Sunday, November 27, 2016
Carolyn was born into the FLDS church, the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Her family and her ancestors were polygamists. She was raised to believe the teachings of her church and she believed wholeheartedly in its teachings. She was, in fact, proud of her heritage. even as she began to find it rather constricting and stifling as she grew up.
Like most women in her small community, she was not given a choice in who she was to marry. Her parents arranged for her to marry a man who was more than thirty years older than she, Merril Jessop.
Jessop already had three wives and many children, some perhaps as old or older than Carolyn herself. But he was greedy for more. And he continued to acquire wives through the years, selecting younger and younger girls as his brides.
Being a younger wife in a family with three older wives was not an easy position in which to be. Carolyn soon realized that Merril's first wife was the wife of his heart and this woman's word was the law in the family. Carolyn also figured out that the only way to achieve and maintain status in the family was to have lots of children for her husband. A wife's ability to bear children and her sexual attractiveness to her husband were her main badges of status within the family and within the community.
Their religion taught that women were subservient to men, little more than property. A man's wishes were the law and abuse was rampant, both physical and sexual. Women and girls were required to be "sweet" and not question or rebel and to obey and submit. And this is what Carolyn tried to do, through the years, until the rise of Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs began to institute a kind of religious dictatorship. He began to pass all sorts of new rules, restricting the community's access to the outside world. He set up rules for how to dress, how to wear your hair and he told the people to remove their children from public school. Women began to find their already constricted world even more constricted than ever.
But it was only when Jeffs started marrying off younger and younger girls to old men that Carolyn started to think it was time to quit the FLDS and get away before her young daughters were given away into sexual slavery. But Jeffs' and Jessop's influence and reach were wide spread in their part of the world and they were known to be vengeful and remorseless in pursuit. How in the world would Carolyn manage to spirit her eight children away with no money and no help that she could trust? And how would she support her children if she did manage to escape? Not to mention that one of her kids was just an infant and the other very disabled and requiring medical care? Could she count on the states of Utah and Arizona to give her the help and support she so desperately needed? As far as she knew, no woman who had fled the FLDS had managed to retain custody of her children. But she didn't let that stop her and she went on to be the first escaped wife to defy the FLDS and her abusive husband and gain sole custody of her eight children.
This is an amazing and totally engrossing account of one woman's experience in a polygamous society. She starts out totally committed to the precepts of the religion but gradually begins to rebel when she admits to herself that she is tremendously unhappy and that her children are at risk of ending up in similar miserable situations. It was quite a journey, living it with her and sharing her story.