an education after being out of school for years.
This year Curtis graduated with a 3.5 GPA from University Prep High in Michigan.
He recently spoke about all he overcame before a crowd that honored him as he was awarded a $10,000 scholarship and named the National Exchange Club’s ACE of the year.
Curtis says he wanted to share his story to help other children who have survived abuse - and inspire families to take them in and help them. He says he is forever grateful his step-mom stood by him - despite her fears.
“I tell her thank you for helping me overcome what I went through to get where I am now. I also do that with my dad,” said Curtis.
“Children who have been hurt and traumatized, they can heal. It is wonderful to see it happen,” said Missy.
Right now there are about 13,000 children in foster care in Michigan. Missy works as a social worker in the Foster Care Department at Bethany Christian Services of Michigan.