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August 20, 2013

How I Fled a Life of Polygamy


Photo Credit: Matt Spencer

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For the two days before the escape, I had attended every meal and class so it wouldn't occur to Warren that anything was different. It had been agonizing deciding what to pack besides my violin. Carefully, I had selected only a few favorite long dresses, my photos and scrapbooks, and my sewing machine and boxes of material—besides music lessons, sewing would be my only way to make a living on the outside. I'd had to sneak the most important items out without being seen, then hide them somewhere off the Jeffs' estate. Though neither a liar nor a thief, I'd had to steal my own belongings away to claim my very life.

I had worked for so many years to be an example to my family and my community, and that thought made me want to stop and go back. But the knowledge of my destiny under Warren brought reason. When my letter of explanation was discovered in the light of day, Warren was adamant in the order he issued to the community: Find us before nightfall "to save that girl's soul before she commits adultery." Many of Warren's brothers and several members of the God Squad were sent on a massive manhunt for us, scouring Colorado City, St. George, Cedar City, and environs. As the former Prophet's widow, I knew far too much about the inner workings of the Jeffs family and the true undertakings of the FLDS. I was a dangerous liability to the new Prophet.

People at rest stops and restaurants stared curiously at our attire and my hairstyle. A woman's hair, usually worn piled high atop her head, was her crowning glory. As Mary and another woman did to Christ in Luke in the New Testament, a wife will wash her husband's feet, anoint them with oil, then dry them with her long hair. That's why an FLDS woman is never to cut her hair. The FLDS bought hairspray by the caseful.

Once in Oregon, I was paralyzed by fear of the outside world. I had no idea how to do my hair, how to dress, and what social rituals to follow. The only clothes I owned were the long prairie dresses of the FLDS dress code, and I continued poufing my hair. When Cole took me shopping, with literally no idea what to choose, I ended up with a jogging suit and a shirt in the shocking and once-forbidden shade of red. (Rulon said it signaled a proud and immoral woman.) Afterward, at a hair salon, I blanched as yards and yards of my rich brown hair hit the ground. Even though it felt so foreign and naked, I thought perhaps I could live with short hair. The next day, it didn't look anything like it had the day before. Not only was my hair gone, it now looked ugly and made me feel that way inside. For days, I cried in private, feeling homesick and missing my mother and sisters and friends desperately.

In the meantime, Ben and I needed to start earning money immediately. Two weeks and countless applications later, we both got jobs at restaurants. Everything was new, thrilling, and sobering to me. Excitedly, I called my mother, anxious to share with her what I was learning in life and through books. While she was glad to know I was safe, she told me I was trading my salvation for material goods. Warren had warned that anyone who associated with either of us would be considered traitorous and deeply immoral. Our families were not to contact us—their eternal salvation was at stake—so she was risking everything by the very act of communicating with me.

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