Saturday, April 23, 2011

Catching up on testimony - Carolyn Jessop - ex-FLDS

Testimony of Carolyn Blackmore Jessop from transcripts of  her appearance in  BC Supreme Court session on Jan 12, 2011.

As well as appearing in court, Carolyn Jessop submitted an affadavit in these proceedings, a video taped interview, two books that she has written entitled "Escape" and "Triumph"and a copy of her testimony to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary regarding her experience with the FLDS Church.

Carolyn's father is Arthur Ray Blackmore was was originally a Canadian citizen and resident of Bountiful. He was adopted into Harold Blackmore's family.  He moved to the United States and married three wives and fathered 28 children and parented 8 more.  Carolyn is the second oldest of his children and her mother is Nurylon Bistline Blackmore.  Her mother is a sixth generation polygamist Mormon. She grew up in the Hilldale/colorado City community but visited with her father's relatives in Bountiful. She said that while the communities were very similiar in beliefs, dress and obedience to the council of Apostles and later one man rule of Prophet - there was little intermarriage between the Canadian faction and the Utah/Colorado faction.  The US group did not convert from the general population as a rule you had to be born into the community and there was much intermarriage amongst families.  The Canadian faction intermarried with the general Canadian population and converted to the faith.  Marriages were arranged by the prophet and love was unnecessary and discouraged. 

Carolyn's mother was first wife and had 13 children. Second wife was Rosy who was niece of Carolyn's mother. She was 22 at the time and well known to the children of the house as she had babysat and helped with the children.  "It wasn't that big of a shift."

She remembers her mother being very unhappy and her parents did not get along at all.  Her mother was depressed and vocal about suicide from her earliest memory.  Her mother was very emotional and her temperament "went in a lot of directions". Rosy's personality meshed with the husband's at lot better and she became the favoured wife.  Rosy worked as a nurse and that left Carolyn's mother with several preschoolers for long periods of time.  Child care fell to the older daughters including Carolyn.  Household responsibilities interfered with her social life as a teenager but more importantly she was pulled out of school after grade 8 and this created conflict between Carolyn and her mother because Carolyn wanted an education.  She found a homeschooling program and was able to complete three years in one year.  Her father consented to her attending high school for a maximum of two years and she was able to transfer credits and complete high school by age 17.

Education wasn't seen as necessary for women and more of a contamination of worldliness.  Carolyn wanted to be a pediatrician because this role was being fullfilled in the community by an aging midwife and there was too much work for her to handle. Carolyn was allowed to go to community college and worked at the school as a teacher's aid during the day.  Her father asked the prophet for permission for her to go to university to be a doctor.  This was denied but she was told that she could be a teacher if she would agree to marry Merrill Jessop.Her future husband might well say he didn't want more education for his wife but as the prophet had approved it, there was opportunity. Merrill was 50 and she was 18. It was done quickly and in secret because her older sister had run away from an arranged marriage and discredited the family and her parents were concerned that Carolyn might try that as well. She went to school with his daughters and was in a different clique from them. As a result they were appalled that she became their mother and there was some conflict. Merrill had quite a bit of status in the community where her father didn't and his 3 other wives were more her own mother's age and so she was not well received in the household at all. Within six months of her marriage to Merrill he married two of Leroy Johnson's wives as the latter had died and they were widows.

Perfect obedience to the prophet and the male head of household was enforced with whatever punishment was needed and violence against children and women was commonplace.  Evidence of battery such as a black eye were viewed as symptoms of the shame of the woman who had grieved her husband such that he needed to hit her.
Her own mother was quite violent and she had no bond at all with her.  Carolyn felt safer with her father because he was more stable and she connected with him.  She wasn't afraid to tell him  how she felt.  He was not violent at all and as she was an older child, her father had more time available to develop a relationship with her.  She felt that her father was very protective of his children and had conflict about the demands of his religion on his children. 

Carolyn has eight children and her first two were educated in the public school but then Warren Jeffs ordered them to pull the children out and had a private school set up. She was concerned because the readers they were using were impossible to teach a child to read using them.  All outside reading material was ordered destroyed and she had over 3300 children's books collected when she was working as a teacher. There could be no materials used in the school that were not created by the community. They were not even allowed to have Bibles in the home anymore.

