Author: Carolyn Jessop & Laura Palmer
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Publisher: Broadway Books
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.
I’ve read about FLDS communities before, specifically in Under the Banner of Heaven. But I’m not sure any FLDS community compares to the one that has been built by the Jeffs. Because of that, Carolyn Jessop’s story is certainly an interesting one. Through her eyes, you see the transition from a fairly standard FLDS community (with all of its many inherent faults) to one that is perverted for the sake of power, and to sate the lust of an elite group of men.
Unfortunately, this book was in dire need of an editor. Jessop had a co-writer, but you wouldn’t know it based on the organization of the story. There was an incredible amount of repetition, to the point that you wondered if she wrote each chapter entirely separately and therefore thought she had to explain things every time. For example, we are told multiple times that a woman’s worth is tied to whether or not her husband is willing to have sex with her, but explaining that concept to us once was more than enough. She should have then trusted the reader to realize that the wives Merril wasn’t sleeping with weren’t in favor, either in the family or in the community.
She also contradicts herself more than a few times, especially when it came to who was or wasn’t helping her take care of her children. All of these things could have been caught by a good editor, and fixed by a competent co-writer.
The other problem I had with the memoir is that despite it being titled Escape, very little of the book actually focuses on their lives after the escape. I would have much preferred it if several of the repetitious examples from earlier in the story had been cut in favor of a more in depth look at her life on the outside. It is basically glossed over, with very few details provided after the first few crucial weeks.
And please, understand, FLDS is not the same as Mormon. They may have started in the same place, but they are the same no longer.
Overall, I found her story compelling, and I certainly kept turning the pages. But I feel like I was sold a bill of goods that I did not receive.
- “It’s a story of a strong woman, a strong mother, and what happens when one person takes on the entire system.” — Book Maven’s Blog
- “Escape is a book you will read that will make you realize how lucky a life can be.” — Reading in Winter
- “While I can’t say I enjoyed it because of the difficult subject matter, I’m so glad I read it.” — S. Krishna’s Books