You know you’re obsessed when it makes your day to find out that your favourite polygamy autobiographer has written a follow-up book. Carolyn Jessop’s first book, Escape (2007), recounts her marriage at 17 to a powerful FLDS member and the emotional abuse she endures, dished out not only by her husband but by some worse-than-catty sister wives. She recalls her struggle to stop having children with Merril Jessop in order to concoct a realistic plan to get her growing brood of children out of the FLDS compound in Colorado City, Arizona. In 2003, she escaped, living on welfare in shelters, and then a set of trailors. Eventually, Carolyn succeeded in being granted sole custody of her children, but not without the help of a team of state workers, psychologists, lawyers, philanthropists, and the independent living skills she was able to acquire, being one of the few FLDS women to have gone to, and completed, university.
Triumph was published just this year, and Carolyn takes stock of her life up to date: she’s in love with a man who makes her feel safe and loved in return, and 7 of her children have successfully been unassimilated. They now recognize that their mother has given them the greatest gifts: protection and a sense of self-worth. Her eldest daughter, Betty, returned to her father only days after her 18th birthday.
Carolyn takes a step back in this book, looking not only at her family situation, but also recounting the raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in April 2008 (link); the raid affected the whole FLDS community and brought their lifestyle into public consciousness. Carolyn recalls her involvement in the recovery of the children on the ranch and her disappointment when the state sent them right back into the cycle of abuse and arranged underage marriages. Further, Carolyn looks back on her first reunions with Merril and her terrible former sister-wife, Barbara in court – Merril trying to avoid child support and Barbara pleading the Fifth 50 times in a case that determined whether she would lose custody of her 14 year old daughter, whom she had married off to the ‘Prophet’, the now-incarcerated Warren Jeffs, at 12.
When she refused to provide good enough evidence that she could protect her daughter from further abuse, her daughter was taken away. Carolyn writes about hearing that Barbara asked if she could substitute her daughter for someone else’s. This is what Carolyn means when she talks about a lack of individuality and self worth as a mode of ensuring members’ absolute loyalty to the cult.
What makes this story so engaging is that it takes place in the present. Warren Jeffs is going on a tour from state to state, being tried in each one and being let off the hook due to technicalities. Pray that Texas, his next stop, can provide an air-tight case that Jeffs won’t be able to slither out of. Returning to the personal for Carolyn, he ex-husband will be standing trial for his crimes as acting head of the YFZ Ranch in October. I know I can’t wait to watch the backlash on TV and engage in this living history.