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
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