Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Escape - Carolyn Jessop

Summary: 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...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....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. (Review from publishers comments via Powells.com

My Review: Incredible.

The bad kind of incredible.

I couldn't tear myself away from the story of the raid on the FLDS polygamist ranch in Texas last April. My heart ached, both at the thought of those poor little girls being married off to old men, and at the fear and confusion all the children must have felt when they were taken from their families. I could understand the community's horror and having their temple searched just as I could understand the reasons the authorities search it. At the time I had a negative opinion of polygamy, especcially within these extreme communities, yet I still allowed for a bit of "let them believe what they want, I'll believe what I want" to exist in my thoughts. But just a bit - because the fact is, 16 year old girls should not be married to 50 year old men.

Then I read this book and got a first hand account of what an 18 year old thinks when she is married to a 54 year old man in a lightening quick ceremony. I read about a system that not just allows the hitting of a child, but encourages it. I read about good people, thinking they are doing God's will, who became pawns of men with too much power and no authority.

Mostly I read about a woman who was treated as property, as a cheap tradable commodity. About a "family" where many of the sister-wives developed mental illnesses as a result of severe mental, physical, and sexual abuse.

The story Carolyn tells is of the extreme end of the spectrum (though I imagine there are easily far worse stories to be found in the FLDS community) and certainly there are functional and happy polygamist families. Aside from polygamy alone, this book illustrates cult mentality, the corruption that comes from power and the real cultural sickness caused when women (and by extension families)are degraded. I still believe the general principle that consenting adults should have the legal right to exersice their religious beliefs. But in this community that is not part of the process. The people, men and women are taught that they don't have the right to say no to their leaders. Coersion by fear is not consent.

This book had a number of aspects that affected me personally. I cringed when Carolyn described the reaction that people in the nearby "normal" community had when the polygamists came to town. I lived in that town, I was the reaction she described (the curious stares and the name calling, not the rock throwing).

As a Mormon (the FLDS are a group that broke from the LDS, or Mormon church, in the late 1800s, they have some similar beliefs and mindsets...and some that are vastly different) it made me think twice about some of my beliefs. I can see how some of my thoughts are on the same spectrum as those that have turned corrupt within the FLDS and especcially made me aware that some of my assumptions about authority need to be tempered by my belief in personal revelation and agency.

My rating: 4 stars. If you are interested in the subject matter this is a book you worth reading. Also worth reading to see that severe gender-inequality exists in our free country and worth reading to understand why not treating women, men, and families with respect can become devestating to a culture.

In one sentence: Carolyn Jessop tells a story of a community that is odd to begin with and becomes (pardon my non- eloquence) more and more messed up as the story unfolds.

1 comment:

nicole said...

this gives me goosebumps because my husband is currently deployed with a fellow marine with the last name jessop. his family is flds, and he was excommunicated from the religion for joining the marine corps. his girlfriend here at home lives 20 minutes from a very large flds town, where the jessops are very prominent. it makes me wonder if this is a relative of my husband's friend and my friend's boyfriend. and if so, it's very enlightening that he has family that also escaped from the horror surrounding that religion. this is a must read, i will definitely be ordering this book. thank you!

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