Wow. 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.