April 4th, 2008
06:26 PM ET

Escape from Polygamy

I was standing in a copy store this afternoon when my cell phone rang. It was Carolyn Jessop. "They raided the compound. It's sealed off. They went in there with an armored personnel carrier, Texas Rangers, everything."

This is not the first time Carolyn Jessop has left me speechless.

When I first interviewed her for CNN two summers ago it was for a piece I was producing about the F.L.D.S. the polygamist cult run by Warren Jeffs.  Carolyn had escaped with her eight children; her then-husband, Merril Jessop, was one of Warren's top lieutenants. Since Warren Jeffs went to prison, Merril Jessop has been the man in charge.

I lucked into the interview with Carolyn at the last minute. I had not had time to talk with her before she showed up in my hotel room in Salt Lake City. She sat down, the camera started rolling, and she took my breath away...

In 25 years as a producer and reporter, I've listened to a lot of stories. This was only the second time I tried not to breathe because I didn't want to interrupt the flow of someone's thoughts.

I had heard the FLDS described as the American Taliban. I had thought that was hyperbole. It was not.

Carolyn described a terrifying world of degradation and rampant physical and sexual abuse. When she escaped, she removed her handicapped son from a feeding tube and oxygen to flee in the middle of the night with him and her other seven children. She had twenty dollars to her name; and within hours of her escape, a posse of men from the F.L.D.S were hunting her down.

One of her fears was that her family might be moved into the compound in Texas that authorities raided late yesterday.  Another was that her 14-year-old daughter might be married off to an older man. That's what prompted her to flee.

Carolyn's nightmare began when she was 18 and wanted to go to college. The prophet at the time said she could if she got married first. Two days later she was married to a 52-year-old man she had never spoken to: Merril Jessop. She had eight children in 15 years.

Once, when she was panicked about getting pregnant again after having seven children, she refused to have sex with her husband. When they heard she was in "rebellion," Carolyn said his other wives then began abusing her children. So she started having sex with him again.  To protect her kids.

At one point in our interview, I could feel my eyes fill with tears. That doesn't happen very often, but some stories just rip out your heart and Carolyn's was one of them.

We stayed in touch and a year later, we wrote ESCAPE together which tells Carolyn's story in detail. It was a New York Times bestseller last fall and hit the list in Britain a few months ago. 

In an age saturated with celebrity and instant heroes, Carolyn stands apart. She is a woman of uncommon courage and valor. And tonight, she'll be interviewed by Anderson Cooper about the raid on the FLDS compound in Texas.

Carolyn knows the inside story of the FLDS as well as anyone else on the outside. Anderson Cooper did the first in-depth television story about Carolyn's life and has consistently reported on the unraveling horrors of the FLDS.

Thank you for hearing her story.


-Laura Palmer, 360° Writer

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?

Filed under: Barclay Palmer • Laura Palmer • Polygamy
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Jolene

    Thanks for your post. It saddens me that these women are seen as nothing but baby factories. Not to mention that they couldn't even go to college without getting married first and having sex with some man almost 3 times your age.

    I'm addding Escape to my list of books to read. Sounds like a fascinating read.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    April 4, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  2. Lauren,Illinois

    This is disgusting what is even more alarming is that us tax payers are paying for this!! Each women may get "married" but its not legal so every child they have is a unwed mother so the government is giving them money! Just some food for thought!

    April 4, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    I can't even imagine living like this woman had to live. Her courage in escaping with her children had to be tremendous. And its also hard to imagine the FDLS sending a posse after her. I'll pick up a copy of her book to learn more about this and I will certainly be watching for Anderson's interview with her.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 4, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  4. Michael, NC

    Oh boy, I thought this kind of stuff was foreign to America...what are these people thinking? I mean, it just shows that people will go to any measures to make themselves feel in the right. I am looking forward to some more coverage when it unfolds, and just may have to check the book out.

    April 4, 2008 at 8:11 pm |
  5. Delores Jackson

    I recall reading & watching TV news on this group – FLDS. What a mess of lives they have created! All kudoes to Carolyn for her escape and finding an intelligent writer such as Anderson Cooper to tell of her plight. I will now buy and read the book: ESCAPE.

    April 4, 2008 at 7:27 pm |
  6. Rose from Southern Calif

    Man will use whatever religion to get what they want.
    Man's greed not Man's God.

    April 4, 2008 at 6:52 pm |