Former FLDS Member/Co-Author with Laura Palmer of ESCAPE
Editor’s Note: Child Protective Services (CPS) in Texas this week reported that 41 of the young children removed from the compound of the polygamist FLDS sect in Texas had had broken bones, nearly 10 percent. That’s far higher than the 1 percent among children in the US general population. An FLDS lawyer questioned the CPS report and called its release "unethical." However, Carolyn Jessop, who was married to the man now running the sect, says corporal punishment of children in the FLDS was common and sometimes severe enough to break bones, and access to doctors was strictly limited. Here is an account from her best-selling book:
One night after we were both asleep, Merril called prayers. Our children were pulled out of bed and ordered upstairs to pray. Wendell, Cathleen’s son, who was not quite two, was asleep in his crib. He was cranky and fussy after he woke up. Merril told Barbara to take Wendell into the next room and discipline him.
Barbara took Wendell into the room where she had beaten Patrick and let him have it. When Barbara beat a baby she would typically spank him until he was blue in the face from screaming. Then she would stop, order the baby to stop screaming, and start beating him again when the hysterical child continued to scream. Eventually the baby would collapse from exhaustion when he was too weak to cry.
Wendell’s pitiful screams went on into the night. Everyone at prayers was required to wait until Barbara returned. But when she didn’t return, Cathleen’s other children were ordered to bed. None of them dared wake up Cathleen to tell her what was happening to Wendell.
Barbara took Wendell into Cathleen’s bedroom and laid him beside her.
Cathleen awoke when she heard Barbara’s voice. “Wendell will grow up and do what his father needs him to do. Wendell will be a good man some day.”
Cathleen bolted up in bed and asked Barbara what she was doing.
Barbara continued stroking Wendell and saying, “Good night, Wendell, you will learn from these lessons how to be a good man.”
Then Barbara left the room.
Cathleen looked at her small son and saw how battered and bruised he was. His clothes were still soaked from his tears and sweat. Cathleen awakened her other children and asked them to tell her what had happened. At ﬁrst they were too terriﬁed to tell. But she persisted and heard about the call to prayer and the attack on Wendell. Her children told her they saw Barbara take Wendell into another room and heard him screaming after she shut the door.
Cathleen walked into Barbara’s bedroom where she was relaxing.
“Don’t you ever touch one of my children again,” she said.
Barbara sat up in bed and shot back. “Cathleen, you are out of order and you know it. I was only doing the will of my priesthood head. For you to question is pure rebellion.”
“Barbara, we have nothing to communicate about. I’m warning you that you had better never touch one of my children ever again.”
Cathleen left and locked herself into her bedroom. Her room connected to her children’s nursery. She locked the door that led into their room, too.
Barbara went immediately upstairs to Merril’s ofﬁce and told him what Cathleen had said. She returned to her bedroom. Merril stood outside Cathleen’s room and began pounding on her door.
Cathleen did not respond.
Merril was shouting outside her door. “You’re in serious trouble and if you know what is good for you then you will open this door before I break it down.”
“Do whatever you want. I’m not going to talk to you,” Cathleen replied.
Merril went and banged on the door to the children’s nursery. Cathleen’s children were too terriﬁed to refuse their father’s commands. They opened the door.
He barged into Cathleen’s bedroom and ordered her into his ofﬁce. “Cathleen, if you are going to challenge Barbara when she acts on my orders, then you will have to face consequences.”
Cathleen refused to get out of bed.
“Merril, I’m not going anywhere with you. You better leave now.”
Merril grabbed Cathleen and threw her on the ﬂoor. Her son, Johnson, was sleeping in her recliner and woke up screaming.
“Leave now, Merril. Get out of here.”
Merril threw her back on the ﬂoor, but this time even harder.
Her children were screaming from the nursery, “Go with Father, please, please.”
Merril grabbed Johnson from the recliner and threw him into the nursery and locked the door. Johnson was a shy child who had always been terriﬁed of Merril. Merril berated Cathleen for upsetting her children. Cathleen’s daughters were screaming in the nursery. Wendell, who had fallen asleep, started whimpering again.
Cathleen knew she was out of options. “Merril, if you will allow me to take Wendell to Sara, I will go to your ofﬁce.” Sara was Cathleen’s eldest daughter.
Merril screamed at her for hours in his ofﬁce. He told her that she was never, under any conditions, to sass Barbara. The next morning when Cathleen awakened me for coffee, her eyes were swollen and red. She told me everything her children had told her about what happened to Wendell the night before.
“Carolyn, Merril can batter me and berate me. But I am not going to allow Barbara to hurt my children. I’m going to see Warren.”
I warned her against that. I told her about the seventeen-page letter I had given to Warren Jeffs documenting Merril’s abuse. I explained how Warren had discounted my charges because I failed to confess my own sins of immorality.
Cathleen latched on to that in the wrong way. She suddenly thought that if she confessed her sins to the prophet, then he would help her.
I felt sick. “Cathleen, that was only an excuse. Warren needed a reason not to help me. The reality is he never intended to. He will do everything he can to cover up Merril’s abuse.”
She was unshakable in her conviction that if she told Warren the truth about her sins, he would respond to her honesty with help and protection.
“I’m going to ask Warren for help. I do have sins.” And she proceeded to tell me about a wrong that she had committed.
I begged her not to confess that wrong to Warren Jeffs. “Cathleen, don’t do it. He will eat you for lunch. If you really want to confess, confess to things like not picking up paper from the ﬂoor. Don’t give him anything to use against you.”
But Cathleen was still a true believer. “If I want his help, I need to be honest.” I knew she was doomed. There was no way she would get any help from Warren Jeffs. Confessing to a sin like that would give him power to condemn her to hell.
Cathleen made an appointment to see Warren. He heard another of Merril Jessop’s wives talk about his abusive behavior toward her.
Cathleen didn’t say much when she came back. She looked spent. She became more obedient to Barbara. Merril told her there would be no forgiveness for her rebellion and instructed her to turn over her small yellow truck to him. She would not be allowed to have her own transportation again. (Some of us had our own cars and vans, but most of us were not allowed to register them and they had no license plates. So if we left the community, we could not travel far without being stopped by the police. Cathleen needed her truck to go back and forth to Page, so hers was one of the few vehicles that was registered.)
Merril also ordered Cathleen to turn over all her paychecks to him. But she told me later she had no intention of doing that. “There is no way I’ll put myself at his mercy ﬁnancially,” she said. But I knew Barbara would insist that she did.
Cathleen told me that she was going to make amends to Barbara by working on a project with her: cleaning Merril’s ofﬁce. This was the way they were to learn to love each other again as sister wives.