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Book Club #1: Escape by Carolyn Jessop


Bethella

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Our first book club discussion is on Escape by Carolyn Jessop.

 

One of the things that struck me while reading this book was the manipulation of the conflict/hostility between FLDS members and the outside world in order to isolate the community. On p22/23 she talked about the Short Creek raid and how it generated sympathy for the cult. The leadership could have used that sympathy to lessen the conflict between the two groups but they didn't instead they used it to increase their control over the group. "The women then believed that they must be even more obedient to the prophet in the future. They were thinking of the terror of losing their children, not of surrendering their human rights, which is precisely what happened."

 

I've heard discussions of legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) polygamy where it is argued that doing so would make it easier to prevent crimes like child marriages, but having read this book I wonder if it really would help. I think that the FLDS is so suspicious of outsiders that it wouldn't really change things. Despite people on the outside working to change things there are strong enough forces inside the group that want to keep the group separate.

 

What did other people think?

 


Up next on March 15: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally As Possible by AJ Jacobs (14 votes); followed by

April 1: A Stolen Life by Jacyee Dugard (13 votes)

April 15: Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce (13 votes)

May 1: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (13 votes)

May 15: Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back by Frank Schaeffer (11 votes)

June 1: In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language and a Culture by Alister McGrath (10 votes)

June 15: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by John Krackauer (10 votes)

July 1: Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction by John Fea (10 votes)

July 15: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (10 votes)

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This is a bit all over the place. Mods, please let me know if this needs to be reorganized. I'm not sure how this thread is set up.

Bethella, I saw that, too, how the fear isolated the people more and more. It seems similar to creating a scapegoat to heap all of your problems on, whether or not they are related. Add in the shunning of family who saw there was a choice, to keep the idea of a choice between worlds (permanent vs temporary personal hells) from existing. All to keep people under your power. And how that power corrupted and hurt and changed the wives over time.

Also, it was so unbelievable to me (middle of America female), that I had to think of Jessop's life as a story in order to keep from questioning every heart-breaking page. It was so far from reality to me - like being dropped into 1930's Germany? The fear of powerlessness that changed every person and broke so many of them.

I just, how? Why? The pain? Are there hundreds, thousands of people suffering in these cults? How lucky was Jessop to have been a pretty, white, thin, educated housewife with attractive children placed so highly in the cult. (Not that her life was lucky, just that she had a practical way out.) Who else had that combination to get not only the attorney's general attention, but also positive public media?

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Caroline's blessing was that she was smart - smart enough for her intelligence to be recognised and for her to be allowed to go to college even while a member of the FLDS. That not only gave her the capacity to support her children on her own (to a higher standard of living than Merril ever did) but gave her a sense of self worth, a capacity for critical thought, an idea if the outside world, and the ability to eloquently tell her story, to everyone from her family to police officers to judges to the media to the world at large.

Caroline is an amazing woman. Her son Arthur was the first of Merril Jessop's fifty something children to graduate from college. That alone makes all the hardship she has endured worth something.

Escape is definitely the most well written and compelling FLDS memoir out there. Triumph is great too. Caroline's perspective as a member of one of the inner circle families is extremely valuable.

And wether Betty realises it or not or values it or not I have no doubt that her mother leaving and putting her on the media and CPS radar is the only thing that saved her from joining her many half sisters in Warren Jeff's harem. I hope that she one day appreciates that as a good thing.

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So many things in this book were heartbreaking to me. The physical, sexual and emotional abuse was so rampant. Not just tragic isolated incidents, but it seemed, a pattern of life throughout the entire community. Being completely cut off from society, I imagine they are not even being exposed to a different way of behaving. It just seems so... hopeless to me. I keep thinking about the incident in Carolyn's childhood where some poor girl said that her brother was teaching her how to make babies :(

I didn't know much about FLDS before reading this book, besides what I gleaned from a few news articles about Jeff Warren's arrest and from watching a bit of Big Love. I was really surprised by statements like:

A man must have multiple wives if he expects to do well in heaven, where he can eventually become a god and wind up with his own planet.
Seriously? Is their God supposed to be someone who maybe lived on a different planet, had lots of wives etc., and as a reward got to be the god of planet Earth? I was also very suprised to hear about things like the ressurrected Indians coming to fight for/with them at the end of days... is this also mainstrain LDS belief or is this unique to FLDS? (I naively thought that the main difference was polygamy, but obviously there are bigger differences...)

