17 Apr 2008

Ex-sect members escape polygamy but not pain

CNN - April 17, 2008

By Eliott C. McLaughlin

(CNN) -- Long after she escaped a polygamist Colorado City, Arizona, community in 1986, Flora Jessop found another way to escape: cocaine.
"It killed the pain. It killed the hurt," she said. "I didn't have to hurt so bad because I missed everything I knew."
Once she fled the fundamentalist Mormon sect, she was an apostate. She believed God hated her. Her parents and siblings thought she was wicked. Worst of all, she knew she was damned to hell, Jessop said.
Jessop, then 17, began hitchhiking across the country, almost killed herself with cocaine, worked as a topless dancer and eventually became pregnant, she said.
Fearing that church members would hunt her down, she looked over her shoulder for five years, she said. She occasionally drank alcohol -- she liked tequila best -- but preferred to use cocaine because it kept her alert.
"When you're running for your life, you can't afford to get to the point you cannot run," she said. Video Watch Jessop explain how running was an education »
It was a need to protect her daughter that finally convinced her there was more to life, she said.
Today, Jessop, 38, escapes by freeing others trapped unwillingly in polygamist sects: 84 to date. She finds particular solace in rescuing women and children, some of whom are child brides like she was. It was a marriage to her first cousin Philip that prompted Jessop to run.
Her story strikes a common theme among those who have left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon offshoot that disavowed the mainstream church in 1890 when it abandoned polygamy as a pathway to the highest level of heaven.
The FLDS has strict rules, especially for girls: no pants, haircuts, drugs, booze or boys; just "keep sweet" and obey. So young women who leave often delve into worldly pleasures once outside, indulgences as innocent as blue jeans and as destructive as heroin and prostitution, survivors and an expert say.
Jenny Larson experienced such urges in 1946, when her mother, Berna, left a polygamist household in Glendale, Utah, with seven of her nine children. In those days, however, rebellion bore a different hue.
Larson, 73, recalls how "you wouldn't have caught me wearing a long-sleeve blouse" after leaving Glendale.
"I think I was one of the first girls in the seventh grade to wear lipstick. I put henna in my hair to make it red. I wasn't going to look like a little 'polyg' kid," she said, using the slang "polyg" with all the contempt of a racial slur.
Larson -- who goes by Aunt Jenny to the dozens of girls she's helped escape and who wrote the book "Brainwash to Hogwash: Escaping and Exposing Polygamy" -- concedes it's rare that young women can shed the sect's psychological shackles.
So how did she know polygamy wasn't for her? Larson recalls seeing her father, Vergel, smack her mother for expressing jealousy over his second wife, Mae. Video Watch an ex-sect member say she's now free »
"There was no way in hell I was going to live that way," Larson said.
And Larson quipped of the men hounding her for her hand in marriage when she was 11: "Some of them were so ugly I wondered how they could have sex without putting a sack over their head, but I'm being mean."
Larson's and Jessop's escapes are not typical. Many women don't want to leave, ex-sect members and an expert said.
The purportedly rescued women often return to polygamy. An example is the 1953 raid at Short Creek (now Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City), where dozens of women and more than 260 children were placed in state custody.
Three of the then-children taken in the raid recently said that they eventually returned to polygamist lifestyles, including Fawneta Caroll, who was 7 when she was taken from her family. She remembers clearly what she felt 55 years ago, and it wasn't relief, she said.
"We knew that the object was to take us away, adopt us out and we would never be back to our homes," she said.
Religion -- the reason these women say they stay -- is also used to validate the brainwashing and, in some cases, physical abuse employed to keep women and children submissive, said Marci Hamilton, author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children."
The women are wholly dependent on the patriarchal community, Hamilton said. They often lack education and marketable skills, and they're told of "terrible forces outside the compound," namely evil people who wish them harm, she said.
And there's always the prospect of eternal damnation, said Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law who has studied polygamist sects for 10 years.
"It's not only physically dangerous to leave, you're also risking your soul," she said. "Staying in the compound, even though they're being abused, may look like a smarter choice to a lot of these people."
Joni Holm has taken care of four children who escaped Colorado City, and she concurs that youngsters who leave the community have trouble shaking their indoctrination.
"You literally have to take them, deprogram them and reintroduce them to society," she said.
Flora Jessop brought Fawn Holm, 16, and Fawn Broadbent, 17, to Joni Holm's Sandy, Utah, home in 2004. Video Watch Jessop talk about life in a sect »
Fawn Holm, Joni's sister-in-law, feared that she was about to be married to now-imprisoned FLDS "prophet" Warren Jeffs, who is serving time in Utah for being an accomplice to rape. Broadbent's name had just been placed in the church's "Joy Book," meaning she could be married off any day, and probably without warning.
The "two Fawns" were smart, Joni Holm said, but had elementary school education levels. They had bizarre mannerisms and wouldn't look people in the eye. They would sometimes jump off elevators because "they were taught they could never be alone with a man," she said.
Fawn Holm began using drugs and alcohol, and Broadbent dabbled in drinking, Joni Holm said.
It's a common phenomenon, Larson said. "When you're held down and can't have any freedoms, they go the opposite way when they get out: drinking, drugs, sex. They're going to hell anyway; they just jump headfirst in."
Joni and husband Carl's greatest challenge, however, was teaching the teens to trust. So entrenched was their distrust of "outsiders" that they needed even the simplest things proved to them, especially examples of how the FLDS "twisted" the Book of Mormon, said Joni Holm, a mainstream Mormon.
"You have to show them factual stuff, because this is what their dad has taught them all their lives," she said.
When Texas authorities seized 416 children from the FLDS Yearning for Zion compound in Eldorado this month, there were similar signs of indoctrination, said Helen Pfluger, whose Baptist church in nearby San Angelo volunteered to help feed and clothe the children and their mothers.
"They were very quiet and didn't want to look us in the eye," she said. "We never knew for sure which child belonged to which mother. It was very communal."
They refused to play board games. Clothes had to be cotton and plain, no patterns and no red, "the color of the devil," Pfluger said. The children shunned processed food, white bread and sodas, and essentially subsisted on yogurt, fruit and lots of almonds, she said.
"Another San Angelo church had brought some coloring pages and crayons," she said. "They didn't know what to do with them, and their mothers didn't either."
Learning to color will be one of many challenges the children will face if they're permanently removed from YFZ ranch.
Joni Holm said it takes five to 10 years for a sect child to learn how to live a life society would deem "normal." Larson said it could take longer. Jessop said she might never be normal.
But Jessop said she would rather wage the battles she faces on "the outside" than live a life of submission and abuse. She reckons many FLDS children would feel the same way if given a choice, she said.
It was difficult to give up the life she was taught was her only path to salvation. But she had to do it to get away from a culture that she felt was backward and malevolent, she said.
"The pain got so bad in heaven that I was willing to damn myself to hell to escape it," she said.

