27 Jan 2009

FLDS teen disputes mom's book

The Salt Lake Tribune - January 27, 2009

by Brooke Adams

Betty Jane Jessop's favorite phrase: "Good grief!"

That's what Betty utters as she reads the new epilogue in her mother's best-selling book, Escape . In those pages, Carolyn Jessop describes her daughter's return to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, calling her brainwashed.

"It just makes me want to laugh," said Betty, 19, shaking her head.

Besides Carolyn herself, the character in Escape that most intrigues readers is Betty -- the second of Carolyn's eight children with FLDS bishop Merril Jessop.

Why, they ask, did Betty return to the sect after four years in mainstream society? And: Is she OK?

Soon they may be able to read Betty's answer to those questions. Since April, the teenager has been working on a book about her experiences, aided by older sister Maggie Jessop.

Betty said she decided to write the book after watching news reports about Texas authorities' raid on the Yearning For Zion Ranch and her mother's "ridiculous" comments about the community.

"It is time for the other side of the story to be told," said Betty, who will shop it to publishers this spring.

Carolyn Jessop, who will speak at the Sugar House Barnes & Noble bookstore at 7 p.m. today, declined an interview about her daughter, saying only that "Betty has the right" to share her views. In her book, Carolyn holds out hope Betty will return to her.

Based on several early chapters, Betty's book -- the first by an active FLDS member -- promises an intriguing perspective on her family, her view of mainstream society and the sect's beliefs.

Both Betty and Maggie Jessop said their father set several rules for the project: Tell the truth, let readers reach their own conclusions, and do not slam Carolyn.

"He has specifically worked with Betty to forgive her mother and not express bad feelings about what happened to her," Maggie Jessop said.

Merril Jessop oversees the sect's Texas ranch and has been indicted for conducting an illegal marriage involving a daughter who allegedly was spiritually married at age 12 to FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs. Carolyn has said one reason she left the sect is she feared such a marriage for Betty.

Betty is slim, with strawberry blond hair, fair skin and a laugh that comes often. She was 13 in 2003 when her mother left and moved to Salt Lake City.

As described in Escape -- and acknowledged by Betty -- she went kicking and screaming. Betty said traumatic years followed as she struggled to cope with mainstream society and fought with her mother.

Their arguments, she said, centered on her desire to live according to the sect's principles and her mother's determination to keep her from the faith, her father and her extended family.

"I was such a representation of everything she hated so much," Betty said.

On July 2, 2007, Betty turned 18. Two days later she returned to the sect, celebrating what she now calls her own independence day.

"I just couldn't deny what was in my heart -- my belief in my religion and my love for my father and my family," she said. "I spent four years [in mainstream society], and there is nothing there for me.

"I would never trade my experience for anything in the world," she said. "It made my fire and determination much more intense."

Betty has not married, though she said she looks forward to becoming "part of a home that is alive, never ending, growing."

She spends about eight-hours most days on her book, splitting her time between San Antonio and the ranch. Betty also works in the community's sewing factory, helps with meals and spends time with her other siblings.

Betty said she has drawn from personal journals for details about her childhood, her parents' divorce and experiences living away from the FLDS community.

She expects former classmates at Midvale Middle School and West Jordan High School will be surprised by "how ornery and aggressive" she was at home given the quiet, calm facade she put on in public.

Betty said her mother's health problems -- Carolyn says in her book she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder -- meant many household and child care duties fell to her, even on school days. Betty quips that resulted in her own "current-traumatic stress disorder."

"With the responsibility landing on me so hard every morning, I was an emotional wreck, and after a while, I hardened into a frazzled bundle of nerves," she writes. Betty said that after two years -- and ongoing threats to send her to foster care -- she moved in with an uncle who had also left the FLDS.

At public school, the "unbridled vulgarity and immorality" were a shock, Betty writes, and the pressure almost unbearable. It was hard "to see how students acted, their language and how teachers didn't do anything about it," Betty said.

She focused on succeeding academically in part to disprove her mother's criticism of FLDS schools.

"I was constantly told I wouldn't do good in school and that I would be persecuted because of how I looked," said Betty, who graduated with honors.

Despite the mocking and questions she got at school, Betty wore the sect's conservative, body-covering dresses, even in gym class.

There were other awkward moments. In one class, she was asked to share plans following graduation. College? A church mission? Work?

"That was a tricky question on my part," Betty said. "How do I say what I want in front of all these people who already think I'm weird?"

Her answer? "I'm not sure," she said. The teacher pressed, but Betty kept silent.

"I couldn't say I wanted to go home and be a mother in Zion," Betty said. "They wouldn't understand that."

She made some friends, but visiting their homes reinforced her desire to return to her polygamous community. "The feeling I got, it was so empty," she said.

While her mother describes Merril Jessop as a cruel husband and father, Betty speaks of him as loving, kind and with an "unconquerable spirit."

Betty said she and her mother have not spoken since September, when she called to wish a younger brother happy birthday. "She doesn't call me and neither do my siblings," Betty said. "I miss [my siblings] so much and hope with all my heart they can survive."


Excerpts from Betty Jessop's writings

On her first Christmas holiday, which the FLDS do not celebrate:

"If the holiday was supposed to celebrate the Savior, where did the fat man in the red suit come from?"

"To me, it was all just weird. Holidays, fairy tales and cartoons were major cultural contradictions that I never could reconcile. They were nothing more than deceptions to me, and I couldn't figure out why people would delight in something that wasn't real."

On FLDS clothing:

"I was terrified of the indignities that a gym class would force upon me, and I was sure that Heavenly Father wouldn't make me do it. It wasn't that I didn't like physical exercise; I loved it, but I wouldn't dress down to do it. Among Priesthood people, we just wore our same decent cloths no matter what we did -- sports, hiking, work, even swimming. It didn't matter."

On attending public school:

"Around the school, practically every single person swore their head off, and no one did anything about it. My typical day in junior high, if I wasn't late because of all the trouble at home, was to get dropped off and walk mechanically to the north entrance, praying for strength."

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