Laura Debenham's Reviews > Escape

Escape by Carolyn Jessop
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Jun 20, 08

Read in January, 2008

I sat up til 2 A.M. finishing this book. It was an intense experience. It made me grieve for the inequities in my own culture between men and women along with the fear that holds me down.

Having lived near Colorado City, reading this book made me look back on my experience living in St. George, Utah with new eyes. I attended Dixie College in the mid 1980's. There had been a girl in my Spanish class who wore the "plig" uniform and did her hair in the dippidy-doo flip. She was ostracized by most of the students but I determined to make friends with her. At first she was curt and guarded but eventually she opened up enough to have a casual friendship. We often walked to or from class together and I learned about her family. She had several younger siblings and spoke of them with love. When I married over a year later I gave my entire stuffed animal collection to Veronica for her little brother and sisters. She was so grateful that her eyes misted over and I somehow knew stuffed animals were a foreign item in her world. She and her family made a beautiful hand-stitched quilt for my wedding gift. I still have it 24 years later. They sewed an image of the St. George Temple onto a silky pink background. Because of the silkiness of the fabric it is one of my children's favorite quilts to cuddle in. I have tried my best to keep it out of the reach of dirty little hands over the years. It is the only wedding gift in tact and I think of Veronica whenever I see it.

I'm glad I reached out to lonely Veronica in my College days at Dixie and realized she was likely going through something similar to Carolyn. I wondered if Veronica was the third or fourth wife to some old guy or was she sent to college because she was plain and would likely never marry.

As an adult I lived in St. George for three years between 2003 and 2006. I saw polygamists at Wal-Mart every time I went there. I was disturbed by my own reaction to them. Having lived all over the U.S. I was aware of how limited the perspective of people who stayed in one place their whole lives can be. Yet I still looked at them as "lesser" individuals. Because I was so disturbed by my own inner hateful response to this people, I decided to learn more about them. I met a woman who had written a book and was actively helping girls escape. She was selling her books at a booth at the county fair. She was putting her life on the line by speaking out and I was impressed.

I wrote a speech on her service and invited her to attend the toastmasters meeting when I gave the presentation. I called her the "Harriet Tubman" of Colorado City.

In my speech I compared the polygamists with the Jews of Europe during the Nazi era. Looking at this group of God's children with compassion and understanding changed how I saw them completely. It had been many years since my friendship with Veronica and I had to overcome my own feelings of inadequacy as a woman to not judge them for living in such a bizarre culture. It was after recognizing their value as individuals that I started up conversations with the women I saw in Wal-Mart. I was aware they had been told that the rest of us were "evil" but I knew they were just struggling mothers like the rest of us. I began greeting them with a smile and "hello". I still avoided the men completely, even gave them the evil eye if my teenaged daughters were with me.

I came up with ways of starting conversations with the women. I asked one mother if she thought the sore on my son's head could be chickenpox. At first she balked but we ended up having a regular conversation and she gave me advice on dealing with the childhood illness. Often, if I was in an isle and a Colorado City woman was nearby I would comment on products that were sold and probably sounded like a bad commercial as I searched for ways to reach out and connect. My goal was to help these women recognize that the rest of us were human too.

Whenever I saw the little polygamist boys working on construction sights I would call the phone number advertized on trucks and signs and complain to whoever answered that there are child labor laws and I would report children working to the police if I saw it again. I was especially repulsed by the "lost boys" and grieved over the stories of male prostitution and drug use.

This book brought home the reality and horror of being brainwashed and the dangers of living in a completely controlled environment. I can't help but wonder how "true" of a book it is. I don't want to believe that there was motivation to make things up as the truth seems dramatic enough. Did Carolyn ever abuse her children or the other wives kids? It seems likely that she would, coming from such an abusive mother, but she paints herself in a favorable light, as is expected.

I was amazed at her determination to get educated and her ability to recognize that it was the only way out. I was so saddened at the end when her daughter returns to the cult and would love to know the rest of the story.