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1 comment:

  1. Ex-FLDS man wins partial custody of children

    By Ben Winslow KSTU-TV Fox 13 News, February 21, 2012

    ST. GEORGE, Utah— A man purged from Warren Jeffs' polygamous church on the Utah-Arizona border won a partial court victory in a lawsuit he filed against the Fundamentalist LDS Church leader. It's a ruling that lawyers say could open the door to more lawsuits from those excommunicated by Jeffs.

    Lorin Holm sued Jeffs, his brother, Lyle Jeffs, and two of his ex-wives for custody of his children.

    "I wanted to see the children," Holm told FOX 13 outside St. George's 5th District Court on Tueday. "They have banned us from our children. This is a precedent (setting) case. Now that we've had a win, we'll have hundreds more."

    After a two hour hearing, Judge James Shumate allowed Holm to visit his nine children, ranging in ages from 2 to 17, that he has not seen since he was excommunicated in January 2011. His wives, Patricia and Lynda Peine, have considered him an "apostate," his attorney said. They were taken from him and now live with one of Holm's sons.

    "We are a kind people, but these Jeffs boys have come in and ruined our community and they need to be reeled in," Holm said.

    Holm's lawsuit is the first paternity case to get a judge's ruling since Jeffs ousted more than 1,000 people from the ranks of the FLDS Church. The imprisoned polygamist leader set a New Year's deadline for faithful followers to repent of their sins and reaffirm their allegiance to him or be excommunicated.

    Jeffs is currently serving time in a Texas prison for child sex assault, stemming from underage marriages he took part in. Holm claimed in his lawsuit that he feared his daughters would become child brides for FLDS leaders. A court-appointed lawyer for the children expressed similar concerns to the judge.

    Rod Parker, an attorney for Holm's ex-wives, Patricia and Lynda, said the entire FLDS community was being portrayed unfairly because of Jeffs' actions.

    "That's painting with a broad brush. What they're saying is everyone in the community, every child is at risk and every child should be taken away," Parker told FOX 13.

    Parker noted that same logic was used by Texas authorities when they raided the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch in 2008. Hundreds of children were taken into state protective custody that case only to be returned months later when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the children were not at imminent risk for abuse.

    Judge Shumate agreed with Parker in part, pointing out that no one in court had said anything about the children's mothers being bad parents. But Holm's attorney, Roger Hoole, feared they could not protect the children from FLDS leaders.

    "Child abuse is always accompanied by secrecy and deception," he said outside of court. "The mothers are being deceived, and the secrets are not being told to them."

    The ruling is only temporary. Holm will get visitation twice a week with his children and he was allowed by the judge to talk to them about religion -- and more specifically what he no longer believes.

    "He taught us a way to follow the prophet," Lynda Peine told the judge. "The love that was given to me for him was heaven sent. At the time of his correction, he no longer held us together as a family."