Dani’s Magnificent, Sad Artwork Drawn While Confined in Room

The sketches below are prosecution exhibits in the case of the US v. Keith Alan Raniere.

They are the work of a young woman known to us as Daniela [or Dani], now 33, and sketched by her while she was imprisoned – confined to an unlocked room in Clifton Park, New York, when she was 24 -25 years old.  She was imprisoned at the command of Raniere, though he denies it, and claims she went there voluntarily.

Long before Dani testified in court this past week – several years before Raniere was indicted, Dani called me from Mexico. I never met her before when I served as a publicist for NXIVM.

I had written about her confinement in a room in Frank Report – and she called to ask me to take down her full name because she had left Nxivm and started a new life and, in the town in Mexico where she worked, no one knew of her Nxivm past.

I took her name off the posts, and she told me of her harrowing years of captivity. I found her to be extremely intelligent, with hardly a trace of a Mexican accent. She spoke nearly flawless English and she showed a bravery then and a candor, as she told her stunning story – which was, by the way, it seems exactly what she told the jury this past week.  I was amazed and impressed by her courage and maybe more so by her tenacity.

And I was gladdened when I learned she was to testify. It seems she upheld her part magnificently and I believe she testified truthfully.

During her days of testimony, the prosecution entered into evidence – to show something of the long months of torment – some of her artwork.  She had nothing in the room but pencil and paper. Her only clothes, the clothes on her back. She had no television, no radio, no music, no books, [though she pilfered a couple of books at one time and read and reread them].

Her food was delivered by her family. Her father [who aligned with Raniere to help keep her captive for “her own good”] made many of her meals. Her family would deliver them to her – by placing the meals outside her door and knocking. She would wait a moment for them to leave then she would retrieve her meals.

I had read of ascetics living in caves seeking enlightenment who had become preoccupied with their meals – becoming obsessed with their sole contact with the outside world – the meals someone would bring them.  Dani said much the same thing. She had nothing to look forward to, day after day, long hour after hour, with no change, no variance. No one came to see her for months. She had no human contact.

She would spend hours – the mind has to think of something – hours thinking of what her next meal was. If became a fascination to wonder what was next. She had no control. She did not put her order in, or pick from a menu. It was up to her family to decide and, one imagines, it was low calorie diet [For Raniere likes his slaves slender].

Dani would be elated if she got something nice or what she had hoped for in a meal, and deeply despondent when she got less than what she expected.  While others, the living, were also experiencing joy and sorrow based on a broader experience of their lives – Dani’s happiness and misery was often confined to the meals she received, for that was all she had of variance in her life.

She described her room as four walls. There was an adjoining bathroom to which she had access. She was allowed soap and shampoo [It was pathetic to hear she would read and reread the shampoo bottle just to read words – just to see words printed.] She had her bed and her pencil and paper – the purpose of these latter were to write to Keith – confessions of adoring love for him and statements seeking atonement for her grave ethical breach – her secret ethical breach, that neither Keith nor she shared with others. [Keith depended on that secrecy. Keith, the liar, made it out that Dani was a thief and this was her ethical breach].

Her ethical breach was that she wanted another man other than Raniere and she kissed him too. In short, Dani refused to be part of his harem. She said that if Keith could have other women [he had dozens] she could have another man. That was her position and she stuck with it.

I took away that the reason Dani stayed in a room for 23 months was that she was not going to be a member of his harem – doomed to a life of being one of 20 women or more forever, never to know the joy of marriage, or having a family, of being dedicated to a union of one man and one woman as she had wanted and was raised to believe was right for kindly, righteous people.

There may be a thousand reasons why she stayed as long as she did in confinement. There are gray lines of coercion, and brainwashing, versus free will to leave anytime – for the door was unlocked and, in the end, she chose the day she left her room.

Through it all, it seems, she did not succumb to the one demand of the monster – that she be his slave for life.  That was really what it was all about. Her determined refusal to be his slave. This is her glory: She spent two years conflicted – believing intellectually that he was the greatest man who lived, yet knowing in her heart that what he wanted from her was wrong for her personally. Deep down she knew and so she stayed in a room rather than submit to what her heart told her was wrong.

Hers was a conflict of heart and head. And I think in the end, despite the fact that she is an extremely intelligent woman, her heart won out. Her heart guided her and she walked out one day from the room free of the monster who everybody – her family and all her friends since she was 16 – believed was no monster but a god, or nearly a god.

Dani spent one month shy of two years in confinement in a room in Clifton Park, with her family living below her, supporting her confinement, based on their belief in the rightness and brilliance of a madman, a demon.

But what of Lauren Salzman, Kathy Russell, Clare Bronfman, Allison Mack and many others? They were confined too – in prisons of the mind. Following Raniere’s dictates, giving up their whole life, every day, year after year; some of them spent far longer under this thrall than Dani.

She got out in early 2012. She spent from age 16 to age 25 in the grip of the evil one, then she escaped.

So her artwork is fascinating. It is beautiful in its own right, but against the backdrop of a woman imprisoned mentally by the gruesome Raniere and his minions – with the aid of her own family – they take on the character of pathos and sorrow, loneliness and despair.  They are really quite striking as art of a soul in torment, seeking to escape and be what it must always be, always free.  It’s suffering reflects, to me, the battle, a conflict between the mind and the heart, and, in the end, it was the heart, not the mind, that saved Dani and allowed her to go free.

She confronted the monster when she left her room. The cowardly one was playing volleyball and when he saw her, he ran and hid and had his minions escort Dani out of the arena. That was the last time she saw the filthy one – in February, 2012 – until she came again in May of 2019 to a Brooklyn courtroom.

Here he was escorted into the room by US Marshals and he had to finally face her – and no, this time, he couldn’t run away.

Sketches by Dani while she was confined in a room.

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Frank Parlato

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