I hope Carolyn's escape has helped paved the way for many, many more.

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So many things in this book were heartbreaking to me. The physical, sexual and emotional abuse was so rampant. Not just tragic isolated incidents, but it seemed, a pattern of life throughout the entire community. Being completely cut off from society, I imagine they are not even being exposed to a different way of behaving. It just seems so... hopeless to me. I keep thinking about the incident in Carolyn's childhood where some poor girl said that her brother was teaching her how to make babies :(

I didn't know much about FLDS before reading this book, besides what I gleaned from a few news articles about Jeff Warren's arrest and from watching a bit of Big Love. I was really surprised by statements like:

Seriously? Is their God supposed to be someone who maybe lived on a different planet, had lots of wives etc., and as a reward got to be the god of planet Earth? I was also very suprised to hear about things like the ressurrected Indians coming to fight for/with them at the end of days... is this also mainstrain LDS belief or is this unique to FLDS? (I naively thought that the main difference was polygamy, but obviously there are bigger differences...)

Yes.

And it's a mainstream LDS belief too, albeit one they don't often talk about.

The phrase they use is "as man is, so was once god. As god is, so man may become".

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Yes.

And it's a mainstream LDS belief too, albeit one they don't often talk about.

The phrase they use is "as man is, so was once god. As god is, so man may become".

That's true that it's also a mainstream LDS belief, and they even have a hymn in their hymnal called "If I can Hie to Kolob" which is the planet they believe God was from.

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I've heard discussions of legalizing (or at least decriminalizing) polygamy where it is argued that doing so would make it easier to prevent crimes like child marriages, but having read this book I wonder if it really would help. I think that the FLDS is so suspicious of outsiders that it wouldn't really change things. Despite people on the outside working to change things there are strong enough forces inside the group that want to keep the group separate.

I think decriminalizing polygamy and the FLDS are almost two separate issues. I.e., even if polygamy was decriminalized, FLDS would still be a cult and would (presumably) still be isolating their members from the outside world (via the fear of outsiders that you mentioned).

Caroline's blessing was that she was smart - smart enough for her intelligence to be recognised and for her to be allowed to go to college even while a member of the FLDS. That not only gave her the capacity to support her children on her own (to a higher standard of living than Merril ever did) but gave her a sense of self worth, a capacity for critical thought, an idea if the outside world, and the ability to eloquently tell her story, to everyone from her family to police officers to judges to the media to the world at large.

How lucky was Jessop to have been a pretty, white, thin, educated housewife with attractive children placed so highly in the cult. (Not that her life was lucky, just that she had a practical way out.) Who else had that combination to get not only the attorney's general attention, but also positive public media?

I agree with these two posts. I think that Carolyn's success in getting out and staying out was dependent on several key factors:

- contacts on the outside (her brother, etc.)

- the fact that she's a high profile person (as Rita mentioned--she was able to get really good legal help because of it)

- the ability for critical thought, which as I see it allowed her to develop the idea that something was deeply wrong with the world she was living in (which apparently most women in FLDS either don't see, or are in some kind of deep denial about?)

- some kind of survival instinct that makes her keep fighting instead of just giving in. (Think about when she drove her car off the road and was freezing and all she wanted to do is go to sleep, but some instinct forced her to keep jumping up and down to stay warm.)

If any one of those was missing, would she have made it? Is that what's keeping others from leaving?

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There was also the aspect of using the children to control the wives. Carolyn wanted her son to be seen by a doctor, but was refused, and was told that his illness ws caused by her disobedience. She was.told that if he died it would be entirely her fault. When she finally did get him seen it turned out to be neuroblastoma.

Themen have no proble throig their own children under the bus. J imagine the men probably don't allow themelve to get too.attached in the first place, knowing that their children could be removed and reassigned at any time.

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So one thing about Escape that I found interesting was that the FLDS has become more, well, fundie over the years. I had no idea that FLDS members in their permissive phase were allowed to drink alcohol. I found it sad when Warren Jeffs woke up one morning and decided that no one could wear red. (so the Jessops had to throw out all of their red clothes, and they had a lot of them since Merrill had liked the color)

I think the saddest thing, though, was Jeffs's revelation that family pets were forbidden. It really broke my heart when I got to that part and all the community's dogs were rounded up and killed. I shouldn't have been surprised or shocked given the plethora of data showing that cruelty to animals often goes along with cruelty to people, but still.

