Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Escape by Carolyn JessopWow.  Wow.  Escape by Carolyn Jessop (with Laura Palmer) deserves two wow’s.  No, let’s make it three.  WOW.  After reading Shattered Dreams, My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife by Irene Spencer (my book review here) I knew that I wanted more.  So glad that I read this one.  If I thought Shattered Dreams talked about the horrors of abuse in polygamist sects, Escape furthered that to a point of unbelief.  I simply can not comprehend the abuse that polygamist wives and their children suffer.

Carolyn Jessop grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a radical offshoot of the Mormon church that has settled on the Arizona-Utah border and more recently in Texas.  Her own father had two wives and she believed that their sect was God’s chosen elite.  She fully believed all that they were taught.

Carolyn had hopes of going to college but education was of no value in the church, so she was secretly hoping that she would not be married for a while.  But those dreams were dashed at the age of eighteen when she was told that she was to marry a man that she had never met, thirty-two years her senior within the week.  Believing that the only way she could reach heaven was through her husband and plural marriage she married Merril Jessop.  That’s the same man who took over as leader of the FLDS church after the recent high profile arrest of Warren Jeff’s.  She was his fourth wife out of what would become 14.  He fathered at least a hundred children.

From the time that Carolyn’s story begins to when she left the church, the FLDS were becoming more and more radical.   As Warren Jeff’s came to power, things became more restrictive and their rights diminished even more.  Women were completely subservient to their husbands, children were beaten by their teachers at the church run schools, families spied on each other, money earned by women was turned over to their husbands, wives and children were constantly beat at home, neglect was common, clothing and hairstyles became more radical.  Even if somebody wanted to escape, all the local law enforcement were local polygamist’s who turned them right back around to their husbands.  The simple point of the matter is that abuse, physical and emotional, was normal.  A part of the lifestyle.  If this was happening to the family next door, wouldn’t you be concerned?

Right when I thought Carolyn couldn’t shock us any more, I’d turn the page and be shocked some more.  Within fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children.  Many of those pregnancies were life threatening and when she had to undergo a emergency hysterectomy to save her life, her husband and his other wives told her that she was a heathen and that she had ruined any chance of salvation.  Whenever she had to leave her children at home, they were beaten and had to fend for themselves.  It was every person for themselves.

Carolyn wanted out but knew it was risky.  No woman had ever managed to escape and take her children with her.  Timing was everything and once she made her dangerous escape, Merril hunted her down fully intending to take his children back.  Carolyn was the first woman to ever gain custody of all of her children from the FLDS.

I find it hard to believe that women live like Carolyn Jessop did.  I was on the edge of my seat the entire time I read her account.  And then I found out that she lives in West Jordan, which is where I live.  My neighbors have since told me that she actually lived just one neighborhood over.  It makes you think that just looking at somebody it’s hard to believe what their story is.  Everybody has a back story and Carolyn’s was unbelievable.

Escape gives us a hard look at inside of the most secretive sects in the country.  It’s one of those eye-opening experiences that makes you feel so much sympathy and anger.  And what’s sad is that thousands of women and children are involved in this practice.   If you haven’t read this one, I’d highly recommend it.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year.

20 comments


  1. It’s so weird how much more in perspective it becomes when you realize this woman could have been your neighbor and you’d never have known. So, so strange. Thanks for sharing this book. I’ve added both this and Shattered Dreams to my ever-growing list of books I’d like to read.

    on August 30th, 2008 at 12:12 am
  2. You know, I was so going to avoid the 20% off Labor Day sale at Half Price books. Wasn’t even tempted because of everything on my shelves that I haven’t read and want to read. Then I read your three reviews this morning. This, Shattered Lives, and We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with our Families. Now I desperately want to read all three and they all have crazy wishlists on BookMooch, so I’m going to go to the bookstore and try to get them.

    on August 30th, 2008 at 6:55 am
  3. OMG!!I’m on the edge of my seat just reading your review! What an amazing story. Thanks for the review.

    on August 30th, 2008 at 8:18 am
  4. Great review! I’ve got both books on hold at the library-they have long waiting lists. Your review makes me even more anxious to delve into them.

    on August 30th, 2008 at 8:48 am
  5. =O …

    on August 30th, 2008 at 11:42 am
  6. I already had both of these on my wishlist, but now I really want to read them!

    on August 30th, 2008 at 4:24 pm
  7. I recently did a school project on the dangers of destructive cults. I read this book for some insiders information and it really blew me out of the water. It was hugely insightful and transformed my section on the impacts on individuals. I am so glad that you liked it as well.