She feared her husband and rarely spoke with him. Her husband had ultimate financial control.  Every cent earned went to him and he doled out money for groceries, childrens' needs and the wives had to ask for specific items beyond that.  He would use that control to ensure obedience.  She eventually had her employer direct deposit part of her pay to a separate account and issue a paycheque for the remainder.  Birth control was denied by her husband despite the fact that she had very difficult pregnancies and she managed to get a sister to take her to a clinic for a depo shot so that birth control pills were not found in her belongings.

(My Comments:  I have to stop here and say that Carolyn and Merrill's marriage sounds much like my first marriage.  My first husband was a very controlling man and abusive and the same financial and birth control applied to me as well.  My husband was very monogamous and an atheist.  Polygamy and Mormonism were not factors and yet the results were very similar. Even down to the other family members hating her.  I was the "foreigner" to his family and they only spoke English when speaking directly to me.  They supported him and I was a bad wife if I had a black eye. Cut off  from my own family and friends and very isolated by intent of the husband.  It was exactly the same deal as Carolyn describes. Classic domestic abuse.  I would suspect that most of these stories could be heard in any transition house or women's shelter in Canada and the US. where refugees of monogamy also fear their spouses and sometimes in the kick the dog theory of passing inappropriate discipline and internalized rage "down the line" - children fear their parents and children are used by one parent to intimidate and control the other. This crap is everywhere in our society hidden, not discussed and rarely reported. The reasons for not reporting are legion: fear of the perpetrator, family and community apathy and the huge effort it takes to get the courts/ police to enforce the laws on the books regarding abusive behaviour.  The Amicus listed some 20 laws in the criminal code that directly address these harms in his closing statement. If we prosecute polygamists we are discriminating against the thousands of monogamous women suffering these harms.  Let's just have a country where all citizens can live in loving relationships safely. )
Carolyn has a very dramatic story of escape inspired by a desire to get proper medical attention for her two youngest children and keep Warren Jeffs away from her oldest daughter. She speaks of the long process to help all her children heal and be comfortable in the general population of society. She had huge struggles and a real nasty ex-husband but she triumphed and her children rose above the psychological trauma of their family life and the separation from the culture and community that gave them their identity.  She deserves to be proud of those accomplishments. She speaks sadly of her oldest daughter returning to the group at age 18 and now lives on the ranch in Texas.

With all her negative experience, Carolyn speaks out against the harms she observed and was subjected too.  She speaks of resources to help women escape. Carolyn also calls for the decriminalization of polygamy. 

"And so my theory with decriminalizing [polygamy] would be just giving people some rights so that we have claim to property.  We have claim to help.  One of the concerns I have with that is I
don't know that in the polygamist setting I grew up if woman would have been allowed those rights way I way.  I don't know that men would legally marry their wives if they could and give them legal rights.  I don't think it would happen quite frankly and part of the ways to control people and have this power is you can't give them rights and have that kind of power."

Cross-examination by the lawyer for the FLDS:
In discussing the various leadership that Carolyn had experienced as a member of the FLDs, it was noted that Leroy Johnson was more moderate that Rulon Jeffs and Warren Jeffs was more restrictive.  The harms that she discusses in her books were directly attributed to her husband and/or Warren Jeffs. Carolyn indicated that Warren Jeffs was created by the lifestyle and that it has and will create others like him.  Carolyn said that no criminal charges were brought against her husband for abusive behaviour as he agreed to a abide by a protection order and the AG of her state felt that helping her to gain custody of the children and keep them safe was of greater issue.  There are  however charges pending against her husband in Texas for his behaviour there.

Carolyn wrote a 17 page letter in 2000 to Rulon Jeffs asking for protection from her husband and to be allowed to live separately with her children.  Warren Jeffs on behalf of his father was giving women release from one marriage and replacing them to another husband because of abuse in the former marriage.  Carolyn did not want to be placed with another husband. Asked if she had been given a release from marriage to Merrill and placed elsewhere in 2000, would she be still in the FLDS today, she said yes if she had been able to protect her children and particularly her oldest daughter who was 13 at the time of leaving.

Carolyn agreed that this oldest daughter has a different view of the FLDS and now as a 21 year old adult is making adult choices and Carolyn worries about her. She agreed that other people lived happily in the FLDS and did not experience the same harms.
"because they were not married to Merrill"

Discussing her appearance on Oprah, the lawyer introduced transcripts of that show where Carolyn called for decriminalization of polygamy.
"And so if there was a way to decriminalize it so people could live honestly and open and with dignity...Then the children would
 have more options they would see more of what is really available..."

No comments:

Post a Comment