Thoughts before reading “Escape” by Carolyn Jessop: This book is most likely going to make me angry. I will also feel sad. I don’t know anything about Mormonism, except in some parts of the organization they practice polygamy. I don’t like the idea of polygamy. Thoughts after reading “Escape”: This book made me angry. I feel sad. I know a little more about fundamentalist Mormons in the FLMS. I don’t like the idea of polygamy, but many people do. I tend to be frustrated with books that haven’t changed the emotions I knew I would have going in. Call it “Dance, Monkey, Dance” reading syndrome. It seems rare to find a book that doesn’t outmaneuver any expectations yet leaves you utterly breathless. Upon pressure of the upcoming French class, I thought leaving this book for another time would be a good idea. This novel held my attention with such power that I sped through it in several hours over a span of two days. I would like to think change in my mindset towards women in cults and the men who lord over them has changed. They are completely desperate, and not always infuriating.
Carolyn lived in Utah in communities that practiced the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Although her family endured the confusion of a mother who beat and smacked her girls for selfish, illogical reasons and a father who began to rarely show up, and then take another wife with more children; Carolyn describes a slightly happy childhood. She loved her sisters. She got along well with her second Mom, Rosie. She truly believed in the teachings of prophecy in her church. She loved learning and education, and looked forward to the day that she could begin life as a pediatrician. Her friends in school were a treasure. Jessop walks us through these times with the sinister cloud that speaks of upcoming danger.
Then the danger piles and piles on, and doesn’t relent until the end of the book. Carolyn is married to a man that she doesn’t love, and who married her mistakenly because she mixed her up with a sister. Her oldest sister wife is a psychotic mess, making the lives of all of their household a hell on earth. Her children are repeatedly abused, and her pregnancy care is abysmal and in some cases non-existent. Warren Jeffs, the ass who leads this cult and still sends messages to his followers from jail, comes to power and forces his self-righteous delusions on thousands of men, women, and children who really do mean well.
But the book is also peppered with God-sends and happy people. James warns her to leave and encourages her that life blooms outside her community walls. Brian is Prince Charming, loving dear Carolyn and her children so well and taking them to the beach for three days after they all escape their awful situation with her ex-husband. Social workers, Utah’s state attorney, teachers, and Carolyn’s family members are all swatches of divine kindness wearing human clothing. They fight for this family, side-by-side with Carolyn. By the end of the entire novel, I was riveted and also thanking my husband for not being in a polygamist cult. In a twist of irony, he was making dinner and cleaning dishes that night. It made me a feel like a princess.
What can someone do with this book? What did Carolyn want to do with this book? As her dedication page states, “I dedicate this book to my eight children…This book is also dedicated to the women and children who may feel as desperately trapped by polygamy as I did and may wonder if they even deserve to dream of freedom and safety.” I’m so much more aware of domestic violence and the threat of cults. I know that there are organizations designed to help battered women in Greensboro and help people escape human trafficking and the like. I beg you to leave comments with links to places that can be helped. I’ve researched a few on my own, but there is power in numbers.
I can’t live without Christ, and when I think about how tenderly he cared for and still does care for women I am brought to tears. His church is not a hierarchy where men can dominate women, nor where women can dominate men. Both of these stances are evil, and should be repented of. The mutual affection of his disciples were his orders, and Paul’s plea to women to be righteous and holy were enshrouded by his commands to men to lead their churches effectively and follow Christ with better passion. The results of the Bible should be a call to this better life and though polygamy is practiced, it’s not approved by God. People make those verses in the Bible look ugly, not God himself. He tolerates so much, and I am reminded of that when I wish to show up at the Texas commune with a shotgun and a copy of the afore-mentioned Bible. Emotions subside in the wake of incredible mercy.
Carolyn, you are a brave woman and mother. I hope to one day tell our children about how amazing God made you to help care for his world.