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The dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.
When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.
Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse—at her peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.
Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.
murder his unborn child, then every one of us is in big trouble.” We all picked up our things and started to leave. What more could we say? If anyone heard us talking this way about Warren, we would be in real danger. I took a detour on the way home and stopped in the park. I sat in the grass, cradling Harrison in my arms. I remembered going to my mother shortly after I married Merril thirteen years before and telling her how unhappy I was. My marriage was so terrible, I couldn’t stand it. She
The principal kept chasing and kicking him. I was so sickened by what had happened to Randi earlier that day that this overwhelmed me. I could not absorb what I was seeing. In the weeks and months ahead, I would see this again and again. Kendall would wet his pants and his father would beat him. Some of the other children on the playground made fun of Kendall for wetting his pants. Others stood still, shocked to witness a father’s brutality and terrified because he was the principal of the
was sitting in a chair next to her desk. Her long wavy hair was a rich auburn. She was only about five foot four, but after nine children she weighed close to two hundred pounds. Merril took a sip of coffee before he spoke. “Barbie, I’ve decided to have Carolyn come with us to Page this week.” She looked betrayed. Anger swept over her face as she stared at Merril. “I thought you and I discussed this and we both decided Carolyn wasn’t coming to Page.” Merril shot right back. “She’s not going to
They left without saying goodbye or giving me any instructions about Jackson. I went to find him when I realized they were gone. He was careening around in a walker in a drenched diaper when I spotted him. I sat beside him, overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do with him? I knew nothing about his schedule, how many bottles a day he took, or how much solid food he ate. His sister, who was not quite six, was watching him. I couldn’t believe Barbara hadn’t even said goodbye to them or bothered to
their husband to another woman. There is tremendous prestige in marrying a former prophet’s wife. It demonstrates to the community that after his death, the prophet sent a divine revelation about whom his wife should marry. For a prophet of God—even a deceased one—to have enough confidence and love for a man to give him one of his wives indicates a man of exceptional character. In fact, what was beginning to play out was the power grab between Merril and his cousin Truman Barlow. They knew they