“I Lost Control of My Body” – Escape Chapter 12: Accident

Prepare yourselves for a ridiculous amount of victim-blaming, financial abuse, sexual and reproductive coercion, and food insecurity. Ain’t being an FLDS wife great?

Eleven months into her travesty of a marriage, Carolyn Jessop becomes pregnant. She suffers horrible morning sickness. In the best traditions of religions everywhere, she’s promptly blamed for being ill:

Within the FLDS, any personal problem is seen as the direct result of sin. Serious emotional or physical problems were considered a curse from God. It was also dangerous for a woman to show any incapacitation related to pregnancy because it was viewed within her family as a sin of rebellion – unless, of course, you were Barbara, for whom the double standard applied with regard to her crying bouts during her pregnancy.

Not only do her sister-wives think God has a mad because Carolyn must have fucked up somehow, they also accuse her of being violently ill several times a day just to get attention. And women in this culture, reduced to virtual property and valued only for how many babies they can manage to squeeze out, are often the ones most keen to tear a fellow wife down. Women are pitted against each other in a precarious struggle for pitiful scraps of power. These systems could not survive if they didn’t get their victims to willingly participate in their own victimization, and help keep each other down. No one’s going to encourage women to band together and help one another find their power. The system is set up to reward backstabbers and crush revolutionaries. And, while one woman can acquire considerable power by playing by the rules, she’s at risk of being torn down by the jealous others if she gains too much of their husband’s favor.

Image shows a woman in shadow, holding her pregnant belly. There is a circle of light on the white wall behind her.
Silhouette of a pregnant woman courtesy John Ted Daganato. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Despite being horribly ill and treated like crap, Carolyn manages to stay in school. Her son is born during the winter break. He assuages her loneliness: now she has someone who gives her life meaning. She hadn’t wanted to get pregnant, she can’t stand his father, but Arthur is her delight. But that doesn’t mean she wants to endure another pregnancy. When her period returns after just three months, she’s terrified: her body is too exhausted for another go-round, but if she refuses to have sex with Merril, he’ll cut off her money. It’s common for men in the FLDS to control their women through cash: they take all the women’s income, including their welfare checks, and dole out a pittance in return.

Merril allows the wives only $500 a week for groceries, which sounds like a lot – but they have to feed 30-50 people daily on that amount. And since he lets his teenage daughters do the shopping, that money isn’t spent wisely. Carolyn is getting so little food that Arthur was low birthweight, and this baby probably will be, too. She has no one to turn to for help.

Complaining was out of the question. While I could tell my mother that I was hungry and not getting enough food, if I became at all critical of Merril, she’d refuse to hear any more and would stop listening. A man has the absolute right to control his house in any way he chooses.

So much easier to believe this way of life is right and just and God’s will than to admit the whole system sucks dysenteric donkey ass and you’ve been duped all your life into being a willing accomplice to your own oppression, right?

Carolyn arranges child care and returns to school. People, you know how I keep telling you to show some loving kindness to women and children trapped in these religions? This is why:

I didn’t want more children right away, but was too intimidated to ask any of the women at school about birth control. I felt insecure among them. When I walked into a classroom everyone looked as though they were afraid I might sit next to them. In my long dresses, I stood out as strange, someone from a distant century, if not a different planet. No one made any effort to associate with me, and I lacked the confidence to try to connect with them.

And so, when her bloody awful husband pressures her to get pregnant again, she has no choice. She’s still not recovered from birthing Arthur when she’s impregnated a second time. She loses a drastic amount of weight, and is targeted for abuse by the other wives because, remember, a woman’s illness is her own damn fault.

Think of how different her life could have been if just one woman in one of her classes had treated her as a person rather than a freak. If just one person had been cordial enough for Carolyn to reach out to, and been willing to help her. You don’t have to condone someone’s faith in order to treat them with dignity. And you could be that safe harbor they need when they begin to question their faith and need to escape.

In the midst of her second pregnancy, Carolyn gets into an accident on black ice during a terrible snowstorm. She almost goes over a cliff. She’s pregnant, alone, freezing to death, and her first thought is to make sure she finds all of her books for college, and the next is that Merril’s going to be furious she crashed his luxury van. Then the terror that she killed her baby sets in. But she has one hell of a survival instinct, and keeps moving to prevent herself from succumbing to the cold. She finds help and is rescued. For a long time after, she’s too afraid to drive. Fortunately, the one bonus of an enormous family is having a pool of eager drivers always at hand.

Carolyn finishes college, a huge triumph. But now she’ll have to live in Colorado City full time as Merril’s wife – a less happy prospect. But she gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, and her son and daughter provide her an island of happiness.

At 21, she has something few other FLDS women have: a college degree. But she doesn’t yet have a bright future.

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.

