Escape: A Harrowing Tale of Fundamentalism and Freedom

I’ve been in an easily-distractable mood lately. I keep fussing around with books, picking them up for a few pages or paragraphs before tossing them aside and moving on to something else. I was afraid I’d never finish another book again in my life until I picked up Carolyn Jessop’s Escape. I didn’t even mean to buy it – I was there for Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, actually, and decided I’d better look around for similar books written by women, because my reading list has unfortunately been skewing too heavily dude. Up popped Escape, and I said “Brilliant,” and placed my order.

Image is the cover of Escape, which is photo of Carolyn Jessop on a black background. She cradles a framed picture of herself as an FLDS teenager in her hands. She is a woman in her thirties with chestnut hair and blue eyes.

This seriously screwed up my already-precarious sleep schedule, and almost ruined my April Fools’ Day plans.

Carolyn Jessop was raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). I already knew it was a screwed-up cult. People may titter at Big Love and think polygamy’s awfully droll, but I’ve driven through the communities and seen the grinding poverty. I’ve heard other people’s stories about lives full of abuse and religious oppression. I knew Warren Jeffs was a fucked-up fanatic who loved to rape young girls, and who forced other young girls into lives of statutory rape and forced pregnancy. Some families aren’t completely horrific, but a few exceptions don’t make the status quo okay, no matter how much they polish it up for the cameras.

But as bad as I knew that cult was, I had no idea how horrific it actually was until I read this book.

“I was born into a radical polygamist cult,” Carolyn writes on the cover of her book. “At eighteen, I became the fourth wife of a fifty-year-old man. I had eight children in fifteen years. When our leader began to preach the apocalypse, I knew I had to get them out.”

Yep. I just wish more women had her courage and insight.

I didn’t actually mean to read this book right away. I had an article on pyrite to write, due April 1st, and it was now the late afternoon of March 30th. But I didn’t think it would do any harm to read the first few pages in the bathtub. Plenty of time, right?

Carolyn’s escape began right up front. She had eight indoctrinated children, one of them desperately ill with cancer, and somehow had to sneak them out past six watchful co-wives. The co-wives caught on just as she was packing the last of the children into the van. They would call down her husband and the community. Her van was almost out of gas. Escape looked impossible.

Then her story really began.

The bathwater grew cold as I finished the first chapter. Then I told B we couldn’t get together, punked off my article, and stayed up til noon the following day in order to finish the whole book. When I put it down, even to go make food, I’d get twitchy. The only time I took breaks was when I was looking up a bit of Carolyn’s future online, or refreshing my memory as to what had happened to Warren Jeffs, because seeing him in action made me want to make sure he’s never getting out of prison again. I ran out of little Post-It flags marking bits of the book. And that is why I’m not giving you a thorough review here: there’s too much. So much wrongness, so much abuse and pain and suffering, so many ways that religion enables this shit to flourish, and causes the people who should know better to tiptoe around it. Carolyn’s story is virtually unbelievable, it’s so fucked up. But after spending a couple of years following spiritual abuse survivors’ blogs, I’m aware it’s pretty par for the course, outside of the polygamy. That was a whole extra layer of awful.

So I’ll be doing an in-depth review series. If you want to follow along, pick up a copy, and we’ll get started in two weeks or so. Just be prepared to explode with outrage every three paragraphs on average. And maybe clear your schedule ahead of time, just in case you end up needing to finish it immediately like I did.

And don’t worry. I’ve got our Christianist Earth Science all caught up, our invisible-gold-in-pyrite post is in the works, and I will be getting to our awful Grand Coulee conspiracy book quite soon. If I don’t watch it, this is going to become a book review blog, isn’t it?

Escape: A Harrowing Tale of Fundamentalism and Freedom

6 thoughts on “Escape: A Harrowing Tale of Fundamentalism and Freedom

  1. rq

    I’m never going to get my hands on the book in time, but I’ll certainly follow along with the posts. Besides, if I get the book, I’ll just read it in one sitting, like you did.

  2. 2

    @rq – do you have something you can run an e-reader on? Amazon has a windows reader that can handle kindle format e-books. If it’s a matter of the $, if you have an iDevice or kindle, I’d be happy to gift you an electronic copy if you say the word.

  3. 3

    I read Carolyn Jessop’s book a few years ago. The puzzling issue for me was that after she escaped with most of her kids, and understood how wrong the FLDS view was, she simply swapped for a gentler form of religion without recognizing that any religion provides the same means of control.

  4. rq

    Really? I have said the word!
    I would be ever-so-grateful to you. I have an e-reader, but it’s a small issue with the $ and not owning a credit card that sort of prohibits most online purchases. :(

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