FLDS struggle beyond YFZ Ranch borders
CONVERSE, Texas — Tammy Jessop wasn’t anywhere near the YFZ Ranch when Texas authorities raided the sprawling polygamist community just outside of Eldorado in early April on abuse allegations, but she’s here now.
“It was frightening to hear about it, read about it and not know what was going on,” said Jessop, a 50-year-old member of the Fundamentalist LDS Church and a certified teacher with 24 years of experience teaching seventh grade. “What I did know was that I needed to be here to help.”
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By now, said Tammy, the entire world knows the story of the raid on the YFZ Ranch that resulted in the removal of 440 children by a Texas judge. Two higher courts overturned that decision, and the judge was ordered to release the children back to their parents, although the families remained under oversight by the court and child welfare officials.
Some of those children and their parents have returned to live at the YFZ Ranch, which FLDS members have transformed into a 1,700-acre community of homes, orchards, gardens, a school, dairy, store, sewing and cabinet shops, a large meetinghouse and the sect’s first temple.
For many other FLDS parents and their children, returning to the ranch has been an elusive dream. Tammy Jessop’s desire to help extended family brought her to Barbara Jessop’s small apartment, where she cares for 11-year-old Benjamin while his mother struggles to regain custody of his 14-year-old sister.
“We need her,” said Benjamin of his big sister, who was ordered back into foster care last week by a district judge after allegations arose that the girl is an underage bride to FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. “I miss her.”
Video clips and photographs of the traumatic separation between mother and daughter are posted on captivefldschildren.org. Poems and notes lamenting the absence of Barbara’s daughter are written on a large white board hanging on a wall at the Jessop apartment. The comments and quotes change often, reflecting the family’s reliance on God and their faith.
Living anywhere else but at the YFZ Ranch keeps FLDS families in an otherworldly kind of limbo, said Tammy Jessop. Barbara and the other FLDS women living here describe their new accommodations on a suburban cul-de-sac as “camping out.”
Edson Jessop and his family were able to return to the YFZ Ranch in early June, although they remain under the state’s child welfare system’s oversight. Edson and his wife, Zavenda, are hopeful that CPS will release them from the restrictive plan they have been living under since they retrieved their four children from various shelters around the state.
For the past couple of months, more families have returned to the ranch and sounds of life as it used to be before the raid are beginning to fill the air. Weeds reach into the lower branches of hundreds of fruit trees, a vivid reminder that the ranch emptied out right at harvest season.