Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 15, 2008

Host: Ted Simons

Escape author

  • At age 18, Carolyn Jessop was the fourth wife of a man more than three times her age and had eight children in 12 years. After 17 years in the abusive, bigamist marriage, she fled Colorado City with her children, ages two to 15. Jessop talks with Merry Lucero about her flight from the fundamentalist Mormon community and her book, "Escape". Plus we talk with state representative David Lujan about what can be done about bigamist communities here in Arizona.
  • Carolyn Jessop - "Escape" author and former FLDS member

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
At age 18, Carolyn Jessop was forced into an arranged polygamist FLDS marriage to a man four times her age. She was his fourth wife and had eight children in 12 years. After 17 years in the abusive plural marriage,She fled Colorado city in the middle of the night with her children, ages 2 to 16. Merry Lucero spoke with her about her escape, the book she authored about her ordeal, and the women and children who still need help in the fundamental communities.

Merry Lucero:
Carolyn Jessop, thank you for joining me here on "horizon". Going back to your beginnings, you were born into a polygamous FLDS family. What were you taught as a little girl about polygamy and the polygamous lifestyle?

Carolyn Jessop:
I was told that we were a special group of people on the earth, the only one that god was even working with. It was quite an elitist religion.

Merry Lucero:
when you turned 18, what were you thinking when you were told at 18 you were going to be married off to a man who was 50 years old, and you were going to be his third wife? Were you shocked and horrified over what was going to happen to your life?

Carolyn Jessop:
I was shocked and horrified, but polygamy seemed normal. Everybody I knew lived it, and it was supposed to be the better way to live. And occasionally an older man would get a younger wife like this, but it didn't happen very often. When it happened to me, I was kind of in a state of horror. Even though I'd seen it happen before, you think it just happens to somebody else. So it was terrifying, really. And the night my father told me I was going to Mary Merrill Jessop, I felt like every good thing in my life ended that night and there was no way to stop it.

Merry Lucero:
You were living in such a violent and abusive stressful family and home life. What would you say was the key to your survival through all of that?

Carolyn Jessop:
I think part of that was resilience, not just allowing circumstances to take me down and feel defeated. I kept thinking I could rise above it and find a better way. When I finally realized I couldn't, I started looking at my daughters, and I realized I did not want them to live the kind of life I had lived. That was a significant turning point when I started questioning the way I had been raised and my belief system, and how could something that was of god be so ugly and so abusive.

Merry Lucero:
The level of abuse that goes on towards the children in the community, was that something that was just a continually building kind of norm in that community?

Carolyn Jessop:
It's a norm within the society. It's a highly controlled, highly secretive society. And when you have to have that kind of dominant control over your children and family, you resort to a lot of extreme measures to have that kind of control, and that usually involved violence. Within the society, what aggravates this problem or makes it worse is that there are no limits. There's no point where you've gone too far, because a man has the right to receive divine revelation from god. If god has revealed to him to discipline a child or a wife in this way, who's to question him?

Merry Lucero:
Starting your book with the story of your escape really showed your desperation level at that time. Was there the same desperation level in the community? Had it elevated at that point because of the Jeffs family coming into power and the leadership of Warren Jeffs?

Carolyn Jessop:
Things changed when his father took over and it progressively spiraled from there. They got really goofy and bizarre when he took over. He always had this insane side to him. It got so bad I would get up in the morning and I didn't know what freedom we would lose that day. He would mandate that nobody could wear red and every red thing had to be destroyed and we had to get rid of it immediately. One day he decided all the dogs in the community had to be destroyed. We had to take them to the pound. He sent men to round up the dogs and they took them out and shot them. It was just bizarre things out of the blue, nowhere, no explanation for why. You cannot question. And the society was spiraling into a direction that felt very dangerous to me. And that's why the book starts at that level of intensity, is that I felt like I wasn't safe any longer in this community, and I didn't believe my children were, either.

Merry Lucero:
What are your thoughts of trial and conviction of warren Jeffs on the child rape and his sentence?

Carolyn Jessop:
There's been such an improvement in the community just since he's been behind bars. Two years ago I went through the community, and you didn't see anybody walking on the streets, nobody was growing gardens, everybody was just locked in their homes. It was like driving through a ghost town. Just a few months ago when I went down and drove through the community, the people are growing gardens, cleaning their yards, there were children playing out in the yard, kids riding bikes. It's like the community's coming back to life and you can feel that the oppression is lifting and that there's just a little bit of norm and security and comfort coming back to daily life there. However, there are still underage marriages occurring, and there's still a lot of crime occurring. Warren is part of the problem. The reality is that this society created warren. And they've created a lot of men like him that are also dangerous. And it's just a matter of time until somebody else steps in and takes over and takes the society in another bizarre direction. Putting him behind bars was a very necessary move, but more needs to be done. Right now the children are not in school. Warren took the kids out of school when he went into prison. He pulled them all out of public schools and put them in a private religious school where they were basically just being brainwashed, that's been going on since the year 2000. When he went to prison he told everybody to close down all the private schools. So now we're going into two years of the children in this community having no education whatsoever. And so there's some issues like that that are like emergency issues that need to be addressed right now. Society can't continue to ignore this; we're going to have a whole generation in this community that will be functionally illiterate. We've got huge problems on the horizon unless this is dealt with.

Merry Lucero:
Who can deal with it? Who can come forward and say these children have to go to school?

Carolyn Jessop:
They're going to have to make laws. They need laws in the state of Utah and Arizona that will address the specific problem going on in this community, and require the parents to put their kids into a school.

Merry Lucero:
What are your thoughts on warren Jeffs' men breakdown while he's in prison, and him saying that he's not the prophet and becoming suicidal?

Carolyn Jessop:
I wasn't at all surprised to see that reaction because he has limited coping skills with reality. But as far as the community goes, it's not making that much of an impact, if any, because people are being isolated away from that confession. And then they're also being told that there's elements that have occurred that are a test to see if the people will turn against their one true prophet of god. He's taken the community to a level of tyranny where something has to give.

Merry Lucero:
Carolyn, why did you write this book? What do you ultimately want people to take away after reading it?

Carolyn Jessop:
I started doing public speeches after I'd been out for a little over a year to try to educate the public of what was going on and how serious the problems were and that there's more help needed for a woman like myself that wants to leave the society with a large family. It's one thing for me to just stabilize and take my family and go live a lovely little life, but there's too many people being hurt and victimized. I want to be a voice for that, and I want people to know that it's not okay and something needs to be done. The problem's been ignored far too long. My life would have never happened if this problem wouldn't have been ignored. I have enough faith in the American public that if they really knew what was occurring they would do something about it. That's my hope and why I wrote the book, to make a difference.

Merry Lucero:
Carolyn Jessop, thanks so much for joining me.

Carolyn Jessop:
Thank you.

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