Escape is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre memoirs you are ever likely to read. It is small wonder that it quickly made its mark on the New York Times list of bestsellers. Written by Carolyn Jessop, a woman who was born into the Fundamentalist Lattery Day Saints (FLDS), the book describes what it is like to live as part of this cult which is distinctive primarily for its beliefs about polygamy. The FLDS, which emerged in the 1930s as a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church, holds that God has ordained polygamy and not only that, but that it is a requirement for anyone who wishes to attain the highest level of heaven. Most men eventually have at least three wives, with more prominent members of the cult holding far more than that. Some of the leaders are believed to have fifty, sixty, or even one hundred wives. Women are generally placed with husbands at the whim of the cult's leader (who claims to receive divine guidance about which women belong with certain men). There are around 10,000 adherents to this cult living in the United States today.
Jessop was born into a family that eventually had two wives but one that, compared to others in the community, seemed almost normal. When she was just eighteen, though, she was assigned to become the fourth wife of a fifty-five year old man. While she was married to him he added two more wives and later went on to add five or six more. Through fifteen years of marriage, Jessop gave birth to eight children. Through her marriage she suffered constant abuse at the hands of her husband, his other wives, and other members of the community. Though for much of her life she believed the claims of the FLDS religion, she eventually began to see through its hypocrisy and decided that, for the good of herself and her children, she would need to escape from it.
Escape from FLDS is not easy. Their tight-knit communities have immense power and wealth. Even the local police officers are members of the cult and will not support a wife who seeks to emancipate herself or her family. Until Jessop, no woman had managed to escape the clutches of the cult with all of her children. Jessop, though, ran from the cult and fought against it in the courts, eventually winning full custody of her eight children. This was no small victory. In fact, it was worth telling in a book.
While the book is a definite page-turner (as both my wife and I can attest) it is not always easy to read. The descriptions of life in the FLDS are at times horrific. There were several areas that I found particularly interesting.
Jessop is frank (though not vulgar or graphic) in her discussions about sexuality within her plural marriage and well she needs to be, for sex plays a strange but crucial role in these marriages. Though the women generally hate their husbands, they still want to have sex with him--not for the sake of love or intimacy, but because sex is power. The wife who gains sexual favor with her husband is the wife who can use him to further her own desires. Often these desires pit her against the other wives. It is an odd situation where wives who hate their husband seek to have sex (which they hate) with their husband (whom they hate) so they can further their hate-filled plans towards each other. So much, then, for the idealized content of "sister wives" that the cult seeks to portray to the world.
This book and its description of life within plural marriage shows that marriage--marriage as given to us in the Bible--serves as protection for women. When people ignore biblically-ordained marriage, women immediately lose the protection it affords. They quickly become subservient to men. The women always lose out.
Perhaps the most shocking thing to remember while reading the book is that it takes place in twenty-first century America. This is not fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East; this is not the earliest days of Mormonism. This is happening in the very heart of America--women are treated like cattle, used to breed children and bought, sold and traded like so many goods. In America. It is almost unbelievable.
While the FLDS is hardly an accurate representation of average religion and bears little resemblance to Christianity or even to Mormonism, this portrayal is increasingly what people think of when they think about religion. More and more people are becoming convinced that all religion tends towards extremism and a book like this may just fuel those fires. This story is awful to read, but it is written well and is for some reason quite fascinating.
on November 8, 2007
It took me only 2 days to read this book. The language is smooth and flowing, easy to follow. The book itself is chilling. Is this REALLY going on in mainstream America? Is our government, let alone the citizens of this country, allowing these abuses to thrive in this modern day and age? This book is moving and eye-opening. The real people who should be reading it are those locked into the FLDS who, sadly, will probably never even have access to a library in their lifetime. I hope the author will one day write a sequel to this book, I'd be very interested in knowing how this amazing woman's life has 'turned out'. Especially in regard to her daughter Betty, and in light of the exposure of Warren Jeffs and newly, "the lost boys".
