by Carolyn Jessop, Laura Palmer


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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 own 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767927574
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 12/30/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 193,639
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Carolyn Jessop was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a group splintered from and renounced by the Mormon Church, and spent most of her life in Colorado City, Arizona, the main base of the FLDS. Since leaving the group in 2003, she has lived in West Jordon, Utah, with her eight children.

Laura Palmer is the author of Shrapnel in the Heart and collaborated on five other books, including To Catch a Predator with NBC's Chris Hansen. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Early Childhood

I was born in the bitter cold but into warm and loving hands. Aunt Lydia Jessop was the midwife who brought me into the world on January 1, 1968, just two hours after midnight.

Aunt Lydia could not believe I’d survived. She was the midwife who had delivered babies for two generations, including my mother. When she saw the placenta, she realized that my mother had chronic placental abruption. Mom had hemorrhaged throughout her pregnancy and thought she was miscarrying. But when the bleeding stopped, she shrugged it off, assuming she was still pregnant. Aunt Lydia, the midwife, said that by the time I was born, the placenta was almost completely detached from the uterus. My mother could have bled to death and I could have been born prematurely or, worse, stillborn.

But I came into the world as a feisty seven-pound baby, my mother’s second daughter. My father said she could name me Carolyn or Annette. She looked up both names and decided to call me Carolyn because it meant “wisdom.” My mother always said that even as a baby, I looked extremely wise to her.

I was born into six generations of polygamy on my mother’s side and started life in Hildale, Utah, in a fundamentalist Mormon community known as the FLDS, or the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Polygamy was the issue that defined us and the reason we’d split from the mainstream Mormon Church.

My childhood memories really begin in Salt Lake City. We moved there when I was about five. Even though my parents believed in polygamy, my father had only one wife. He owned a small real estate business that was doing well and decided it made sense to use Salt Lake as a base. We had a lovely house with a porch swing and a landscaped yard and trees. This was a big change from the tiny house in Colorado City with dirt and weeds in the yard and a father who was rarely home.

But the biggest difference in moving to Salt Lake City was that my mother, Nurylon, was happy. She loved the city and delighted in having my father home every night after work. My dad was doing well, and Mom had enough money to buy plenty of groceries when we went to the store and even had some extra for toys.

There were soon four of us. I had two sisters, Linda and Annette. I was in the middle–Linda was eighteen months older than I and Annette two years younger. My baby brother Arthur arrived a few years after Annette. My mother was thrilled to finally have a son because in our culture, boys have more value than girls. Linda and my mother were very close. But my mother always seemed very irritated by me, in part, I think, because I was my father’s favorite.

I adored my dad, Arthur Blackmore. He was tall and thin, with large bones and dark, wavy hair. I remember that whenever we were around other families I thought I had the best-looking father in the entire world. I saw him as my personal protector and felt safe when I was in his presence. His face lit up when I entered the room; I was always the daughter he wanted to introduce when friends visited our house. My mother complained that he didn’t discipline me as much as he did my sister Linda, but he ignored her and didn’t seem to care.

We only lived in Salt Lake City for a year, but it was a happy one. Mother took us to the zoo and to the park, where we’d play on the swings and slides. My father’s business was successful and expanding. But he decided we needed to move back to Colorado City, Arizona—a tiny, nondescript FLDS enclave about 350 miles south of Salt Lake City and a stone’s throw from Hildale, Utah, where I was born. The reason we went back was that he didn’t want my sister Linda attending a regular public school. Even though she would technically be going to a public school in Colorado City, most of the teachers there were FLDS and very conservative. In theory, at least, religion is not to be taught in public schools, but in fact it was an integral part of the curriculum there.

When we returned to Colorado City, my father put an addition onto our house. There was more space to live in, but life became more claustrophobic. Mother changed. When we got up in the morning, she would still be sleeping. My father was on the road a lot now, so she was home alone. When we tried to wake her up, she’d tell us to go back to bed.

She’d finally surface midmorning and come into the kitchen to make us breakfast and talk about how much she wanted to die. While she made us hot cornmeal cereal, toast, or pancakes she’ d complain about having nothing to live for and how she’d rather be dead. Those were the good mornings. The really awful mornings were the ones when she’d talk about how she was going to kill herself that day.