It also made me think of Veronica and wonder where and how she is.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Mary Wow, very interesting. THanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this. I've thought of reading this book. I was so saddened about the big ordeal that just happened in Texas. I felt sad because of the probable abuses going on. I also felt terribly sad for the children without their parents and the confusion that everyone must have felt. A very tricky situation. I admire your ability to overcome your natural reactions to this culture and try to reach out.


Wendi I think your review is absolutely wonderful and I applaud you for stepping out and introducing yourself to these women.

I can't help but wonder how "true" of a book it is. I don't want to believe that there was motivation to make things up as the truth seems dramatic enough. Did Carolyn ever abuse her children or the other wives kids? It seems likely that she would, coming from such an abusive mother, but she paints herself in a favorable light, as is expected.

I agree completely. She keeps talking about the abuse, often repeating things over and over and I wonder just how much of this is true. I guess we'll never know. I should also thank my lucky stars that I have the parents and husband that I have - that I was brought up with free will and that my relationships are loving and supportive.



message 3: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy This is a really great review, and I appreciate your personal insight into being an outsider in St. George & Colorado City reaching out to the women in this cult. Like others who've left reviews, I was appalled by the book. It (her life, and that of other women in FLDS) seemed uncannily like that of women in musl#m households, who are generally not allowed to chose who they marry, who can be divorced at the whim of the man and left penniless, their children kept from them IF they leave -- and this happens to them in the US of A, Britain, Europe as well as across the musl#m countries. As well, they (musl#ms and flds) have a overwhelmingly fearful dread of hell, so that they will put up with Anything, rather than risk going there. One of the most heartbreaking (for me) moments was when her children are screaming in terror that They'll all go to hell, and don't make us Mom -- when she's trying to get them out of there! (I don't have the book in front of me or I'd put the words in quotes -- I'm paraphrasing here.)

Don't get me wrong, I believe in hell too, but I believe in a God of Mercy.


Jennifer Kronk I think this is an excellent review and a very revealing essay of your own journey as a person. Thank you.
I have not finished it yet but I am intrigued by what you write questioning whether or not the author participated in the cycle of abuse. Abuse does not always create abuse. I believe that while Carolyn was clearly unhappy, she was different enough from what was around her that she was able to stay out of that vicious cycle.


message 5: by Asuka0278 (last edited Jul 20, 2010 11:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Asuka0278 I too think this was an excellent review. I was curious how those who lived in the area and weren't FLDS reacted to what was happening around them. I agree with Jennifer that abuse doesn't always create abuse. What I gleaned from her description was that she did what she had to do to survive. If it was possible she didn't leave her children alone with the other wives. (especially Barbara) 2 of them were on the verge of being mentally unstable as it was. it also seemed that she didn't always live in Merril Jessop's house. It seemed that the wives were spread out to different areas depending on which of his properties needed managed or if she was going to school or not.

The abuse that did happen to her children seemed to happen when she was seriously ill during her pregnancies or immediately after, when she was at her weakest. Having had two extremely risky pregnancies where I spent most of my time on bedrest and unbelieveable physically ill I can relate to how she felt. I can't imagine how she was able to function being so ill and at such a risk and be expected to act like it was nothing. She also stated at one point that she used sex as a weapon to protect her children. So long as she had sex w/ Merrill he would "protect" her children against Barbara.

She did talk about how she couldn't show her children any form of affection and that in itself is a form of psychological abuse. Children need that emotional tie with their parents wether it be in the form of a hug or in words. Without it they close up and become...well....in my thoughts, hollow.

There are many people out there who somehow find a way to survive or escape from the most unbelievable situations and I think this woman happens to be one of those people. She's a survivor.

I still think your reveiw was extremely insightful and answered some of my thoughts on how non-FLDS people in the communities around them saw the cult.


Weavre Great review--thank you for sharing. I just started the book, though, and your last sentence is a major spoiler. You might want to check the spoiler alert box?


message 7: by PacaLipstick (new)

PacaLipstick Gramma Thank you for this wonderful review. I have added this to my reading list.
I applaud your efforts to step out of your comfort zone to befriend these women/girls and to report the abuses you saw. So many people are afraid to not get involved. Thank you for caring.
Many years ago I read "Never underestimate the power that one person can have in another person's life. NEVER." If only for a few minutes ~ NEVER underestimate that power.


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