Review: Escape

Escape – Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

From the book jacket –

When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse—at her peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escapeexposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.

I knew that I would be swept up in this book from the moment I picked it up, based on what I’ve heard from other bloggers and reviews… and I was not a bit wrong about that.  Carolyn Jessop’s harrowing tale of life as the third wife (out of five when she lived there, up to nine I think after she left) to a very important man in the FLDS church, Merril Jessop, was absolutely riveting and I could not put this book down.  I was both horrified and fascinated by what I read and I can’t recommend this book enough.

Here’s the thing.  I have read about the FLDS before, I have studied a little bit about polygamy, and I thought I had a decent understanding of this group of people.  But until I learned about it from the perspective of someone that’s lived it, I had no clue.  What people need to understand about this cult (because it is a cult, and Jessop says the word cult time and time again in her book) is that these people are completely brainwashed.  They are living in a world that is so far removed from reality that they have absolutely no idea how the world works – they have little to no education, they are taught that they are the property of their church, they do not know about basic human rights, or even about the existance of the constitution of the United States, and they are taught that anything from the outside is to be cast aside, feared, and not trusted.  So even if they WERE told about their basic rights, or some details about how they could safely live in the “outside”, they wouldn’t believe it.  Now Jessop is a little different because when she was growing up in the FLDS, a few children from the most elite families were allowed to go to college to become teachers or other professionals within the community – and she was the lucky one chosen from her family.  So not only did she have a full(ish) high school education (rare for FLDS kids), she also got a four year bachelors degree from a university (although she had to still live in the FLDS on weekends while she was getting the degree).  That allowed Jessop to begin to think for herself and she slowly began to feel like her lifestyle just wasn’t fair – not to her, not to her children, and there were a few times she even took pity on her abusive husband, Merril.

The other thing is that if the issue with the FLDS was just polygamy, then ok – we’d be dealing with a lifestyle issue, a family choice, and I personally don’t think that anyone has the right to make choices for anyone else’s families regarding personal issues or lifestyle issues.  However, marriages and parenting in the FLDS are both characterized by terrorizing, intimidation, scare tactics, complete submission to the male head of household, irrationality, and most of all – physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, including both rape and neglect.  Abuse should not ever be tolerated.  Jessop’s story definitely cemented the fact that, in my opinion, this cult needs to have a LOT more investigations, scrutiny, whatever, to get these women and children away from these abusive, horrific living conditions.  I don’t care what your personal beliefs are – in fact I fully support people choosing alternate lifestyles – but when there is abuse, that is where I personally draw the line.  I cannot believe that this is allowed to happen, and these women and children are so brainwashed to believe that enduring this awful life is their way to get to heaven.  I’m sorry, but the God I subscribe to could never condone or support such a thing, and I’m sad that we are allowing this to happen in the United States.

Reading Escapewas a profound experience for me (as you can probably tell).  I highly recommend it, I think that as citizens we should all be educated on what’s happening in our country (there’s also an FLDS sect in Canada, fyi).  I’m actually picking up Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall next, just because now I feel the need to learn even more about the FLDS.

Other reviews-

12 thoughts on “Review: Escape”

  1. I also read this book this year. Like you, I couldn’t put it down! To make this book even more real, is that when she left, she lived in the neighborhood right next to mine (before I moved here). When we discussed this in book club, almost everybody had either met her or her kids. I also agree that it’s brainwashing at its finest.

    Stolen Innocence was also fantastic. I liked the perspective that we got on Warren Jeffs for that one.

  2. Indeed, this one was great. You’ll see Carolyn around a lot now, the news channels pull her and Flora Jessop in a lot of the time when there’s something going on with a polygamous compound and they need the perspective of someone who’s been there.

    I can’t help but wonder what Carolyn’s oldest daughter Betty is doing these days…

    Stolen Innocence was fascinating, too.

  3. If you liked this, I would suggest reading Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (he wrote Into the Wild too). This book by him looks at a pair of brothers that murder their niece and sister in law because they had received a message from God telling them to do so – they too were members of the FLDS. I’m in the middle of the book now – but Krakauer does a wonderful job at giving the history of the FLDS and describing the tension between the FLDS and the LDS (the regular Mormons that we all hear about), as well as the context of it.

  4. I agree with the comment made by mkowalewski – if this book interested you then you should check out Under the Banner of Heaven. It is really an interesting book about how the FLDS started.

  5. i have just signed this book out of my school library and i was hoping that it would be good. i have heard that it was anyways. hope to get past the first page soon. well, i have to open the cover first…lol

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