I remember how terrified I felt wondering what would happen to us if my mother killed herself. Who’d take care of us? Father was gone nearly all the time. One morning I asked my mother, “Mama, if a mother dies, what will happen to her children? Who will take care of them?”

I don’t think Mother noticed my urgency. She had no idea of the impact her words had been having on me. I think she felt my question arose from a general curiosity about dying. Mother was very matter–of–fact in responding to me: “Oh, the children will be all right. The priesthood will give their father a new wife. The new wife will take care of them.”

By this time I was about six. I looked at her and said, “Mama, I think that Dad better hurry up and get a new wife.”

I was beginning to notice other things about the world around me. One was that some of the women we’d see in the community when we went shopping were wearing dark sunglasses. I was surprised when a woman took her glasses off in the grocery store and I could see that both her eyes were blackened. I asked my mother what was wrong, but the question seemed to make her uncomfortable and she didn’t answer me. My curiosity was piqued, however, and every time I saw a woman in dark glasses, I stared at her to see if they were covering strange, mottled bruises.

What I did love about my mother was her beauty. In my eyes, she was gorgeous. She dressed with pride and care. Like my father, she was tall and thin. The clothes she made for herself and my sisters and me were exquisite. She always picked the best fabrics. She knew how to make pleats and frills. I remember beaming when someone would praise my mother for her well–mannered and well–dressed children. Everyone in the community thought she was an exceptional mother.

But that was the public façade. In private, my mother was depressed and volatile. She beat us almost every day. The range was anything from several small swats on the behind to a lengthy whipping with a belt. Once the beating was so bad I had bruises all over my back and my legs for more than a week. When she hit us, she accused us of always doing things to try to make her miserable.

I feared her, but my fear made me a student of her behavior. I watched her closely and realized that even though she slapped us throughout the day, she never spanked us more than once a day. The morning swats were never that intense or prolonged. The real danger came in late afternoon, when she was in the depths of her sorrow.

I concluded that if I got my spanking early in the morning and got it out of the way, I would basically have a free pass for the rest of the day. As soon as Mama got up, I knew I had a spanking coming. Linda and Annette quickly caught on to what I was doing, and they tried to get their spankings out of the way in the morning, too.

There were several times when my mother spanked me and then screamed and screamed at me. “I’m going to give you a beating you’ll never forget! I am not going to stop beating you until you shut up and stop crying! You make me so mad! How could you be so stupid!” Even though it’s been decades, her screams still echo inside me when I think about her.

I remember overhearing my mother say to a relative, “I just don’t understand what has gotten into my three daughters. As soon as I am out of bed every morning, they are so bad that no matter how much I warn them, they will just not be quiet until I give them all a spanking. After they have all gotten a spanking, then everything calms down and we can all get on with our day.”

When my mother beat me, she would always say she was doing it because she loved me. So I used to wish that she didn’t love me. I was afraid of her, but I would also get angry at her when she hit me. After she beat me she insisted on giving me a hug. I hated that. The hug didn’t make the spanking stop hurting. It didn’t fix anything.

I never told my father about the beatings because it was such an accepted part of our culture. What my mother was doing would be considered “good discipline.” My mother saw herself as raising righteous children and felt teaching us obedience was one of her most important responsibilities. Spanking your children was widely seen as the way to reach that goal. It wasn’t considered abuse; it was considered good parenting.

Some of the happiest times for me would be when we would have quilting parties at home. The women from the community would spend the day at our house, quilting around a big frame. Stories and gossip were shared, there was a lot of food, and the children all had a chance to play together. Quilting parties were the one time we had breathing room.

Once I was playing with dolls with my cousin under the quilt when I heard my aunt Elaine say, “I was so scared the other day. Ray Dee was playing out in the yard with her brothers and sisters. Some people from out of town stopped in front of our house. All of the other children ran into the house screaming, but Ray Dee stayed outside and talked to the out–of–towners.”

Reading Group Guide

1. How is God used to justify FLDS beliefs about sex, marriage, and parenting? How do these beliefs affect the daily lives of FLDS members? How are women particularly affected by the risk of sexual shame?

2. What are the biggest differences in the way men and women are treated in the FLDS? How does this influence the relationships between spouses?

3. Discuss the dynamics among the wives described by Carolyn. How did their situations cause cruel behavior, often driven by scarce resources? What does it take to reduce humans to such destructive levels of competition?