Let's say for the sake of argument that the succession after Uncle Roy's death had gone differently, and that Jeffs had never become the prophet. Do you all think that Carolyn would have had quite so much incentive to escape if a kindler, gentler prophet had been in power?

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Let's say for the sake of argument that the succession after Uncle Roy's death had gone differently, and that Jeffs had never become the prophet. Do you all think that Carolyn would have had quite so much incentive to escape if a kindler, gentler prophet had been in power?

She still would have been married to Jessop.* I'm not sure her life would have been much different. Would Roy really have taken her claims of abuse any more seriously? Either way, her entire world was defined and controlled by Merril and he was a less than worthless piece of shit who was considered "the god of his planet," even on earth.

I think she still would have escaped, but I'm not sure there would have been as much publicity. Roy seemed much more savvy about the group's outward face to the public and not flouting laws (other than polygamy, obviously).

*Working off memory that he died after she was married; the book was returned to the library a while ago.

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She still would have been married to Jessop.* I'm not sure her life would have been much different. Would Roy really have taken her claims of abuse any more seriously? Either way, her entire world was defined and controlled by Merril and he was a less than worthless piece of shit who was considered "the god of his planet," even on earth.

I think she still would have escaped, but I'm not sure there would have been as much publicity. Roy seemed much more savvy about the group's outward face to the public and not flouting laws (other than polygamy, obviously).

*Working off memory that he died after she was married; the book was returned to the library a while ago.

I don't know, the two things that really pushed her to leave were her son's illness and the fear that Betty, at 14, would soon be married to Jeffs. Neither of those would have been such an issue under Roy - the community still sought medical care when needed, and while there were some young marriages it wasn't routine for the prophet to marry all the prettiest, most pious girls before they turned 16. In fact, they generally waited til after 16.

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I don't know, the two things that really pushed her to leave were her son's illness and the fear that Betty, at 14, would soon be married to Jeffs. Neither of those would have been such an issue under Roy - the community still sought medical care when needed, and while there were some young marriages it wasn't routine for the prophet to marry all the prettiest, most pious girls before they turned 16. In fact, they generally waited til after 16.

Another thing that would be different is Jessop's marriage to his 5th and 6th wives, Cathleen and Tammy who were Roy's widows. The addition of the two additional wives seems to have pushed the family over the tipping point into complete chaos (remember the "honeymoon" trip?)

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Another thing that would be different is Jessop's marriage to his 5th and 6th wives, Cathleen and Tammy who were Roy's widows. The addition of the two additional wives seems to have pushed the family over the tipping point into complete chaos (remember the "honeymoon" trip?)

Although one of Carolyn's main concerns was Betty getting married off young, I think the incident that really pushed her to leave was Merryl becoming physically abusive. I like to think she would have left regardless of who was prophet. Society and the media seem particulary focussed on the underage marriage prospect of this case, so it's definitely a possibility that with a different prophet, she wouldn't have received as much attention or help as she did.

What's Betty up to now, does anyone know? I found some pictures and a short interview from early 2009 here: trenthead.com/2009/01/meeting-betty-jessop/, and there's an article from 2009 (http://www.sltrib.com/polygamy/ci_11559735) saying that she was coming out with her own book to counter her mother's. Did that ever happen?

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I was curious about the other wives, who either sucked up to Barbara or were punished. They either became manipulative and devious, or mentally ill. What would these women have been like outside of this culture? Why weren't they inspired by Carolyn's escape to do the same? I think Carolyn would have helped them.

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What's Betty up to now, does anyone know? I found some pictures and a short interview from early 2009 here: trenthead.com/2009/01/meeting-betty-jessop/, and there's an article from 2009 (http://www.sltrib.com/polygamy/ci_11559735) saying that she was coming out with her own book to counter her mother's. Did that ever happen?

As far as I can tell the book never materialized. There doesn't appear to be anything new about her since 2009, but her situation has probably changed since Merril was expelled from the FLDS in 2011. I would speculate that she might have left with Merril since she was one of his favorites, but if she stayed her status within the community would have been reduced.

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I'm not so sure that Carolyn would fall over herself to help the other wives.

It seems more that they cordially loathed each other and the dislike continued even when they were in the fragile and short-lived alliances between wives which crop up now and then in the story. They made strategic alliances, not friendly ones. I doubt Carolyn would have put herself out of her way to help another one of Merrill's fleeing wives - maybe the bare minimum for ones she tolerated better, but she really had enough on her own plate.

