I’ve got through half of the book by a former fundamentalist Mormon and one of six wives of an elder in the community. It’s called Escape by Caroline Jessop.
It reads almost like a dystopian novel, except it’s real, but still hard to believe. In her childhood, her dad got a revelation from the prophet to take on another wife which added to her already large family. Mormon women are baby machines and expected to bear as many children as possible. The more children, the more status and respect she has in the community. Caroline’s plans to become a doctor were changed when her parents woke her up in the middle of the night after her graduation from high school to tell her the prophet had received a revelation telling her her new husband was to be a 50 yr. old man with three wives. She was married to the man that weekend after only having been introduced to him the day before and joined his ready made family of 3, now 4, wives and 30 children. These were just the ones still living at home!
One fascinating aspect to the story is Jessop’s favored wife Barbara. She rules the hen house and reports on the other wives to “the father” and when Carolines new husband allows her to go to college (to be a teacher—doctor was out of the question) it is because she would not be there all the time vying for Jessop’s affections. In addition to be domineering and manipulative, Barbara was also jealous. We learn that most polygamous marriages contain rivalries and domination by a favored wife. In reality, most sister-wives are not “in harmony” with fundamentalist latter-day saint values (FLDS). They are always in conflict with one another over chores, their husband, children, and social life—what little they have.
When Caroline did go off to college, Jessop’s two oldest daughters still at home went with her. Not so much for the education, but as spies. The girls would report back to favored wife Barbara on any little discretion. When Caroline caught on their scheme, it failed to rile her. So then the girls would make stuff up about her. Then when Caroline went home, she’d get lectured by Jessolp for disobedience.
Another fascinating thing about her story are the family dynamics concerning the other wives. One of them is out of favor and spends her days sleeping and nights watching tv. Another one is emotionally unstable and does weird shit like prancing around and throwing dishes to get the devil out of them and trying to take all her clothes off in the family van to nurse a baby even though she had no more milk. During this time, the new prophet has a revelation and gives Jessop two more wives that “belonged” to the previous, now deceased, prophet.
There was also an interesting story about the division in the community involving the apostles and the prophet’s successors. Depending on which side a family was on in the divide depended on where they sent their kids to school and which church building they met in. That feud lasted 7 years.
more to come…
As the story continues, Caroline was embarking on the establishment of a charter school, complete with computer labs for the growing population of children in the FLDS community. However, a ruthless dictator was taking over named Warren Jeffs. He began taking over the cult after his father Rulon Jeffs became to old and feeble to run things. Jeffs closed down the schools, banned books from the outside, and forbid anyone from getting a college degree.
Then her husband told her she had to go and run one of his motels. He hired a criminal with a background of rape and drugs that stalked Caroline, but he only said she was being disobedient and lazy when she complained. A neighbor who lived on the property caught up to the creep and held a gun to his head and said if he set foot near her again, he’d blow his head off. The creep never returned, but this was a turning point for Caroline. She realized that this neighbor, who had a history of violence and mafia connections himself, cared more about her well-being than her husband, who recently took on his seventh wife.
Then Caroline’s sister-wives, Barbara in particular, began being abusive to her and her six children. This was because they learned that she was being unfaithful to their husband Merrill. Refusing to have sex is like adultery in the cult. She relented to protect her children and became pregnant again. As she’s going through another rough pregnancy (they always make her sick) she learns her baby who is still breast feeding has terminal cancer. When she tried to get him serious medical help, Merrill said their son’s sickness was because of her disobedience. She got him medical help without his permission.
Caroline was always taught that we on the outside were the evil ones. Now she’s learning that the only ones interested in her and her son’s welfare were the outsiders!
to be continued…
Finally finished it. Wow! After the terrorist attacks on 9-11, their new leader Warren Jeffs began talking about the upcoming apocalypse and the need to build a “center.” Construction on it began soon after which became that compound seen in the news in Texas. Caroline has escaped before then.
There were more wacky stories about her sick son and how Merrill had neglected him by refusing to pay for any of his treatments, even while she and Merril were still married. There was also an accident involving another sister-wife’s son. He fell off a dirt bike and had internal injuries and was listed as critical. When the sister wife named Ruth, who also occasionally suffered mental breakdowns, wanted to see her son in the hospital and sign a release form to allow doctors to perform surgery, Merrill told her not to worry, that he and Barbara (the head sister wife) would take care of it. Merrill never did make it to the hospital but sent one of his other sons to go and visit him. He ended up staying overnight at the hospital because noone would pick him up. When Ruth pleaded to Merrill about going to see him, she was told she was being disobedient and lacking faith. She was told to pray for forgiveness if she wanted to make it to the celestial kingdom.
You can’t make this shit up! Fortunately, despite his asshole dad’s lack of caring, he survived.
In the meantime, Jeffs was excommunicating young men from the community left and right. They were often presented with trumped-up charges. Some boys, later known as the “lost boys” were as young as 13. Any male that Jeffs deemed as a potential threat to his power, or to his obtaining of wives, was eliminated. Married men, if they disagreed with Jeffs on any matter relating to the church or business, were excommunicated and their wives and children were “assigned” to other men. Caroline’s ex after her departure acquired 8 more wives! Even Carolines own father was told to leave. He did, but took one of his wives with him. One chose to obey Jeffs and the other, Caroline’s biological mother, had left the cult the year before.
One sad note, Caroline’s oldest daughter Betty decided to go back to the FLDS after her graduation from high school. Unbelievable! The kids had tasted freedom for four years but Betty was too indoctrinated to appreciate any other life.
There are still court cases being heard in the time since the compound, named the YFZ “Yearning for Zion” was raided. Jeffs obtained a small fortune by the husbands he excommunicated. They were told to do penance and give a sizable portion of their earnings over to Jeffs from “afar.” They also had to write a long letter of their sins and Jeffs would decide when they could come back.
Physicians on the case determined that at least 40 children that were rescued from the compound had suffered broken bones. Merrill Jessop had taken over as leader of the compound when Jeffs went into hiding.
Caroline Jessop talks about her story on ABC.