Escape (Viking, 2007) is the autobiographical account of Carolyn Jessop’s escape from a radical polygamist cult. She was born and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints, an offshoot of the Morman Church, and lived in a small community near the Arizona-Utah border in America. At eighteen she was forced to become the fourth wife of a man thirty-two years her senior. He was very influential in the cult. Over the next fifteen years Carolyn had eight children during which time the cult became more and more extreme in its beliefs thus restricting their behaviour even more. In the end Carolyn fearing for her life and the life of her children escaped but then nearly lost her children again in the custody battles that followed.
Many of the situations Carolyn describes in this story are frightening. The conditions Carolyn and many other women and children lived in can only be described in terms of mass domestic violence and cruelty. Much of the abuse was physiological and emotional though some situations did get physically violent especially towards the children. Also distressing was the financial control, medical neglect and lack of assess to medication. To think that many still live in such conditions is appalling.
Jessop gives us a brief history of how the community’s belief structure evolved and how it changed under different leadership. At times the story does get a bit long winded yet much of is necessary to explain the depth of abuse and degradation that went on inside the cult. Carolyn was fortunate in her early years of have spent a year away from the community and at other times managed to have some interaction with the “real” world. Others within this community have been even more isolated and therefore more vulnerable to being brain washed from its leaders which is deeply disturbing. Carolyn own history is heart wrenching. She was physically abused as a child. Her last few pregnancies were life threatening and one of her children suffers from a disabling illness. Yet despite living in an enormous family she received practically no support.
It is not an easy story to read and at times it is quite bizarre. Yet it is a story of great courage and resourcefulness. Carolyn is now living in safety and freedom which she greatly cherishes.