    I’m actually now very eager to read Shattered Dreams as well. Thank you for the recommendation :)

    on August 31st, 2008 at 11:15 am
  8. What an interesting review! What a horrible way to live, and I’m glad to hear she got out of that life.

    on September 3rd, 2008 at 10:48 am
  9. So I’m very excited right now. Escape is on over 80 wishlists on BookMooch, but I managed to mooch it this morning (I must have seen it seconds after it was posted), so I should be receiving in in a few weeks. Now I just have to figure out how to fit it into my TBR pile…

    on September 12th, 2008 at 10:34 am
  10. Rebecca – The back stories on seemingly normal people is fascinating.

    DebD – That’s the way I felt the whole time I was reading it.

    Darlene – I hope you read them soon just so I can know what other people think.

    Lisa – I don’t know how these got bumped to the top of my TBR but I’m glad they did.

    Aella – Destructive yes! I could not imagine living like this.

    Anna – The whole time you read it you just wish she would get out and are disappointed time after time when she keeps staying wondering when in the world she’s going to make the move.

    Jen – Eek! Now I’m nervous. What if people don’t like books that I highly recommend?

    on September 12th, 2008 at 12:08 pm
  11. [...] this year I read and reviewed Shattered Dreams:  My Life as a Polygamist Wife by Irene Spencer and Escape by Carolyn Jessop.  I loved both of these memoirs and both are going down as two of the best books I’ve read [...]

    on October 16th, 2008 at 11:10 pm
  12. I just finished this book last night. WOW what an eye opener. As a member of the LDS church I thought the FLDS church was somewhat similiar except polygamy. Man, was I wrong. Warren Jeff’s was a whack job!!!! Like you said I couldnt put it down. I read to 1:00 am.

    on November 6th, 2008 at 11:27 pm
  13. Laura H. – True, true!!! There were so many strange things about their group. So weird. I’m glad you read it.

    on November 10th, 2008 at 11:24 pm
  14. [...] past month. The book that we discussed was Escape by Carolyn Jessop, which I highly recommend and reviewed here. It’s about one woman’s journey grouping up in the FLDS community, becoming a [...]

    on November 16th, 2008 at 6:32 pm
  15. This book affected you the same way it did me! I listened to it in the unabridged audio book format and I sat on the edge of my seat from the very beginning. It’s downright horrifying the things that have been perpetrated on these young girls and women. Carolyn Jessop is an amazingly brave woman and I am grateful that she (and others who have published their books) has shared her story with us.

    on December 11th, 2008 at 1:21 am
  16. Buzz – I agree. I couldn’t put this book down. I love that these women are able to share their stories and shed some light on their situations.

    on December 14th, 2008 at 10:14 pm
  17. i finished Escape last night and just posted my review. it was definitely a compelling read!

    on December 20th, 2008 at 8:16 pm
  18. alisonwonderland – I’m glad you read it and liked it as well!

    on December 23rd, 2008 at 9:39 pm
  19. [...] Maw Books Blog [...]

    on May 22nd, 2010 at 5:56 am
  20. [...] Other polygamist memoirs I’ve reviewed: Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer, Escape by Carolyn Jessop, Genre: Non-Fiction Publisher:  Center Street. August 12, 2009. Hardcover, 352 pages. ISBN [...]

    on October 12th, 2010 at 4:04 am

Comment Here ↓

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Look for These Book Reviews and More in the Maw Books Archives: