Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: Escape by Carolyn Jessop

Author:Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer
Publisher:Broadway Books
Pub. Date:10/16/2007
ISBN:0767927567 (ISBN13: 9780767927567)

The dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.

When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse—at her peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.

(Summary and cover via Goodreads)


Carolyn Jessop was born into a life of servitude and abuse as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS. The FLDS had originally broken off from the mainstream LDS church to continue the practice of polygamy. However, things became more extreme as time went on, and things like abuse or women and children soon became the norm. Carolyn dreamed of going to college and even becoming a doctor, but soon after graduating high school she found herself becoming the 3rd wife of a powerful member of the community. She's soon caught up in a vicious cycle of abuse from her husband and her sister-wives. Carolyn finally does the unthinkable and escapes with her 8 children. Her fight for freedom manages to help not only her immediate family but also many young people who were caught up in the traumas of the FLDS as well.

As a member of the mainstream LDS church, this was a book I was very interested in reading. It was amazing to see how twisted and corrupt things quickly became within the FLDS. I also found it frightening what these people had to go through, specifically the women. Men fared much better (at least until Warren Jeffs began exerting his power). Carolyn was very lucky in some respects as she was allowed to get an education, even if it wasn't in the field she wanted to study. This put her in a much better position when she finally got out. It also allowed her to see that life didn't have to be like this. Carolyn's biggest struggle for a long time was the strength of her beliefs. When she felt so strongly that the things she was taught were true, she struggled with thoughts of leaving. Eventually her unhappiness overcame this though, and she was able to see with more clarity.

This book was interesting to me from the start, and I read it very quickly. I did understand a lot of the ideas presented as they seemed to be very twisted versions of many pieces of LDS doctrine, but some of it was definitely things I had never heard of before. I wanted to be able to help her and other members who try to escape as they really can have a bleak future ahead. While this was a sad book in some respects, it also felt full of hope as it showed that things could get better. The saddest part for me was the decisions of her daughter Betty. This book is very interesting, and it will give you insight into the minds of at least some women involved in things like this.

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