In 2013, a 30-year-old woman named Rosie escaped from a life of captivity—and her story, as told by Simon Parkin in the New Yorker, is a terrifying one of human imprisonment, beatings, and mind games. She grew up shuttled from one rundown South London home to another, always with a revolving group of women anchored by one man: Aravindan Balakrishnan, or Comrade Bala, his nickname. Balakrishnan was an Indian immigrant whose own mother nicknamed him "Black Tongue" for the occult powers she believed he had. Once in London, he became involved in radical politics and founded his own party: the Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, which he stacked with female "recruits" who lived communally in his cult. Life under his roof was a manipulative horror show, in which he'd pit the women against each other and keep them financially reliant.
He even told them an invisible machine named JACKIE—aka "Jehovah, Allah, Christ, Krishna, and the Immortal Easwaran"—would punish them if they disobeyed. As for Rosie, her life as the daughter of one of the women (DNA later confirmed Balakrishnan was Rosie's father) was one of isolation, trapped inside with only books and movies as her refuge. She had one failed escape attempt, then decided in 2013 she'd get out "either as a free person or in a coffin." With a smuggled-in cellphone, one of the women helped Rosie contact the Palm Cove Society, a group that helps victims of human trafficking and abuse. A few weeks later, Rosie bolted from the house while Bala was out shopping; the Palm Cove workers were waiting for her nearby with police. Rosie is now Katy Morgan-Davies, a college student still adapting to regular life. Comrade Bala is serving a 23-year prison sentence for child cruelty, false imprisonment, and sexual assault. Read the full story to find out why Rosie/Katy doesn't want Bala in jail for long. (Read more Longform stories.)