April 22nd, 2008
12:02 PM ET

Increasingly strange changes in the FLDS community

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/23/book.292.320.jessop.jpg caption="Copyright © 2007 by Visionary Classics, LLC From the book Escape by Carolyn Jessop, co-author Laura Palmer, published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission." width=292 height=320]By 1995, Warren Jeffs was becoming a subtle and more powerful presence in our daily lives. This struck me as odd because there were many other men who were more powerful in the FLDS than he. But he was Uncle Rulon’s favored son, and the prophet would often say that Warren spoke for him.

Warren spoke in other ways. He began teaching special priesthood history classes in Salt Lake City where he still worked as the principal at a private FLDS school. The classes were taped, and Tammy’s sister came to our house one day enthusiastically talking about how much information they contained. I wondered why anyone would care about whatever Warren Jeffs had to say. Tammy’s sister said that these tapes were not available to just anybody. Only the privileged could purchase them.

Once the tapes gained exclusive status every family in the community wanted a set. Some people who heard them found them disgusting and said they were little more than Warren’s racist rants. He claimed that the black race was put on earth to preserve evil.

I decided to listen to them myself. Warren based his talks on foundational FLDS. doctrine. He spoke in a strange, trance-like voice that seemed deliberately aimed at hypnotizing the listener. One set of tapes described how God would destroy everyone on the North and South American continents. Then he went on and recited a lengthy list of things a person would have to do before he or she could be lifted off the earth.

Anyone who hoped to ascend had to live with a burning in their chest at all times and that burning was the spirit of God. The tapes were becoming so popular that there was a frenzy among those who were trying to get them. There exclusivity gave them great status and everyone wanted to get hold of a set.

Warren spoke at church and elaborated on how the burning in our chest would presage being lifted from the earth. Those who didn’t have it would be destroyed along with the wicked.

It was around this time when Warren banned the color red. He announced that it was inappropriate to wear the color red or have red items in our home because it was reserved for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He preached that when Jesus Christ returns he’ll do so in a red robe and wearing that color prior to the second coming is unholy.

He made the pronouncement one Sunday in church and those wearing red went home immediately and changed clothes. Other families got rid of every red item they owned. This was a hardship for families without much money. Children lost a lot of clothes, coats and boots. Women with red in their dresses had to get rid of them; for some this meant throwing out a sizable percentage of their wardrobe. Some families adapted to this with a more moderate approach; when the red clothes, toys, or household items wore out, they would abandon them. The more extreme families discarded all red items immediately.

One teacher told her students red wasn’t a bad color, it was beautiful. The students reported her rebellion to their parents. The parents complained and asked that the teacher, who was not a member of the FLDS, respect their beliefs and asked that red be removed from her classroom.

Merril had always liked red. In our family we went through the closets and eliminated most of our red clothes. That evening I watched the sunset - a blaze of orange and red. If God wanted red preserved for Jesus Christ alone, did he spread it across the sky in such abandon?

When some of us gathered for coffee later that week at Linda’s the topic of having a burning in our chests as a proof or righteousness came up again. Jane, my high-spirited cousin I played “Apocalypse” with as a child, kicked off the discussion. “Ladies, I have one question. What the hell is this burning in your chest all about anyway? I always thought that burning is mastitis.” (Mastitis is an infection common to nursing mothers.) Everyone laughed. Someone asked Jane how she dared question the requirements about being lifted up. “Well,” she said, “If I have to have a breast infection to be lifted up, then no thank you! I would rather die with the wicked!”

The discussion then became more serious about what felt like a new extremism taking root in the community that felt more radical than anything that we’d known in the past. One of the women recounted a harrowing story about one of the police officers in the FLDS.

(All of the police officers in our community were FLDS members which complicated matters if a woman tried to escape, because she’d get no help or protection from police. It also made reporting domestic violence almost meaningless because the police would always side with the husband.)

I had rarely ever heard a story as disturbing as I did that morning. The FLDS police officer wanted to take his wife up to the Steeds ranch to teach her a lesson in obedience. He put her in a pen with a bull and then tied a rope to the neck of the bull. He told his wife, who was pregnant, that she had to control the bull with the rope on orders of her priesthood head. She tried to hang on to the bull but he ran off and she ended up being dragged until she let go of the rope.

Her husband got into the pen and handed her the rope again and told her she had to hold on. But the bull pulled away from her and her husband became enraged. This time he took the end of the rope and tied it around the neck of the bull and told her she better hang on this time. But it was impossible. The third time he tied the rope to her so she could not let go. She was dragged around the ring again and so badly injured she lost the baby - which then became her fault because she was so disobedient.

