June 21, 2008 - Escape (Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer). Carolyn Jessop recounts how she and her eight children escaped from the FLDS Church, a radical polygamist sect along the Utah/Arizona border. The information she gave the authorities helped lead to the arrest and conviction of Warren Jeffs.

The book is just over 400 pages long. The first chapter details the night Jessop and her children fled. In the ensuing chapters, Jessop tells her story chronologically from her childhood to her marriage; through the births of her eight children; and, eventually, her efforts to build a new life outside the FLDS.

The first 1/4 of the book is rather rough going due mostly, I think, to all the names and family relationships that are introduced. Once Jessop marries, the story focuses more on her immediate family (husband, sister wives, children) so it's easier to remember who's who. After her marriage is also where the action, if you will, begins. Jessop tells a harrowing story that is difficult to comprehend but impossible to put down.

The culture to which Jessop belonged is quite alien from anything that I (and, I suspect, most readers) have encountered. One of the early chapters begins with Jessop recalling the childhood cry of "Let's play apocalypse!" You can get a pretty good hint right there about exactly what people in the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, were taught to believe. Abuse was prevalent in many forms. Add to that the fact that a child's life was controlled by her parents and a few powerful sect leaders who were not very tolerant of disobedience, and you get a picture of a repressive culture that offered very few options, especially for girls.

Jessop recalls being a young girl with a love of learning and a desire to be a doctor. Then, at 18, she was forced to become the fourth wife of 50-year-old Merril Jessop, a high-ranking member of the FLDS (Jessop calls it a cult. Merril Jessop is currently the head of the FLDS ranch in Texas that recently got raided by the authorities). According to the author, the deal included a provision that she would still be allowed to go to college but would become a teacher, not a doctor. Jessop worried that her new husband wouldn't allow that, but she did get her degree and teach for a few years in an FLDS school.

Over the course of 17 years, Jessop had eight children. Her last four pregnancies were risky, but Jessop continued to have sex with her husband because doing so seemed to lessen the odds that her children would be abused by their father or his other wives.

As the years went on, a man named Warren Jeffs claimed more and more power in the cult. For most of those years, Jeffs' father was still recognized as the leader. But, he was old and infirm and Warren acted as the de facto head until officially taking over when his father died.

As Jessop tells it, Warren Jeffs ruled through fear and paranoia. Life in the cult became progressively more restrictive under his influence. Wives were routinely taken from their husbands and forced to marry other men; teenage boys could be expelled from the cult for little or no reason; girls were forced into marriages at younger and younger ages. Jessop saw which way things were going and, fearing that her oldest daughter might soon be forced to marry Jeffs, plotted to escape. She worked and waited for more than a year before finally having an opportunity to flee.

In many ways, escape was just the beginning of the battle for Jessop. Her older children did not want to leave (one daughter eventually went back); her husband pursued her and fought her for custody of the children; she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; she had very little money and relied on state and federal aid. But, as Jessop will tell you, she had hope. And that, she says, was more than she ever had inside the confines of the FLDS.