4. Why do you think polygamy has continued to exist in the modern world? What did the media’s images of Yearning for Zion mothers indicate about why a woman would stay in a community that strips her of power?

5. How do Carolyn’s recollections of her childhood both sustain her and haunt her? What did her two mothers teach her about the role of women in the world?

6. How do the nusses at times act like typical teenagers? What alliances does Carolyn build with them? What does marriage do to the nusses’s sense of sisterhood?

7. Early on, Carolyn dreamed of becoming a doctor. In her Epilogue, she describes her former classmate, Lloyd Barlow, who now serves as a physician at Yearning for Zion, and she expresses concern that an in-house FLDS doctor might turn a blind eye to abuse. How would you explain the FLDS’s attitude toward healthcare? Ultimately, what forms of healing, emotional and physical, was Carolyn able to find?

8. How do FLDS children adapt to living in extremely large families? Do they typically accept their new brothers and sisters? How are favoritism and competition handled? How does this experience shape the way they view the world and their relationships with others?

9. How did you react when Carolyn described the ex-convict who began working at her husband’s motel? Why didn’t Merril care about her personal safety? How was Colorado City affected by the fact that the FLDS controlled local law enforcement?

10. Well into her marriage, at a later age than most FLDS women, Carolyn was allowed to receive the prophecy of her destiny. The reading predicted that she had special intellectual gifts that would be applied to unusual purposes. Why were such revelations of a woman’s destiny kept private? Do you believe she received any sort of true prophecy that day?

11. Carolyn describes how Warren Jeffs used 9/11 to claim that God was answering the prophet’s prayers for the wicked to be destroyed. What led so many people in the FLDS to follow Jeffs’s apocalyptic preaching at that point? What happened to those who were skeptical?

12. How was money managed in Carolyn’s family and within the FLDS? How did Carolyn learn to make do and become a good provider for her family? How was Warren Jeffs able to build his fortune?

13. Why do you suppose Carolyn’s daughter, Betty, returned to the FLDS? How would you have handled the prospect of having to testify against your own daughter?

14. Carolyn believes that the Yearning for Zion ranch prevailed in court in 2008 partially because of substantial financial resources. Do you predict that the FLDS will ever become extinct, or dismantled by a court order?

15. Education is tightly controlled by the FLDS, another tactic that limits the freedom of women. What led Carolyn to graduate from college, despite constant obstacles?

16. How did you react to the news footage when authorities raided the Yearning for Zion ranch in 2008? What did Carolyn’s Epilogue reveal that was not covered by the media? Did media attention help or hurt the FLDS?

17. Discuss the powerful scene in which Carolyn testifies before a Senate Judiciary committee, alongside mainstream Mormon Senator Harry Reid. How did that experience transform her?

18. Carolyn continues to celebrate everyday freedoms, such as a simple dinner and a movie with Brian. How has her story affected the way you appreciate your own life? What actions could you take to help victimized women and children in your community, or elsewhere in the world?