When I heard it I told the group I had a burning sensation in my chest—I wanted to kill the guy. The others agreed and we talked about what we’d do if he ever pulled us over. The story was well -circulated in the community because the man’s stepmother became aware of what he’d done to his wife and was so incensed that she started talking about it. No one went to the authorities because we knew the woman would deny the whole thing. We all knew we were powerless when it came to protecting ourselves. I feared that it was an example of hysteria that was manifesting itself in extreme ways. This police officer had carried the notion of "perfect obedience" to a criminal level.

The obedience Warren preached was a woman’s complete submission to her husband. He said women should not work outside the home and should not even leave home unless allowed to do so by her husband.

We’d always kept our coffee meetings quiet, but now we knew we had to be even more careful. We began to be much more circumspect about what we were doing as changes swept over our community. As women were required to leave the workforce because of Jeffs’ new doctrines, it became harder for some families to make ends meet.

The changes Warren Jeffs mandated were obeyed because it was believed he was the voice of the prophet, Uncle Rulon. People did not resist the more oppressive policies he advocated. Instead, it was widely believed that we were being called to a higher way of living the gospel. This wasn’t oppression, this was grace. God was giving us a new and better way of being more faithful to him via the prophet and his mouthpiece, Warren Jeffs.

People who feared these changes and sensed danger, like me, kept quiet. It wasn’t safe anymore to talk about what you were feeling. Women now were not even supposed to go into town without the company of a man. Our husbands were our lord and supreme master who held exclusive power over our lives. It was seen as no longer acceptable for a woman to enter into the same room as her husband without first saying a personal prayer asking God to put the same spirit on her as her husband’s.

I saw this as a real dilemma for because most of the time when I entered the same room as Merril he was usually in a very bad mood. If I had the same spirit that he had one of us might get hurt. This doctrine was one I decided to ignore.


Carolyn Jessop
Former FLDS Member/Co-Author of "Escape"
Editor's Note: The following an excerpt from Carolyn Jessop's memoir "Escape," which recounts her life inside of a polygamist community and her dramatic flight.






Filed under: Barclay Palmer • Carolyn Jessop • Laura Palmer • Polygamy
soundoff (69 Responses)
  1. DD

    I have been trying to understand why these people believe what they believe but I just don't get it. They claim to be christians and yet seem to have so little regard for others feelings! The pain from cuts and bruises heal but the pain and scars from sexual and emotional abuse rarely heal. How can any loving mother look into her young daughter's crying eyes and tell her that she has to marry someone she doesn't want to marry in order to gain everlasting life? Or how does a mother leave her son in a mall because a "prophet" told her to? Can someone explain to me where this is in the Bible? The Jesus I know does not condone this behavior and I am sure he is greatly offended that these poeple do these acts while clailming to be his followers! I pray for the children!

    April 24, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  2. KarenD

    Amanda, the US ( federal government) does not actually prohibit polygamy. Some states do. In some states it is technically permissable.

    April 24, 2008 at 2:24 pm |
  3. Caliguy55

    This book once again exposes the extreme dangers of religious fanaticism. Of course, one need only study the theocracies of the Middle East and elsewhere to see what happens when ignorance and religious fanaticism join hands to destroy the human spirit. Personally, I believe that all religions are worthless - they cause more problems than they solve. However, while I'm not a member of any religion, I have read religious texts such as the Sermon on the Mount delivered by Jesus Christ (who I believe was only nominally considered a Jew). These texts set forth universal principles discoverable through the use of reason that provide an exemplary manner for humans to live in peace and harmony. If everyone followed these principles, this world would be a much better place to live.

    April 24, 2008 at 10:51 am |
  4. ralph

    A rush to judgement is wrong as we are innocent until proven guilty. history shows us too many instances where groups of poeple living apart from mainstream society do so because they have different views. unfortunately history has shown us some [actually most] of these groups views are hinged around individuals who were actually mentally un-hinged [jim jones, sun yung moon, charles manson, etc.]
    the authorities in texas are just ensuring the protection of those who cannot protect themselves, are easily influenced, and taken advantage of – mainly children.
    am i the only one missing something, or was warren jeffs actually convicted of child rape and imprisioned ?

