Tuesday Night Book Club meets

Published 9:33 am Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sonja and Steve Smith were hosts to the Tuesday Night Book Club on August 26.

Present were Janette Frost, Anne Glass, Mae Hunnicutt, Brenda Jones, Doris Jones, Karen Jones, Cass Keenan, Carol and Ned Lowery, Sarah McEwen, Jaime Mitchell, Nancy Rogers, our hosts and Judy Williams.

Our book for August was Escape by Carolyn Jessop. This book is not one you would enjoy reading, but one that will inform you, amaze you and alarm you that a story like this book relates could happen in this country. The author was born into a radical polygamist cult. The story she relates is sad and terrifying at the same time because those born into the cult rarely ever escape from the life they were born into. Carolyn Jessop is one of the lucky ones who did manage to escape, but at great personal suffering and loss. She spent not days, weeks, nor months, but several years waiting for time and circumstances to be favorable to attempt her escape. She had eight children including one special needs infant for whom she had to stock pile medicine and special food and other supplies without provoking questions from the rest of the household which was encouraged to spy and report on each other. Carolyn’s every move was watched by her husband and his other wives who traded information for status and privileges. When she began teaching school, her husband intercepted each check and kept every cent. She knew that if anyone in that household suspected that she was thinking of leaving, her children would be taken from her and places elsewhere. She endured her husband’s tyranny and psychological cruelty and bided her time. No military general ever plotted a strategic maneuver more carefully that Carolyn planned her escape. The happiness if not the very lives of nine people were at stake. One living condition that proved very helpful was that Carolyn and her eight children had been relegated to living in the basement of the Jessop home. One night when Merril Jessop and Barbara, his favorite watch dog wife, were out of town, darkness hid Carolyn as she quietly drover her station wagon to the basement door, loaded her children and what supplies would fit into the available space, and drove away in the middle of the night, never to return to Merrill Jessop’s home.

The Jessop household had consisted of Merril, his seven wives, and 32 children. The cult was the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which was an offshoot of the Mormon Church.

Carolyn had been forced to marry Merrill Jessop, a total stranger, when she was 18 years old and he was 48. She bore him the eight children over a fifteen year period, but the book cover states, “in 2003 Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.” Her lack of money and the absolute necessity for secrecy while planning and executing he escape plan were not the only major problems that faced her. Men in the cult she was part of infiltrated the local branches of law enforcement.

It was well understood that if a woman was apprehended in the act of leaving her community the cult lawmen would take her right back where she came from. Needless to say, both she and her children paid dearly. They were brutally treated by the husband, his other wives and their children to serve as examples for what happened to those who tried to leave the cult.

In 2003 no other woman had ever managed to escape from the FLDS and manage to get her children out, too. The fact that Carolyn did manage to accomplish this near impossible feat speaks to her careful planning and tenacity which I have alluded to already.

Though most of Escape reads like a horror tale there are a few light moments. When Merril Jessop opted to take his entire family to Hawaii on vacation and the appeared on Waikiki Beach in full cult regalia (long stockings, long underwear, and long dresses) they must have created quite a stir.

Later, when they attended the San Francisco Zoo in the same type of dress, there must have been as much gazing going on from the animal cages to spectators as vice versa.

Quoting from the jacket of this informative book the publisher says “Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers of the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, to 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. 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 its notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.”

This is the very same infamous Warren Jeffs whom we see frequently on our television screen completing his jail wardrobe with the latest in leg-irons and handcuffs. This book certainly points out the truth of the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction.

Today, Carolyn is happily remarried. All of her children are in school at some level except her oldest daughter, Betty who returned to the FLDS cult upon graduation from high school.

She promised to keep in touch with her mother, but when this book went to press, Carolyn had not heard from nor been able to contact her daughter since she returned to FLDS.