Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

I don't usually read books about the issue du jour if you know what I mean. For some reason, however, I was attracted to this book by Carolyn Jessop, who escaped from the FLDS, the fundamentalist polygamous cult that was recently raided by the Texas authorities for alleged child abuse.

Carolyn Jessop was raised in the FLDS community in Colorado City, Arizona, and forced at age 18 to marry a man 30 years her senior, a man who already had three wives and numerous children. She endured more than 15 years of marriage to him and gave birth to 8 children. Her book tells the story of how she went from being a true believer in the tenets of her religion to understanding the real nature of the FLDS: that it brainwashes its followers through isolation, violence, and intimidation into total subservience to the leadership, which consists of corrupt old men.

The first part of this book, which details Jessop’s childhood and married life, is painful to read. Life in the FLDS compound was (for women, anyway) “worse than [under] the Taliban” (according to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who, with Carolyn Jessop’s help, targeted the FLDS for its crimes). It was especially interesting to read about the dynamics among the women in the household. For them, plural marriage seems to be essentially a zero-sum game, where every favor granted to one wife or her children means that a different wife or child will lose out. Competition among the women is cut throat and Carolyn’s children were routinely brutalized by their “other mothers.”

Before Carolyn Jessop, few women managed to escape from the cult, as local police were FLDS members who returned runaway wives to their husbands. But Jessop’s bravery and intelligence saved her and her children. The story of how she managed to escape and to retain custody of all of her children makes for great thriller-type reading.

Written in 2007, before the raid on the Texas compound, this book provides great background for understanding the legal battles that are still going on with the FLDS. Before reading this book I didn’t know much about the FLDS other than that they seemed like some creepy fringe group that was operating far off my radar. I did not realize how many women and children were (and still are) being held against their will, forced into sexual slavery, denied education, adequate medical care, and freedom to come and go--their basic human rights.

(Book 26, 2009)


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