    April 24, 2008 at 10:15 am |
  5. Tracy

    Why do debates on religion continue to predominate these web-sites? A cult is not a religion. It invents one to control its members. That's what a cult does. The operative word is control We're talking about the right for a person to be free and make their own choices.. Exercise free-will. These people have had their spirits crushed. I am so tired of hearing about religion and fear of change (of clothes?) for the children. The kids will be eternally grateful in the future, when they realize what they escaped. The mere idea of sending any of them back is so scary. The new leader which will inevitably be put in place, will get them all back in line, once things settle down. These people are shuffled around and traded like livestock to supply breeders, workers and offspring as commodities. The only way it would be safe to re-unite them with their mothers would be in a new "Victim Witness" pro. situation, where they could be safe from their perpetrators. Until all the cult branches are dismantled they'll never be safe. Has anyone notice how the Catholic sex scandals got a new voice recently and was aired back-to-back w/this issue? That is no coincidence . It is an issue who's time has arrived for change and reform ,and the only thing that promotes necessary change is Awareness. This has brought attention to an issue who's time has come. Let's help these victims, women and kids, and start something new -that will enable others to find sanctuary. Let them know help is there now.

    April 24, 2008 at 8:50 am |
  6. cc

    Apparently those who are defending the FLDS are forgetting that documents recording underage births have already been found. As an organization, the FLDS has already decided that it is above the law; they have made a practice of knowingly hiding illegal acts from our law enforcement. That makes it a corrupt organization, and passing judgement on the FLDS is about as heinous as passing judgement on the mafia.

    April 24, 2008 at 1:48 am |
  7. MJ

    I don't think that CPS had the right to take every last child away from their homes and parents. Very scary people, that a country like this can go in and rip families apart just because of a phone call! That is not okay and neither is child abuse. They should have gone in, interviewed the children in their homes, and if they found abuse dealt with it individualy. There is no way that all of those children are abused. Those poor children are being traumatized by being away from their families. I don't care what religion a person is, these peoples rights HAVE been violated. Government control has gone too far.....tanks and guns were brought into this compound to investigate child abuse??!!! Wake up america and stand up for these peoples rights.

    April 24, 2008 at 12:57 am |
  8. RJM

    Here's an idea: place the children in *LDS* homes (not FLDS). LDS is the mainstream religion practiced by millions that FLDS broke away from over 100 years ago. The children would be familiar with most of the morals and beliefs (minus the abusive ones the lunatics in the FLDS leadership have invented on their own).

    April 24, 2008 at 12:38 am |
  9. Debbie

    To all of those here who chose to side with the FLDS please do some research, Look up the Lost Boys of the FLDS, Look up FLDS in general, and read up on the lifestyle they live( not the religion they practice). Would you as a mother or father abandon your son simply because he started into puberty and became competition for the 50 yr old neighbor who was slated to marry the girl next door that your son had noticed. Abandonment of children is a crime, yet they have done this for decades and gotten away with it. Really stop and think about it. Which man/boy is a young girl going to be more interested in? the 50 yr old "the Prophet" decides she shoiuld marry, or the teenage boy closer to her age? The fact that this woman had the courage to "escape" then more power to her. Her story of her life is no more "opinionated" than the woman who tells of a life of drugs, or the woman who tells of a childhood of sexual abuse, this is their life experience, not and opinion of what they "think" life would have been like. Think about being so "trained" from infancy that "Our way is right, If you don't live Our way you will go to hell, The prophet talks to God, and knows what God wants from us". Can you honestly say that you would understand the laws of the land? Or would you believe what you were raised your whole life to believe? Whether these women and children have been physically or sexually abused is still in question. The "fact" that these women and children have been emotionally and mentally abused is not. If you doubt that again do some research and you will find that they exhibit the behaviours associated with mental/emotional abuse. Which should tell us alot.

    April 24, 2008 at 12:00 am |
  10. ana

    It is very sad that abuse such as the one described is still happening. Hopefully these matter can be solved soon and the real predators of these story brought to justice. Children should be allowed to go back to their families only when they are safe-out of the cult... questions is why the FLDS women are still on denial about the abuse on this cult? Some are brave enough to leave but some support it and that is very puzzling to me....

    April 23, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  11. WOW

    TO CJ, CA

    Wait for what????? The doctrine of FDLS is to have very young girls "MARRY" older men, this is what they believe will get them into heaven, however it is illegal in the USA for underage girls to marry. And It is illegal for pedophiles to prey on children in these United States as well. The significant parallel between these two news stories....heinous crimes against our youth.

    Maybe CJ, CA, you might want to pray for a little LIGHT to shine onto your" wait and see" attitude. It's time for TRUTH, dear!!!

    April 23, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  12. Carmen

    If there was mearly just a few women not willing to give their husband's name or their own last name, that's one thing. Every single woman in the FLDS doesn't want to talk about anything other than their children. Why don't they want to give DNA samples to the authorities. If their isn't anything going on illegally in the compound, then why deny anthing that will help them get their children back?
    Obvioulsy, there is innocent until proven guilty; but there were 13 year-old girls pregnant or already mothers! There has to be some knowledge of that church abusing their own children. The men are hiding behind skirts trying to deny any child abuse alligations. CNN isn't trying to take someone's opinion as fact. They are only reporting what those members that seek refuge as THAT person's story...not as fact.