When a memoir is turned into an audiobook it seems especially important that the narrator sound as if she could be the author. Narrator Alison Fraser accomplishes that and much more. She voices an accurate and believable Carolyn Jessop, the remarkable woman who escaped with her eight children from the grips of a violent and abusive cult - the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Carolyn's true story is one of survival. Born into a polygamist society, Carolyn is married off at age 18 as the fourth wife of Merril Jessop, a prominent leader in the FLDS community. As Carolyn becomes pregnant nearly every year, she struggles against oppression by her husband, his other wives, and the violently misogynistic community. Narrator Alison Fraser is able to perfectly capture both Carolyn's vulnerability and strength, along with her naiveté and cunning intelligence, which makes Escape a gripping and believable audiobook. Listeners will feel as if Carolyn herself is telling this story, which is the sign of a perfectly produced audiobook.
on October 28, 2007
Yesterday I started Escape by Carolyn Jessop and I couldn't put it down. What an incredible story! Ms. Jessop is a hero and an inspiration. I must admit that had I not had the experience of living in St. George, Utah for the past 5 years I would find her story hard to believe - however I am sure that every word is true. My heart goes out to Ms. Jessop and her children and I wish them the best and hope that they overcome their years of programming, abuse and adversity and live long, free, happy and healthy lives. Ms. Jessop's story is distrubing and frightening - to think that there are so many hopeless people enduring a life of horrible abuse, all in the name of God. I praise Ms. Jessop for her role in bringing down the evil criminal Warren Jeffs and I pray that the other evil heartless criminal Merril Jessop will also find his just rewards in this life. A lifetime in jail is a fitting punishment for both of these despicable men. Hurray to you Carolyn, you are a brave woman and my new hero.
Listeners will not want to turn off the CD's until heroine Carolyn Jessop manages to escape the horrific world of the FLDS. Carolyn's memoir describes a world in which women are totally and utterly controlled - by their fathers, husbands, and religious leaders. Through calculated planning, and a lot of smarts and guts, Carolyn manages to free herself and her eight children from this nightmare world. This book was highly successful in audio format. Alison Fraser reads Escape and she sounds exactly how I imagine Carolyn Jessop might read. Her performance is appropriately emotionally without being overly theatrical, which makes the listener feel as if a real person, and not an actress, is telling this tale. An interview with the author is also included, which I found quite interesting and enjoyable. I highly recommend this audiobook. Escape is a true life horror story that fortunately has a happy ending.
on March 2, 2008
This is an absolutely fascinating book.
I visited Colorado City AZ and Hildale UT in August 2007 and and it was an extremely eye opening endeavor. There are 10,000 FLDS members living there. There were hundreds and hundreds of houses, many businesses and companies and a lot of wealth. Many homes were extremely large and luxurious. I saw the walled and secure compounds of the prophet and leaders of the church. I was followed by groups of men in pickup trucks on three occasions trying to run me out of town. I acted like I was leaving heading for the main highway and then they would pull away and I would circle back. I took many photos. I went in their stores and they looked at me like I was an alien. I saw the groups of wives, many very young with many children. Many looked at me with pleading eyes hoping if only they could get out. It was hard for me to believe that this was happening in the USA in 2007 !!!
I highly recommend this book and also encourage you to visit Colorado City AZ and see it in real with your own eyes. Colorado City is an easy drive from Las Vegas NV, near beautiful Zion National Park and the pleasant city of St. George UT.
on December 3, 2007
I bought this book after reading a review about it in the Washington Post. I've only bought a book a few times on review alone, without actually picking the book up and reading the first few pages. This book did not disappoint. Her story is tragic and needs to be told. There is a romanticism to polygamy that needs to be shattered. Women are not cherished. Not only are they abused by their husbands, the reader finds out that wives are abused by their sister wives, who, oddly enough, fight for the affections of a husband they don't even like. The older children (some older than their "Mothers") are part of the abuse as well.
Carolyn Jessup deserves a happy ending to the rough beginning of her life. She needed to tell her story and we, the public, need to hear it. I look forward to reading her second book, if there every is one.
on April 5, 2008
I started reading this book on International Women's Day (March 8). What started out as a day of empowerment for women internationally became a call for local action - what could I do to help these women right here at home?
Having lived in Arizona since the '70's, you hear in the local media and from other people about the strangeness of the FLDS and Colorado City. Many things that Ms. Jessop says I had heard about and seen myself. I now ask myself why we in Arizona and Utah did not address this known problem sooner - I am as guilty as anyone else.
