Court order shocking to woman who fled sect

Her poise gone, Carolyn Jessop stood shaking slightly before the group of 50 or so foster care and social workers that she had come to advise.

“I just can’t believe they are just sending them back,” she said, her tears now noticeable. “That everyone can pretend that the abuse didn’t happen.”

Just moments before, Jessop had been fielding questions on everything from sartorial preferences to systems of power and dominance among the children born into the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist sect she fled in 2003.

Last month, worried about pervasive abuse, Texas child welfare workers raided the groups’ Eldorado compound, sending about 460 young members into state custody and giving advocates such as Jessop hope that the fringe group might be nearing its end.

Thursday, just as the mother of eight was winding up a half-day seminar on how to care for the most indoctrinated of the children, attendees began getting word that an appeals court was ordering the kids’ return.


Mark Tennant, head of Arrow Child and Family Ministries, a foster care agency hoping to take in 75 of the Eldorado kids on a long-term basis, made the announcement during the training session in Spring. A local pastor offered a prayer. And the training ended early.

“It’s an unknown now,” said Jessop, ex-wife of Merril Jessop, presumed leader at the compound. “The cost of this is killing the state. This would be a real convenient out for them financially. But the long-term cost would be horrific if they don’t help these kids.”

Similar raid in 1953

Even before the appeals court decision became public Thursday afternoon, Jessop was fretting about a similarly massive raid of the sect’s community in Short Creek, Ariz., in 1953 that ended in a public backlash. Members later reunited and rebuilt.


“My mother was taken in that raid,” she said. “If that raid had succeeded, my life would have changed.”


Born in Utah, Jessop came from a family of polygamists six generations deep. At 18, her father married her off to Merrill Jessop, then 32 years her senior and already living with three other wives.

In 2003, she fled her home in Colorado City, Ariz. Last year she published Escape, a book about her experience.

With her once long locks now trimmed to her shoulders, Jessop’s hands fluttered as she described some of the more arcane religious beliefs of the FLDS. Take down the plants and crosses on the walls, she advised potential foster care providers. Those will be seen as sacrilegious icons to children brought up according to the strict FLDS code. And watch your fashion.

“If you wear red, they will think you are mocking Christ because they are taught that the color red is reserved for Christ and Christ alone,” she said.

Jessop recommended foster care agencies hire social workers capable of shrugging off criticism from the children they are trying to help. Some girls have gotten physically violent with their caretakers, Jessop told the group.

Scott Lundy, a licensed child care administrator with Arrow, said his staff members, who volunteered in the first days after the raid, struggled to take everything from contempt to racism from the sect’s children.

It is this difficulty in reaching FLDS members that worries Jessop.

“This problem is something that has been incredibly convenient to ignore for years now,” she said shortly before hearing of the court announcement Thursday.

Another generation ‘lost’

Afterward, her words took on a tangible poignancy. As Jessop took her seat following the lunch session, several others in the room began to cry with her. Scott Dixon, CPS regional director in this area, told the group that foster care facilities were getting calls from Eldorado parents asking to pick up their kids. He told them to hold off for now and await legal guidance.

By late Thursday CPS officials said they needed to hear from the state’s attorney general before going forward with a possible appeal. Jessop said she can only hope the public will protest the court decision.

“We have just lost another generation,” she said.


• Houston Chronicle religion news and features: http://www.chron.com/channel/houstonbelief/>Houston Belief

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Houston Chronicle, USA
May 23, 2008
Sarah Viren
www.chron.com

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