I don’t often do book reviews, but I just finished Escape by Carolyn Jessop and can’t get it out of my heart or mind. Jessop was part of the infamous FLDS cult (the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints group – Warren Jeffs’ cult) and her story of life in this cult is heart-wrenching, mind-searing, and morbidly fascinating at the same time.
If you remember the headlines of a few years ago, Jeffs was put on the “Ten Most Wanted” list by the FBI and the recipient of a nationwide man-hunt. Authorities knew that he was being hidden by cult members and sympathizers, and they had a list of his wrongdoings on which they intended to arrest him. They were wary of another Waco-type incident similar to the Koresh-group of the early 90s and didn’t storm the compound that Jeffs kept in Texas or the 10,000-member conclave in northern Arizona called Colorado City. His arrest ended up being peaceful and predicated with a traffic-stop.
But his list of sins were great – and not just from a moral perspective, but from a legal standpoint as well. He was charged with arranging under-age marriages, statutory rape of minors, physically abusing “wives” in his family, and more. The culture of abuse was longstanding within the FLDS – and there are hundreds of boys (called “Lost Boys”) who were summarily dismissed from the community and dropped off in the desert, in Las Vegas, or in other places without skills, education, or provision – all because they were becoming a “threat” to the older, sex-crazed power structure in the cult. As the mother of a son, I found this part particularly heart-wrenching, and yet women in the FLDS were forbidden to talk about it, grieve their sons’ disappearance, or do anything to rectify the situation. They were (are) powerless.
Jessop details her experiences in the clan as the fourth wife of a man who was 30 years her senior. Her “husband” went on to marry another 10 wives by the time she ends her tale. Her story is full of woe: physical, verbal, emotional, and mental abuse at his hands, marital rape, abuse at the hands of her “sister wives,” her children being physically and sexually abused, and more.
She escaped after learning that Jeffs was beginning to teach more and more on the topic of the apocalypse and preparing his sheep for “the end times.” Jeffs’ level of control within the cult was impressive and he still commands control of the most ardent followers from prison.
Jessop’s ability to think for herself and to be resourceful helped her escape – she was able to plan ahead, store medicine that her children needed for when she was out of the house, and keep money back (hidden from her husband). FLDS wives are expected to hand over any and all earnings to their husbands – and in Jessop’s case, she had ways of earning small amounts here and there and stashed it away for when she was free.
I was so encouraged to read of the people who actively help women who have escaped from the FLDS. I found myself weepy at points, considering the kindness of strangers against whom Jessop and her children were brainwashed, but who truly sustained them at their darkest points. They provided food, shelter, clothing, protection, and more – a loving home with people who genuinely cared for them and weren’t there to abuse them.
Jessop’s children all recovered well from their abusive cult days, save one. Her oldest daughter went back to the group when she was 18, the result of brainwashing and spiritual bondage and abuse from a young age. Her daughter’s resiliency to maintain her cult membership even when removed from the group for the better part of 10 years speaks of the depth of damage to her mind and psyche as young child. Jessop loves her daughter, but had to let her go – she was of legal age and as a mother, Jessop did all she could do to protect her children while they were still minors. From a mother’s perspective, I applaud her efforts and cannot imagine having 8 children in 15 years who were subject to the horrors they faced in everyday life.
She professes to not want a new God – but as I read the book, I saw spots of divine intervention, provision, and opportunity that brought tears to my eyes. Her suffering was not lost on God – Who, I believe, is far different than the god of the FLDS – and He delivered her.
I found myself having dark dreams after reading of the abuse, horror, and terror that was Jessop’s life, but I couldn’t put the book down. It was riveting and I finished it in 2 days. I came away from it realizing exactly how blessed I am: I have a husband who loves me, a child whose safety I don’t have to fear for once we tuck him in to bed at night, and a free life, complete with education and ability to think for myself, choose what I want to wear, how to do my hair, and I have no fear of religious tyranny.
I am blessed to have these freedoms – and this book brought my vision sharply in to focus when I read what Carolyn Jessop went through in order to achieve what I have sometimes taken for granted.