It's Carolyn's story, and she describes the other wives either dispassionately or with contempt. She'd become a less appealing character if she chronicled the petty cruelties she undoubtedly inflicted on them, just as they did to her.

(I don't say this to put Carolyn down. In such a pressure-cooker situation, though, that's the sort of thing that happens.)

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I'm not so sure that Carolyn would fall over herself to help the other wives.

It seems more that they cordially loathed each other and the dislike continued even when they were in the fragile and short-lived alliances between wives which crop up now and then in the story. They made strategic alliances, not friendly ones. I doubt Carolyn would have put herself out of her way to help another one of Merrill's fleeing wives - maybe the bare minimum for ones she tolerated better, but she really had enough on her own plate.

It's Carolyn's story, and she describes the other wives either dispassionately or with contempt. She'd become a less appealing character if she chronicled the petty cruelties she undoubtedly inflicted on them, just as they did to her.

(I don't say this to put Carolyn down. In such a pressure-cooker situation, though, that's the sort of thing that happens.)

I had never thought about this until you said it. Carolyn definitely does come across as almost too good of a person, especially to the other wives. I would imagine living in hell hole like that for years and years it would be almost impossible to keep yourself in check all the time. I guess it's easy to whitewash yourself in your own story.

I was very impressed with Arthur choosing to stay on the outside and graduating college. I do worry about Betty and wish there were some more recent updates on her. I wouldn't imagine she would be held in the highest regard in the FLDS community any more, seeing as her mother escaped and her father (from the sounds of it) was kicked out.

I can't remember if anyone has mentioned this but Carolyn got engaged to Brian in 2010.

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Anyone else see the National Geographic on the FLDS? There was a photo of the funeral of one of Carolyns sisterwives, the mentally ill one that stayed in her room all day and watched old VCR movies all night.

It was pathetic how they hung her life picture in the coffin...a large picture of her holding a huge portrait of her husband. No life or identity other than the man she was married to and who neglected her horribly. All those years and no help. How terribly she must have suffered.

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I honestly worry that Betty does want to leave now.that she has seen how progressively nuttier the FLDS is getting, but that they keep her in lockdown just to try to keep Carolyn from winning any more than she has.

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I finally got a copy of the book yesterday and I'm about halfway through so it's definitely an engrossing read. I do tend to give the hairy eyeball to autobiographies and memoirs since most of them tend to be somewhat self-serving (which really can't be helped to a certain degree), and although this one is no different, it's still a fascinating story, generally well written and lets us look into a world that would otherwise be closed off to outsiders. I'm making notes as I read so once I finish (tonight, I hope), I'll jump in with some comments.

Once again, though, I'm struck by how children are viewed by so many of these fundamentalist men as mostly as commodities (they can't even be seen as individuals when there are so many of them that they just blur into one). And how girls, in a very twisted way, are almost more valuable than boys, as they can be traded up via marriage to gain greater status for the head of the family.

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I haven't read the book yet, but I'm hoping to get it on the Kindle this weekend. I am TOTALLY going to rant about it here, though. :D

And I agree with whoever said it, I really want to know how Betty's doing. The interviews I've seen with her, she kinda rubbed me the wrong way, to be honest, but I can't really blame her for a crappy childhood. But still, she needs to write that book. (Although, I have a sinking feeling that the reason it doesn't exist is because she was married off.)

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I haven't read the book yet, but I'm hoping to get it on the Kindle this weekend. I am TOTALLY going to rant about it here, though. :D

And I agree with whoever said it, I really want to know how Betty's doing. The interviews I've seen with her, she kinda rubbed me the wrong way, to be honest, but I can't really blame her for a crappy childhood. But still, she needs to write that book. (Although, I have a sinking feeling that the reason it doesn't exist is because she was married off.)

I suspect it has more to do with the upheaval within the FLDS the last couple of years. Things have gotten really crazy with Jeffs' arrest and conviction, Merril's expulsion, the strange new rules that have been imposed (like only 15 men are currently allowed to father children). I just hope that she got out of the FLDS when her father was expelled and we just haven't heard about it.

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I was most struck by the lack of logic and reasoning used by Merril and his favorite wife. His narcissism and her selfish, power-seeking drive created this utterly bizarre environment of cruelty and idiocy. I had such a hard time even believing what I was reading most of the time. So infuriating. It breaks my heart that women and children are so brainwashed that they stay in these environments.

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