|Carolyn Jessop's Escape from Eternal Oppression|
Read Review of Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer - Escape
By Bryan Carey|
The ultimate triumph of the human mind and spirit
Writing a little too detailed at times
The Bottom Line
This is a very good book for all to read. Carolyn gets a little carried away with details at times, but her story is still very inspirational.
"For the first time, I began to see how religion could suppress something positive and life- giving. Failing to educate our children was unconscionable" - Carolyn Jessop, reacting to the decision of cult leader Warren Jeffs to oppose the opening of a new charter school in the community, based on the concern that educated children were a threat to his religious sect.
Religious extremism can take on many forms. When most of us think of radical religion, we conjure up images of radical Muslims or other groups threatening to destroy an enemy in the name of God or actually following through on their threat via various means of force. We think back to the attacks on September 11, 2001, and wonder what makes some individuals so willing to commit such heinous acts under the banner of religion.
Most of us donít associate Christianity with extremism, but there are certainly radical groups in the Christian ranks. One such group is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and at least one of its members has escaped from the cult and lived to tell her story. The womanís name is Carolyn Jessop and in this book, Escape, Jessop explains how she went from neglected, disrespected polygamist wife to a free woman with a newfound outlook on life.
Basic Contents of This Book:
This 413 page book contains 40 unnumbered, untitled chapters. Jessop begins her story by talking about her actual escape from the church- a timely escape that took place on the evening of April 21, 2003, at the age of thirty- five. Jessop had spent the last seventeen years married to a polygamist and had eight children. She had been working toward this day for a long time; preparing for the big day when she would escape the iron- fisted grip of her control- freak husband Merrill and the extremist control of the FLDS.
After talking about the actual escape, Jessop goes back to the beginning, sharing a few facts of her own birth into a polygamist family on January 1, 1968. Jessopís father was a more ďmoderateĒ FLDS member, in terms of the number of wives he had and number of children. There were only two wives in the house, and according to Jessop, her father treated them both very well. He treated his children with a good degree of dignity also, and Jessop speaks admirably of her family in the books opening chapters.
Moving on to her school days, Jessop describes what it was like to attend a "public" school in Colorado City, Arizona- a city that was dominated by FLDS members. Even though the schools were public, the teachers and administrators followed the teachings of the Fundamentalist Mormon Church and they practiced their faith openly within the classrooms. This was, of course, against the law but since such a large percentage of residents of Colorado City were members of the FLDS, there were few complaints. Even those who didnít approve knew they had little chance to get religion out of the classroom because no one in the city would have taken action to end this unconstitutional practice.
At the age of eighteen, Carolyn was told she had to marry Merril Jessop - a man who was thirty-two years older than she. It was not what she wanted at all, but in a church like the FLDS, there was virtually no way out. She had to marry a man she didnít love and even though friends encouraged her to learn to love Merril, the feelings were simply not there. Sex was a mechanical act devoid of any feeling and while she had no interest in Merril physically or otherwise, she was willing to go through the motions through the years of her marriage in order to stay on Merrilís good side and continue to receive his support.
Merril did offer Carolyn some leeway, allowing her to go to college where she earned a degree in education. But she was still not able to accomplish the goals she set for herself and her children. Things really turned ugly when Warren Jeffs took over the leadership of the church. His extremism was like nothing the FLDS community had seen before, and it was Jeffsí irrational, hypocritical, and insane interpretations and enforcement of religion that led Carolyn to grab her children and flee the FLDS community for good.
Extreme religion exists in many places around the globe. Almost daily, we hear stories of oppression justified by religious faith, ranging from relatively harmless restrictions on dress and diet to more radical measures that can include body manipulation and even death. Radical religion is a fact of life in many cultures, and most of the world feels powerless to make a difference.
Americans usually consider religious extremism a problem exclusive to other countries, but what is surprising is that there are many radical groups alive and thriving right here in the USA. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one such operation. There arenít many adherents to this faith, but the oppression is extreme. Polygamy is only one of this churchís many unorthodox teachings. Its leaders have been known to force all sorts of other restrictions and immoral rules on members, including the breaking up of families; abandonment of young boys who are seen as rebels (actually dropping them off away from the town, on a quiet road, telling them never to return); killing of family pets; banning of music, television, and movies; etc.
