[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/23/book.292.320.jessop.jpg caption="Carolyn Jessop is a former FLDS Member and Co-Author of Escape." width=292 height=320]
Author of ESCAPE, and former FLDS member
Relief. Justice. Accountability. Those three words best express my reaction to the news that my ex-husband, Merril Jessop, one of the most powerful men in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), has been indicted.
Merril, 72, is charged with conducting the marriage of an underage girl—his own daughter—to the FLDS “prophet” Warren Jeffs. I know her; she was 12 years old when she was forced to marry. Merril posted $30,000 in bail yesterday and is free. But he’s been charged with a felony and will stand trial.
Merril is in charge of the compound in Texas that’s home to hundreds of FLDS members and that was raided last April on accusations of marriages of underage girls. In fact, Merril has headed the sect since 2006, when Jeffs was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, fled the compound, and was later convicted on a charge related to the marriage of a girl to an older man.
I long ago worked through the anger I felt toward Merril, whom I was forced to marry at 18. I was his fourth wife and we had 8 children in 15 years. Five years ago I fled with all of my children in the middle of the night. The book I wrote about my life, ESCAPE, became a bestseller.
I knew I couldn’t stay silent when crimes were being perpetrated against so many women and children still trapped in the FLDS. I wrote ESCAPE to bring attention to the rampant degradation, humiliation and exploitation that was routinely done by the FLDS in the name of “God.”
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/23/book.292.320.jessop.jpg caption="Carolyn Jessop is a former FLDS Member and Co-Author of Escape" width=292 height=320]
Former FLDS Member
I was shocked when I heard the news of the Texas Appellate Court ruling this afternoon.
Waves of horror washed over me at first as I thought that the children might have to be immediately returned. But that's not going to happen. This ruling will be appealed. It's not a knockout punch, but the FLDS obviously gained some ground today.
If those children go back to the complete, unsupervised control of the FLDS at the Yearning for Zion Ranch it would be like throwing gasoline on a fire that's already burning out of control. It would send a message that the FLDS can get away with any level of crime which would reinforce what society, through its inaction over the years, has reinforced for a very long time. The pattern in the FLDS is, from my experience, that once its leaders can get away with one level of crime they move on to the next.
I know from my conversations with those close to this case that Texas authorities feel they have found a system of abuse within the Eldorado compound. Remember the dozens of babies that were left unattended in a nursery? Or the news this week that 100 kids didn't match up with any parents in the compound? There will be more information about the physical and sexual abuse of these children when criminal charges are filed. A lot of evidence was taken out in the raid that investigators are still piecing together.
[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]
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.
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Co-author with Laura Palmer of the bestseller ESCAPE, a personal account of life in the FLDS
Sickened but not surprised is my reaction to the news that 41 of the boys removed from the Eldorado compound showed signs of having had broken bones. Some of them were “very young,” according to child protection officials.
I was married to Merril Jessop, who now runs the compound in Texas. Physical abuse was not uncommon in his household. I saw boys hit or kicked hard enough to result in fractures. I remember seeing a boy kicked so hard he flew across the room. I’ve seen boys hit with large boards.
It’s not just the abuse.
When my son, Patrick, was six years old, he fell off a bunk bed one night. I was sure he broke his arm. Merril refused to let me take him to the doctor. He said his arm was not broken. I sat up with Pat all night. I gave him pain medication. He was in agony.
I was not free as a mother to take my child to the doctor unless I had Merril’s permission. I waited for three days until Merril went out of town. Pat was unable to use his arm. I took him to the local clinic. His arm was broken and needed to be set.
Neglect is abuse, too.
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.
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co-author of ESCAPE, her memoir of life in the FLDS and her escape from it
One of the aspects of my former life people are always curious about is the clothing women in the FLDS wear. Sometimes the media refers to it as “pioneer-style” clothing or “Little House on the Prairie” attire. With their long dresses, long underwear and hair piled high on their heads women in the FLDS look like they are racing headlong into the 19th century.
It looks bizarre to me now, but I wore clothing like that for 35 years. This all started after the disastrous Short Creek raid in 1953. That raid is a focal point in FLDS history. Arizona officials raided the polygamist community and tried to break it up. But they failed when wrenching pictures of mothers being separated from their children were published in newspapers and there was a huge public outcry.
But the raid turned out to be a huge plus for the FLDS because so much sympathy was generated. After the court case was tossed out, people came home and continued the polygamist lifestyle but became even more secretive.