Jessop, Carolyn 1968-

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Jessop, Carolyn 1968-


Born January 1, 1968, in Hildale, UT; married Merril Jessop (dissolved); children: eight.


Worked as a schoolteacher within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community; sewed costumes for the Home Box Office series Big Love, Salt Lake City, UT.


(With Laura Palmer) Escape, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Film rights have been optioned for Escape.


Carolyn Jessop was born January 1, 1968, in Hildale, Utah, into a family that was part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as FLDS, an offshoot of the Mormon Church that continued to practice polygamy after the main branch of the church outlawed plural marriages at the beginning of the twentieth century. Girls who grow up within the FLDS community, often referred to as a sect or cult by outsiders, are raised with little or no knowledge of the outside world, trained to believe that their sole worth in the eyes of God and their community is as a wife and the producer of children. They are told it is an honor to be married, regardless how many other wives have come before them in the household or who come after them, and that they must obey their husbands in all things. Marriages are arranged, not by parents but by religious leaders, with word frequently coming down from the highest reaches of the community, even sect leader Warren Jeffs, who was the ruling body of FLDS until his arrest and imprisonment for accessory to rape for his role in forcing a fourteen-year-old girl to marry her cousin, who was nineteen.

Jessop was able to escape the FLDS community at the age of thirty-five. By that time, she had been married for nearly half her life to Merril Jessop, a man more than thirty years her senior. She had been forced to marry Merril when she was just eighteen years old and became his fourth wife, though the marriage itself was not legal according to the laws of the United States. It is common in situations such as Jessop's for the marriage to be considered "spiritual," enabling secondary spouses to be listed as single mothers for the purpose of collecting financial assistance from the government. Jessop gave birth to eight of Merril's children over the course of the marriage, and when she finally left, taking her children with her, Merril had more than forty children with his assorted wives, and all of the ones not yet grown were living within the confines of a single house. With writer Laura Palmer, Jessop recounts her experiences growing up in FLDS, her marriage, and the reasons for her eventual defection in her book, Escape.

Loyal members of FLDS maintain that no one is ever kept within the community against their will, and that no girl is ever forced into marriage. Likewise, they insist that everyone is always treated well within their compounds, and that wives and children share and share alike, burdens and chores and responsibilities divided equally among members of a family. They also maintain that the plural lifestyle is an honor and how they show their devotion to God. However, Jessop and other women like her, who have managed to loosen the hold of the sect long enough to escape its confines, tell a very different story. It is common for one wife to be favored over the others in a plural marriage, and for that favoritism to give her rights of dominance over the other wives and their children. The sheer economics of plural marriage indicates that there is unlikely to be enough of the basic necessities for everyone to get what they require, let alone what they want, and so the dominant wife and her children receive the benefits of full meals and new clothes and sufficient amounts of other items they need or would like, leaving the remaining members of the family to scramble for whatever remains. But even a position as favored wife is no guarantee of a smooth existence, as any wife must still obey her husband, never ordering a meal in a restaurant for herself if it is something her husband dislikes, never having any opinions that might differ from those of her husband. Wives and children are routinely abused, sometimes physically, but frequently on an emotional and mental level. Rebellion results in punishments that can include isolation and separation from one's children.

This was the situation that finally drove Carolyn Jessop to make a run for it. Having spoken out against her husband for his abusive treatment, she understood she was in danger of being sent to another FLDS compound, somewhere in another state where she would no longer be granted access to her children. She was also fearful for her older daughters, who were approaching the age of marriage in the community. In her book, Jessop relates the fear she struggled with as she took her children and fled—both of being caught and returned to her husband, and of what the strange outside world might hold for her. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked of Jessop's book that "though Jessop's circumstances were unusual—and particularly harrowing—her memoir will appeal to many women who have left abusive relationships."



Jessop, Carolyn, with Laura Palmer, Escape, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2007.


America's Intelligence Wire, September 2, 2006, "Interview with Carolyn Jessop."

Houston Chronicle, May 23, 2008, "Court Order Shocking to Woman Who Fled Sect; She Had Been Advising on How to Care for FLDS Kids When Word Got Out," p. 8.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2007, review of Escape.

New York Times, June 29, 2005, "After Fleeing Polygamist Community, an Opportunity for Influence," p. 16., (June 11, 2008), "Brief: Katherine Heigl's Ready to ‘Escape’: The Project Is Based on Carolyn Jessop's Escape from the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints."


Child Brides Web site, (July 14, 2008), reference site of articles pertaining to underage brides and polygamy.

Historic Moment, (February 27, 2008), review of Escape.

Mindless Meandering, (May 22, 2008), review of Escape.

MSNBC Web site, (April 8, 2008), Mike Celizic, "Woman Describes ‘Escape’ from Polygamy."

Slate, (April 16, 2008), Torie Bosch, "My Life in a Polygamist Compound."

Time Online, (October 24, 2007), Andrea Sachs, "Polygamy Survivor Carolyn Jessop."