I’m reviewing Escape chapter-by-chapter. Pick yourself up a copy if you’d like to follow along. The full list of reviews to date can be found here. Need a chaser? Pick up a copy of Really Terrible Bible Stories Volume 1: Genesis or Volume 2: Exodus today!

“I Lost Control of My Body” – Escape Chapter 12: Accident

9 thoughts on ““I Lost Control of My Body” – Escape Chapter 12: Accident

  1. 2

    Yes. Respect to her.

    Also what horrible circumstances and what an appalling way for her to be treated.

    Carolyn deserved so much better. People deserve better.

  2. 3

    There are so many places I want to QFT here, but I’ll stick to two:

    “The system is set up to reward backstabbers and crush revolutionaries.”

    That there is society in a microcosm.

    And thank you for this reminder: “You don’t have to condone someone’s faith in order to treat them with dignity. And you could be that safe harbor they need when they begin to question their faith and need to escape.”

  3. rq

    Call this a thought-process and an opinion, an expression of personal feeling, rather than an unquestionable pointing out of something someone has done wrong, because basically I don’t think anything wrong has been done or said.
    I’ve been thinking about what to say on this post since Dana put it up, esp. in light of the first two comments (well, comment-and-reply). I probably can’t explain to you coherently what exactly bothers me about them. It has something to do with the title, the focus on finishing college in the comments, and calling Carolyn a ‘badass’. And I think it’s because it feels like that deep, visceral terror of not owning your body has been somehow erased or passed over without acknowledgement, summed up neatly as ‘those [horrible] circumstances’ and an ‘appalling way to be treated’. It’s probably a fault of language that there aren’t words sufficiently impactful enough to really put sounds to the horror that is this chapter (applies to previous chapters as well). But that terror, it’s very real, and the desperation to survive, knowing that you are not even in control of your own body and what happens to it, becomes a sort of survival of its own. I suppose it is badass to finish college ‘under those circumstances’, but it is badassery most likely borne of a need to own something for oneself, to provide at least some direction of one’s own – a way of leaving a door open, as much as that is possible. I mean, is it necessarily ‘badass’ to tread water in lieu of drowning, even with the water washing into your lungs with every breath? Possibly, but it is also exhausting as all fuck. And I think that’s my issue (which may seem trivial), that the word ‘badass’ glosses over the vulnerability experienced by Carolyn, esp. at this point in her life where she is no longer alone, but now has children to look out for.
    I don’t think I’m being completely clear, but I also think that it’s an issue non-uterus-havers will ever truly feel deep in their gut, because it is so much more difficult for someone (or something, if we’re talking the government) to usurp their bodies for their own purposes or according to their own rules. See, I don’t think it’s enough to say ‘those [horrible] circumstances’ or ‘an appalling way to be treated’ and then to explain that she deserves much better… The trouble is, I don’t know what more could be said or how. ‘HOLY SHIT’ kind of doesn’t cut it, either.


  4. 5

    No, I get what you mean.
    It’s this societal focus on superheroes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a movie with a badass superhero who overcomes the most horrible obstacles as much as the next person, but this is not a character in a book. This is a real person, a woman who is regularly raped, who has no means to prevent pregnancies AND who’d think more than twice about using them if she had, because her only value is in providing sex and babies.
    This is horrible. Focussing on the getting out instead of the abuse turns that whole abuse into a storyline towards a happy end.

  5. 6

    Merril allows the wives only $500 a week for groceries, which sounds like a lot – but they have to feed 30-50 people daily on that amount.

    At 30 people that’s about 18 $ per person per week, about 2.50 per day. At 50 people it’s 10$, about 1.50 a day. Even the most economic shoppers would struggle to feed everybody on more that pasta, rice and beans. While you can get enough calories on the table, you simply cannot get enough nutrition on the table. This affects the pregnant people and the children the worst. It’s like the water in Flint.

  6. rq

    Yes, something like that… Like just saying ‘respect to her’ just erases all the other women going through the same terrible ordeal but with even less prospects of getting out of it (I mean, we know Carolyn did, she wrote the book). Aren’t they deserving of respect, too? I understand Carolyn is a brave individual and the individual under discussion, but she is one of thousands of women who are forced into being brave as a matter of survival instead of a matter of choice. It’s like… she doesn’t even have a choice about being a badass, you know? It’s fine to commend her for her actions, but it omits the fact that none of it is her choice. And talking about her like this also makes me feel like a shit because it’s all speculation and guesswork and running on the vague idea that I can imagine a vestige of what she must be feeling. As you say, she is a real person.

  7. rq

    There’s further information on this later in the book, and it is about as dreadful as you might imagine. Just wait until you hear on what Merrill and Barbara live. Revolting. And these are his kids. Some father.

  8. rq

    Plus at this point she doesn’t know she’s going to get out. Can you imagine the horror? And now with children – it’s not even living for yourself anymore. It’s… so… fucking… atrocious…

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