    April 23, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  13. Catalina

    I may strongly disagree with his ideology, but Karl Marx had it right for this kind of situation: Religion is the opiate of the masses.

    Believe away all you want, but for goodness' sakes be sensible about it. Abandoning your children because your "prophet" told you so? Discarding all things with the color of red? (I guess now tomatoes, apples, radishes, and all other food products naturally red are banned now.) Whatever happened to free thought? It is truly frightening how people are so easily convinced.

    April 23, 2008 at 9:18 pm |
  14. Lili

    This cult is really not much different than Jim Jones, he also was having sex with underage children and telling the followers who they could have sex with. I am surprised the US allowed it go on for so long.

    April 23, 2008 at 5:56 pm |
  15. Tami Smitherman

    I just finished Carolyn Jessop's book "Escape" and I want to know about Brent Jeffs (page 398), who filed a civil lawsuit in July 2004 against Warren Jeffs for sodomy after his brother Clayne (also a victim) shot himself in the head. Where is Brent Jeffs? Is he still alive? What has happened to his case? Is he safe? Is Brent still speaking out or has he been silenced by the pressues from the FLDS?

    April 23, 2008 at 3:12 pm |
  16. Annette Ferrin

    I haved lived in St George UT for about 30 years now, which is only about 45 miles from Colorado City and Hildale. It is also the closest large city and is where many of the polygamists shop and recieve health care. I have worked as a cashier in a grocery store and at a Medical Clinic, so I know personally that most of the polygamist live off food stamps and welfare, and use Medicaid and Medicare for their health care needs, so we all are funding their lifestyle. Personally I don't care if someone choses to be Polygamist IF it is THEIR choice as an adult over 18, and IF they can take care of themselves financially.
    I personally know a family who left the community because they didn't want their young teenaged daughter to be forced to marry an old men. I have a friend from there who told me about a family he knows whose young teenaged son was abandoned in a Mall in Las Vegas because his parents were told to do so by their "prophet". These "lost boys" are kicked out and abandoned by their community because they would be in competition with the older men for wives. Sadly, many feel like they are doomed to go to hell because of being indoctrinated that the only salvation lies in being a faithful member FLDS church.
    Child abuse happens in all societes, but is usally not encouraged or condoned by those in authority. To me, this is the real issue and the one we need to keep in mind.

    April 23, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  17. Noelle

    Its not wrong for people to 'tell their story' but its wrong for people to take it at face value without background information. A few women, fearing their abusig husbands left the sect.
    1. They left, the obviously had SOME free will, or they would still be there, afraid to wear red!
    2. Only a few left, likely because only a few were being mistreated. (Not to say all the mistreated left, but just because 5 battered women leave one neighborhood, doesn't mean the 200 remaining, are all battered)
    3. Realize, this woman speaks from an intensly bias standpoint. She viewed things from her mistreated life, and saw a few others mistreated, she is angry and hurt (justifyable). Of course she hates this group, the man from this group, that she married, mistreated her! Abuse victims, speak out against the entire catholic church, that doesn't make the whole church evil it makes the abusers criminals. This whole group isn't criminal, a few members are!

    April 23, 2008 at 12:02 pm |
  18. Jtorres

    Carolyn, thank you so much for sharing this story. I bought your book on Saturday last and finished it by Sunday night. I couldn't put it down. Now my daughter is reading it and we are both shocked by the abuse you survived.

    I am so happy for your freedom and I think you're a very courageous woman. I would love to know how Betty is and I wonder if she's left the FLDS. I'm so happy for you and Brian and I hope that you have every happiness.

    Thank you for sharing your pain so that we can all learn what goes on inside of this horrible cult. These children may be going through a time of confusion right now, but they have a chance for a different future, free of oppression and slavery. I hope that you are allowed to reach out to some of these women and children, since you probably know quite a few of them. May the REAL God of unconditional love bless you and all your family.

    April 23, 2008 at 11:35 am |
  19. BDS

    The bottom line is this: Children are being abused sexually! It's about using the word of God and your authority to manipulate young hungry minds. It may not be EVERY family in the sect but the law is if one is being abused then all need to be removed from the "possible" danger until an investigation is complete! Young girls are being threatned with their salvation to submit to sexual abuse by grown men who should be ashamed of themselves! The word of God says to follow the laws of your land. If you were a sincere believer in God you would know and accept this and realize it is against the law to MOLEST young girls!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 23, 2008 at 11:35 am |
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