Triumph: Life After the Cult, A Survivor’s Lessons

Carolyn Jessop

Created on Sunday, December 18, 2011.
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Outlines Carolyn Jessop’s involvement in the raid on the FLDS’s YFZ Ranch and the ensuing criminal prosecutions. Carolyn takes the opportunity to reflect on what gave her the wherewithal to escape the cult earlier, and the importance of the support she received along the way.


“The most symbolic was the door that Warren Jeffs had decreed only God could walk through. That did not really impress the Texas Rangers, who blew it wide open. There they discovered a room surrounded by a thick wall of limestone and an enormous vault door. They went to court to get a search warrant to enter.”


“Brian’s dad had been career military, and Brian couldn’t fathom why the same basic human rights that his father had fought for overseas were being denied to children here at home. Brian could never understand why the government was not upholding its moral obligation to protect children from abuse. He got so outraged about some of the things I told him that happened to women and children in the FLDS that I would have to give him the information in small doses.”


“A mother has the right to teach her children about religion. But she doesn’t have a right to injure them or allow others to do so, even if she believes that the man hurting her children is a prophet of God.”


“Then when Warren Jeffs took over in 2002, after his father died, things got even worse. Even children had to wear long underwear as soon as they were potty-trained. Warren Jeffs also banned red, bright purple, and any fluorescent color. (When he was captured by a Nevada state trooper in 2006, the Cadillac Escalade he was driving was red — yet another example of his complete and utter hypocrisy.)”


“Goddard was blunt with the senators about one of the most outrageous FLDS abuses: education. A child without an education is a child without a future. Why do the Taliban destroy schools and forbid education for girls in Afghanistan? Like the Taliban, the FLDS knows that ignorance and submission depend on each other.”


“Mom said my full sister Lydia also called begging her to lie about me. Mom asked her outright why it was so important. Lydia told her if she didn’t lie, Merril was going to lose all of his kids. My mom said that might not be such a bad idea. That’s when the phone call ended.”


“When Barbara learned she was going to lose custody of her daughter, she did something shocking: she asked if she could substitute someone else’s daughter for her own so she would not have to relinquish custody of the daughter at the center of the trial! Barbara proposed swapping a random child who belonged to another FLDS mother whom the state had never suspected of being sexually abused. Barbara’s request came in a meeting with CPS after the verdict. It was indicative of the arbitrary power Barbara still felt she had. One of the CASA workers who described this incident to me said Barbara was told, “This isn’t about us wanting your child or that we want a child from you. This is about protecting your daughter from you.””


“When we finally made it to the fourth floor, I turned in my cell phone and gave Brian a quick kiss good-bye before walking into the courtroom. The young girls in that crowd had probably never seen an affectionate couple. I’m Brian’s lover, not his slave, and I hoped the young girls in the pastel dresses would begin to consider the difference between the two.”


“I took the coffee to Merril. He said nothing. He took one sip, then another. The silence felt deliberately calculated to make me feel uncomfortable. Finally he spoke. “I appreciate my ladies asking me before they make themselves coffee.” (Men in polygamous groups commonly refer to their wives as “my ladies.”) Was this for real? I had to ask him if I could make myself coffee in the morning?”


“In his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, the psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote about how even in the concentration camp, he understood that he still had choice. While he couldn’t control what happened to him, he could control his response. This gave him a power that the Nazis could not destroy. Even amid the most acute suffering, Frankl was always able to find meaning.”


“I was so angry with Merril and the rest of the family that I decided that if I had to give up my religion, my culture, and my heritage to protect my children, I would. It made no sense to me that I had to allow my children to be abused in order to become like God.”


“In the FLDS, if someone harmed you and you refused to have anything further to do with that person, you were the one committing a crime by holding on to bad feelings. If you ever complained again, you were the offender. This twisted logic created a kingdom of sociopaths, because no one was ever held responsible for harm except the victims. The FLDS notion of forgiveness had been used in such hurtful and damaging ways that it became a way for an abuser to maximize the damage he or she could inflict without any consequence. It certainly guaranteed that a victim would remain powerless.”


“I have never understood why homeschoolers are so defensive. If you are educating your children well, why fear accountability?”


“The far-reaching impact of my victory brought back memories of one of my grandmother Jenny’s best stories. A man was traveling and came to a deep ravine. He knew he could still continue with his journey because he was young and strong enough to climb through the ravine to the other side. But once the man got to the other side, he realized that many subsequent travelers would not be strong enough to climb through the ravine and would thus be unable to complete their journey. So he halted and built a bridge, making it possible for others to complete their journey regardless of their physical strength.”


“Every night before I go to bed, I make sure to leave the light on above the front door. It’s a moment of hope. As long as my Betty is still absent from our family, I will leave the light on so she can find her way home.”

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
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