Escape, Carolyn Jessop's memoir of life with the FLDS, condensed.

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April 16 2008 1:18 PM

My Life in a Polygamist Compound

Carolyn Jessop's FLDS memoir, condensed.

Also in Slate: A "Faith-Based" column looks at the implications of enforcing polygamy laws after the 1953 raid on the Short Creek fundamentalist community. An "Explainer" determines how the FLDS maintained a male-female ratio that allowed men to have three wives.

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Page 224: One woman Carolyn knows gave birth at home and "was given an episiotomy with sewing scissors and then stitched up with dental floss."

Page 231: Uncle Rulon "began preaching that anyone who needed medical help to heal was a person of little faith. A person in harmony with God could heal him- or herself with fasting and prayer." When Carolyn's sister-wife Ruth was diagnosed with skin cancer on her nose, she tried to heal herself with chemicals from a health-food store. The chemicals burned off her nose.

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Page 275: Merril blamed Carolyn when their seventh child became gravely ill: "You can take him to every damn doctor you can find, but no one will be able to heal him. God is going to destroy his life because of the sins of his mother."

Warren Jeffs

Jeffs, who is currently in prison for arranging the marriage of an underage girl, exercised extraordinary control over the community even while Uncle Rulon was still the nominal prophet, and eventually became the prophet himself, when Rulon died in 2003.

Page 195: Some of Carolyn's stepdaughters were married to Jeffs, and she feared his temper. She writes: "One day he brought one of his wives into the [school] auditorium, which was packed with boys. Annette had a long braid that fell past her knees. Warren grabbed the braid and twisted and twisted it until she was on her knees and he was ripping hair from her head. He told the boys that this was how obedient their wives had to be to them."

Pages 216, 223, 231, and 234: As Rulon's deputy, Jeffs banned the color red; movies, television, and the Internet ("except for business purposes"); clothing with "large prints" or plaid; immunizations; and sex not for procreation.

Page 197: The Jeffs family had "a rigid rule … against becoming obese."

Page 307: The FLDS faithful didn't see anything wrong with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. One of Carolyn's sister-wives "couldn't stop talking about how she and all the righteous people she knew saw the hand of God in the attacks. … Warren Jeffs had been preaching that the entire earth would soon be at war and all the worthy among the chosen would be lifted from the earth and protected, while God destroyed the wicked."

Pages 324-325: Jeffs began to kick young boys out of the community—"more than a hundred teenage boys" within a month's span, at one point—for crimes like "listening to CDs, watching movies, or kissing girls."

Time To Escape

Page 333: Carolyn decided to flee in 2003, soon after Jeffs finally became prophet. She took her eight children, including her profoundly disabled son, to Salt Lake City. As she and her family struggled to adjust to the outside world, Carolyn developed post-traumatic stress disorder. But as she worked to make ends meet, her polygamy background came in handy: An HBO costume director came to town, and Jessop says she made some money sewing costumes for Big Love, HBO's series about a suburban polygamous family connected to an FLDS-like cult.

Page 370: The transition to life outside the FLDS was toughest on Betty, Jessop's oldest daughter. After a visit with her father in FLDS-controlled Colorado City, Betty snapped. " 'You're an apostate, owned by the devil!' Betty said. 'He wants your soul and he wants ours.' " Two days after her 18th birthday, Betty returned to the FLDS fold.

Page 404: Jessop heard "rumors that children were being taken from their mothers and sent to the FLDS compound in Texas. … We heard they were being sent away to be raised the way Warren wanted them to be raised."

Page 409: Jeffs himself went underground to hide from the authorities after being accused of arranging the marriage of an underage girl to her cousin. Eventually, he was arrested—while in a car that was red, the color he forbade his followers to wear—and convicted. Still, "Warren's arrest was not the end of his power," Carolyn says. "They were not going to abandon their loyalty to him overnight because he was in the hands of the wicked." (Jeffs resigned as president of the FLDS in late 2007.)