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Escape 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 325 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had read Stolen Innocence so I was somewhat familiar with FDLS and was curious to see another viewpoint on the group. This book was so well written and so intriguing that I couldn't put it down. This woman's strength and courage are amazing. I am now reading her follow up book Triumph-Life After the Cult.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once you start this book, you will not want to put it down! It is heart wrenching to read in some chapters just because of all the abuse she suffered in that world, but to know that she escaped this awful place makes you rejoice at the end. I have difficult time thinking that in this day and age, cults like that exist. Ms. Jessop's strength was amazing as she went through this ordeal...I do not think I could have survived what she did. God bless her...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Incredible read. Opens your eyes to how easily the human mind can be manipulated and how one woman stood against beliefs for her and her children. HIGHLY recommend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down; Carolyn Jessop's story was so very inspiring and empowering. This is a subject I have always been interested in, and the detail in this book offered incredible insight into the FLDS culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an awesome story of determination. Wow
book-hoarderfl More than 1 year ago
I was rooting for her all the way. What she had to go through all due to her parents religion. It is a shame that these pedophiles could not be stopped sooner. It was educational in as far as the Mormon church goes. God bless her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FLDS IS NOT THE MORMON RELIGION. Do not get them mixed up. They are totally different. I'm sorry for what she went through and hope everything is better for and her children.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Housewives reality shows drama is nothing compared to what the Mormon women of the wealthy men endure in this cult. One woman dares to defy more odds then any woman in America has ever had to chance, to save her children of a spiraling destruction they were quickly getting sucked into. Her husband had so much power that it infiltrated the justices system and pulls every trick in the book to stop her. Her life is always on the line but she outsmarts him. Unbelievable quest for justice with a warm and happy ending of joy for her. An intense story, one all should be educated about. Lots of nail biting pages to read but triumphs with lots of cheers for a woman with determination and brains. A Hero to many I'm sure!
Kimberly Fonseca More than 1 year ago
A very honest telling of what goes on within polygamis relationships. You will be shocked to learn about firsthand experiences. You will find yourself rooting for Carolyn and her children through it all.
Anonymous 7 months ago
You just KNOW this woman is telling the truth about the abuse
Anonymous 9 months ago
It’s hard to fathom a religious cult like Fundamental Mormon prospering or even being in existence in present day United States. Carolyn’s story reveals her bravery and resourcefulness in the midst of crushing circumstances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was captivated the whole book! Can't wait to read the next one
LisaDean on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's one thing to hear the news reports about Warren Jeffs, the FLDS, and their run ins with the law. It's quite another to read Escape by former FLDS member Carolyn Jessop. Escape provides a personal, rather disturbing glimpse into daily life in one of the nation's most controversial sects. Forced to marry at 18 to a 50 year old man with three wives, Jessop survived 17 years of what can only be described as capivity to a homelife defined by intimidation and power. In addition, Jessop had to struggle with the difficulties of living with several other "sister wives" who were rivals for her husband's attention and favor as well as a large houseful of children, eight of whom were hers. In Escape Jessop also shares what it was like to grow up in a religious sect that was less about true faith and a personal relationship with God and more about ignorance, fear, and domination. In reading this book one understands that the precepts of the FLDS were and are not only cruel to women and children,but to the men as well. Jessop tells us about how her father lost the right to live with his own family when he dared to air dissenting opinions about the way the sect was being run. Reading this book will cause you to shake your head in amazement that such things can take place in one of the most liberated countries on earth.
llima.orosa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't believe I almost did not buy this book. I read it in three days. I kept wanting to reach in and save her from this horrible life. How can this be happening in this day and age?
bookwormteri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is just horrifying to read about what this woman, her children, and her family have been subjected to. This is a fascinating look at what was really going on (and probably still is) in Colorado City, Arizona. The lives of women and anyone opposed to the "prophet" are desparate and with little hope of escape. I am certainly not religious, nor do I agree with why this cult is polygamous. A woman can only get to heaven by serving men well and hoping that he accepts her into his heavenly harem after death? Awful. However, I do think that people should have the right to choose how they live. Maybe I am radical in my views on polygamy. Personally, I think that if everyone involved is happy, who does it hurt? This book is not about a harmonious polygamous community. I think that this book shows that power corrupts. These were not men who were caring for their families and truly believed in the religious aspect of what they were doing. Merril Jessop and Warren Jeffs and the like are not even religious zealots, they are powerful men who wanted more power and control over everything. Including the subjection of everyone around them. Wives, children, family and church members all became people to manipulate. These men are disgusting. Carolyn Jessop is an amazing woman with strength and determination, I wish her all the happiness that her previous life denied her.
shsunon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This memoir is dramatic and thrilling!!
Rice4Life on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Crazy to think this stuff happens in the USA. These people are ridiculous!