"It wasnít safe anymore to talk about what you were feeling. Women now were not even supposed to go into town without the company of a man. Our husband was our lord and supreme master, holding exclusive power over our lives".
Carolyn Jessop is one person who has lived the FLDS experience and she presents her story in this book. Jessop details her days with the FLDS from her childhood all the way through to her unhappy, abusive marriage to one of the churchís highest- ranking members. She talks about day- to- day life with her husband, his many wives, and their dozens of mutual children. She talks about the extreme neglect of her children by their father. She talks about the experience of dealing with her sonís cancer and a father who was completely indifferent. She talks about her love of education and her determination to earn a college degree. She talks of the oppression and blind obedience within the FLDS and how it reached new levels of extremism when Warren Jeffs took over as supreme commander of the cult.
I admit, I have often fantasized about having multiple wives and have wondered what it would be like to be the "owner" of my own harem. But reading a book like Escape presents a new perspective on the polygamist phenomenon. Beyond the sex, there isnít really anything positive to fantasize about. I cannot imagine trying to take care of five, six, seven, and who knows how many wives. Taking care of one wife is enough work. And like Carolyn Jessop points out in her book, she often felt like she was part of a freak show. The wives would all go someplace together with Merril, like to a restaurant, and every one of them would compete for their "masterís" attention. It was strange. In general, they didnít even like their mutual husband, but they competed for him anyway. For some of the wives, the competition was based on the need for affection. For Carolyn, the competition was a means of survival. Her ultimate goal was to leave the FLDS, but she knew that she had to stay on Merrilís good side, both for financial support of herself and her children and to make sure that Merril didnít become suspicious of her actions and preparation for her ultimate escape.
Reading this book is quite surreal, and many will come away from it with mixed emotions. Some readers will feel outraged that something like this is taking place right here, in the United States of America. Some readers will feel frustrated as they read, unable to comprehend how grown adults could be so vulnerable to allow a religious leader to control every aspect of their lives. Others will feel great sadness, wondering how a man could be so cold and indifferent to his own family. Itís difficult to imagine grown and otherwise rational adults following along with such madness. But this is exactly what they do in a church like the FLDS. The supreme leader is considered not only a religious adviser, but also a direct prophet of God. To go against his wishes is considered to be an act against God and based on the severity of the disobedience, it could result in harsh punishment. Some members are taken away from their families permanently and told they will never see or speak to their children or ex- spouses again. In the case of women, they are often taken away and forced to marry another man as punishment for their sins. Excommunication is also an option, and teenage boys are sometimes kicked out of the house (literally) and forced to live on their own to atone for their misbehavior.
"The oppression was over. My life was my own, and no one could take my freedom away from me now".
The ultimate ending of Escape is sweet. Carolyn Jessop made her getaway during the night and, with the help of her brother, some friends, and the state of Utah, she was able to forge a new life for herself and her family. It is always satisfying to read about someone freeing themselves from authoritarian oppression, and this is exactly what happens with Carolyn and her eight children. The children all had to attend therapy sessions to help cope with their problems but they are mostly doing well. One exception is Carolynís daughter Betty. She appears to be brainwashed beyond hope and at the end of the book, Carolyn sadly reports that Betty has decided to return to Colorado City and re- join the FLDS community.
One area that Escape doesnít touch is the political considerations of the FLDS and the constitutional protection known as freedom of religion. Most every American supports freedom of religion as a basic and very important right. But is it possible that this freedom can be taken too far? Carolyn Jessop seems to think so, but she avoids the political debate completely in this book. She wanted to tell her story and nothing more. She doesnít delve into the politics of freedom of religion or discuss its limitations. She just tells her personal story of escape and encourages other oppressed individuals to do whatever they can to eliminate oppression and restore their own freedom and dignity.
"My Children and I now know what it means to be safe. Freedom is extraordinary, and love a miracle".
Carolyn Jessop is now a free woman thanks to her courage and determination to escape the oppression of the FLDS. She has a new lease on life, a positive outlook about the future, and a loving man who treats her with total respect. She took the gamble and it paid off handsomely.
Escape isnít always easy. Whether the oppression is religious in nature or caused by something else, it takes great courage to stop pouring water on endless fires and flee them instead. Carolyn Jessop is a woman whose life serves to inspire oppressed individuals everywhere. And her story is one worth reading, for both educational awareness and for its ultimate message of hope.
Originally published December 28, 2007
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