Today, the compound in Texas that Warren Jeffs established (that Carolyn mentions) was raided, and more women and children were rescued from this cult. My heart breaks to think what a difficult life they and Carolyn have had and the difficult life they have ahead to extricate their minds and hearts from the abuse that they had come to believe was "normal". I'm not saying that our run-of-the-mill American life is perfect, but to help them to step closer to personal freedom is worthy of being called a true act of courage and kindness.
on February 9, 2008
Just imagine this: You are a girl who graduates high school. After a year, while you're taking classes at a community college, you're waken up in the middle of the night and told by your father that you may attend college, but you must marry this man. You're 18 years old; he is 50. Even though you're scared and dread marrying a man old enough to be your father, you have no say in the matter. You must do it. To reject or even question this is to defy the word of God. Once you marry this man, you can't move back into your parent's house, for your husband is now in charge of you, someone you must answer to and obey without question. This includes asking permission to make even the smallest decision, turning over any money you have over to him, and have sex with him whenever he wants to. You are also commanded to have children, for that's how your worth is measured. What's more, you become just one of his many wives, whom you must also answer to. Any instance of rebellion, no matter how small, is grounds for a severe reprimanding, basically bordering on abuse. In short, you're not really a person, but more like an object to be mistreated and traded to other husbands.
This was no fairy tale. This was a horror story and it happened to a young woman named Carolyn Jessop. A member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), she was the 18-year-old high school graduate who was waken up in the middle of the night and told by her father that she was to marry Merril Jessop, the 50-year-old man in question. By marrying him, she became the fourth of his many wives, whom she had to answer to, in particular Barbara, who imposed autocratic rule over Carolyn, the other wives, and the many children who lived in the Jessop household. Over the next 15 years, Carolyn was forced to help the other wives, pick up after children who should have been taken care of by their moms, answer to Barbara, turn over her money to Merril, and bear 8 children. Some of her pregnancies were hell for her (she endured constant morning sickness), but the final one nearly killed her. She almost bled to death and was saved by an emergency hysterectomy. In the interim, she witnessed the abuse imposed on the other wives and children by Merril and Barbara, the emotional breakdown of one of the wives, and the intense (not to mention ridiculous) competition among the wives as Merril added new ones to the bunch.
Despite all of this, Carolyn had things going for her. She was bright and determined to get a college education (something that many women in the FLDS do not get to do), she dared to question what was going on (albeit in a way so as not to offend Merril), and she was determined that no matter what, her kids were going to have normal lives and not be abused and mistreated like the other children in the Jessop household.
As bad as the polygamist cult was, Carolyn grew alarmed as it became dangerously extreme under the leadership of new "prophet" Warren Jeffs (who took over after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs). Worried that she might eventually become a permanent prisoner, Carolyn, at the age of 35, took her kids and managed to escape in the middle of the night. Though life on the outside was difficult at first (Carolyn suffered from PTSD and had to unlearn the fear that she had been programmed to have), she and her kids (with the exception of Betty, who was still devoted to the FLDS) became more stable and happier. She began to enjoy life like she never had before. She also realized that people in the outside world, whom the FLDS constantly told her were "evil", were kind, generous souls who helped her, more so than Merril and many others in the FLDS. Now at 40, Carolyn is living the life and happiness she had been denied.
As Americans, we cherish religious freedom in this country, but what Carolyn went through was not freedom. It was slavery, a slavery created by people who believe they're doing the work of God but are really perverting Him. This is no way to live. Carolyn is now free of this nightmare and deserves all the happiness she gets. I am really happy for her. You will be, too.
on April 14, 2008
There is a lot of heart-wrenching child abuse, crimes against humanity, and insane levels of animal cruelty. An example: a woman, who was giving birth to her first child, was not allowed to go to the doctor when her baby became stuck in the birth canal. She was forced to endure an episiotomy made with sewing scissors (at her husbands orders), and then stitched back together with dental floss (and that is the more mild form of abuse mentioned throughout the book).
For anyone who wants to get the nitty-gritty details of a polygamous woman's life, this is absolutely the book to read. I became clearly aware why many polygamous women don't leave - the brainwashing is outlined clearly. In some communities, even the local police that respond to domestic abuse calls within the FLDS communities are FLDS men - who punish the woman who call, and then they tell her husband that she called. One police officer decided to teach his pregnant wife a lesson, by tying her to a bull who dragged her around the bull-pen until she miscarried her baby. Even some ambulance drivers are FLDS men, who require the husband's permission before taking a woman, or her child, to the hospital. There are so many dynamics at play, that many things make more sense to me now.
This book genuinely leaves me with wondering if the FLDS men are, quite literally, insane; or, if they are the most power-hungry, control fanatics who relish in the absolute denigration and pain of women, children, and animals. I don't know. But the things they do are horrible and most of these women are born into it.