TiffanyAK on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great read for those interested in hearing the story of the FLDS from those who lived within it. Told by a truly courageous woman, who is the first woman in the history of the FLDS to manage to flee and win legal custody of all her children, her story is a powerful one. Definitely worth reading.
vibrantminds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Carolyn Jessop who grew up in the FLDS religion and fled from a life of oppression and abuse in to a world she was taught to believe was evil. The conditions she and others endured is unbelievable. Very heart breaking and inspiring story full of hope and fortitude for a better life. Carolyn had an amazing sense of self-determination to survive and free her and her eight children of their demoralized condition.
samantha.1020 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What to say about this book other than scary???? Seriously, this is one of those books that makes me thank my lucky stars for everything that I have including my parents, family, and the life that I was born into. Sometimes it is as simple as that. And books like this make me remember to appreciate what I have.This is Carolyn Jessop's memoir of growing up and living in the FLDS (otherwise known as Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). The FLDS is a closed off religious group that keep to themselves and their community and are an offshoot of the Morman church. At 18, Carolyn was told that she was meant to marry Merril Jessop and become his third wife. He was thirty-two years older than she was. Carolyn's marriage was an unhappy one that was basically a power struggle between all of Merril's wives with Carolyn caught up in the mix even when she didn't want to be. It would take years before Carolyn would begin to realize that the religion and life that she grew up with might not be the life that she truly wanted. And it would take everything Carolyn had to escape.Wow! That is all I had to say after reading this one. I can't even begin to imagine all of the things that this woman has had to is just too much. First of all, being told who you are going to marry, having no choice or say in the matter, it is almost too difficult to fathom. And how sad to go into a marriage and know that you may never love the person you are married to. Carolyn's marriage was a constant struggle from the beginning. All of Merril's wives were constantly competing for his attention which just made me a bit sick. Sex and the number of children that a woman had gave them status within their marriage. In other words, the more kids you had in comparison to the other wives gave a woman a better standing in this society and within her "family". Pretty scary in my opinion. Carolyn had no say in the life that she led and was constantly told what she could or couldn't do. And when Warren Jeffs came to power, things in the FLDS got even worse. Carolyn is very frank in the book and shares the reasons why she was content with living there for so long. I mean she grew up thinking that all of this was normal, was taught that the "outside world" was evil and meant for an apocalypse, and that she was one of the "chosen ones" by God. It took her a really long time before she began to think differently and realize that she wanted something else for her and her children. I must say that I think that Carolyn Jessop is an amazing woman! All in all, one of those books that really makes you think. About the life you live and the freedoms that we have. Because not everyone has these freedoms so for me this kind of book makes me appreciate my everyday life just a little bit more.
MandaTheStrange on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a rather amazing account of a life lived in polagamy, it was quite interesting to see the everyday FLDS lifestyle through the eyes of a sister wife. As much as I found it interesting, I just wish that it was written better, in my opinion the story itself was really let down by the writing...on that account it was rather disappointing, however the immense courage shown by Caroline in her escape from the FLDS really does keep you reading. I will read Triumph to see if Caroline achieved the justice she deserved and the normal family life she dreamed for. A good read, but very frustrating at times.
Tinasbookreviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carolyn at the age of 18 is forced to marry Merrill Jessop a 53 yr old man¿¿.(insert gasps and gagging sounds) Could you imagine being 18 and having your first time be with a creepy, stinky 53 yr old man with yellow teeth. My stomach is turning over right now with the thought of it. On their wedding night (which closely resembled Laura Ingall¿s meets the creepy old man from Phantasm) a scared and shocked Carolyn finds herself alone for the first time with her husband Merrill, who hasn¿t spoken to her yet. Right before he forces himself on her resulting in a disastrous first wedding night he utters ¿um, maybe we should talk a little¿.Nothing really gets better from that night on. Carolyn is the new wife (which eventually becomes a house with six wives and later more) and has sexual favor in the beginning, she soon learns that if Merrill is sexually gratified, that she would gain power in the house. The six wives competed with one another for that status and when tempers and jealousy would strike some of the wives would pay a huge price.It took a while to get through Carolyn¿s story- and only because you don¿t sit to read this for entertainment. You read it because of the bravery and courage Carolyn had to save her eight children. You read it to get a true insight of what polygamy looks like- and it¿s not an HBO television show. You read it to see a woman become victorious and make it into a new life, after the battles with the FDLS church are won and the battles with the courts are won, Carolyn comes out a stronger, smarter and more hopeful woman.
rillapearlp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This woman's story is absolutely incredible! Every woman in the world should read Carolyn Jessop's story. It is difficult to believe that there could be a population in the United States in 2009 that would allow women, children, and animals to be treated this way - let alone all in the name of God!!Carolyn Jessop is a heroine and a courageous leader among women. She makes me proud to be her sister!
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Carolyn Jessop's story of life in a religious cult and her subsequent escape is riveting and fascinating, right from the beginning. That people live as they do in this cult in our times is sheer madness. Carolyn is so strong to have made it through this experience without losing her sanity - that crazy honeymoon bus trip to San Diego alone would have pushed me over the edge had I been in her place! Read this for a demonstration of courage, strength, and bravery, and to witness Carolyn's unending love for her children and burning desire to live free.