Book Review: “Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs”
July 26, 2012 1 Comment
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the FLDS) is a polygamous, religious fundamentalist group which branched from Mormonism. The FLDS, which now harbors over 10,000 members throughout the states of Utah, Arizona, Texas, and even parts of Canada, has its origins in the mid 1900s when a group of people stemmed from the traditional Mormon ideals to delve deeper into their religion. The FLDS is led by a “Prophet” who is literally the physical embodiment of God on Earth and is responsible for all aspects of the community, from your career path to marriage arrangements. The average American person cannot relate to the members of the FLDS. Not only is their appearance extremely old-fashioned since its members, especially women, are not allowed to show any skin, cut their hair, or represent any “worldly” fashions, their way of being is off from the free-spirited American ways of life.
“Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs” is the autobiography of an ex-FLDS member, Elissa Wall, who was forced into an incestuous marriage at the age of fourteen and subsequently endured all kinds of horrific abuse. When I began “Stolen Innocence” I didn’t truly grasp the extremities and restrictions of the FLDS culture. I knew the community were religious fundamentalists who practiced polygamy, but I had no idea how oppressed these people (most importantly the woman) are.
One thing that was clear to me, although very disturbing, was that nearly all members of her family – which included dozens of biological and step brothers and sisters, her father, her biological mother, and two other mothers – were unhappy with the treatment of the FLDS community. Very few people left the FLDS and if they willingly did so they were often left with no money, no home, and no way to establish a proper life. Early on in Elissa’s life, her older brothers have the courage to leave the FLDS, however this also included leaving behind the family, a very important aspect of leaving which hindered Elissa’s ability to. At first, I didn’t understand why Elissa’s Dad, Moms, and family members didn’t all decide to stop practicing FLDS values, but as her story continues you realize breaking free from the FLDS is anything but easy.
Reading “Stolen Innocence” makes it clear that whatever Elissa lacks in formal education (due to her studies coming to a halt in the 8th grade) she makes up for in spirit, wisdom, and a ridiculous amount of bravery. After enduring years of abuse through both her husband and first cousin, Allan, as well as FLDS self-named “Prophet” Warren Jeffs, Elissa escapes the strict religious community with her now [legal] husband Lamont. Everything leading up to Elissa’s inevitable escape is truly heartbreaking; it is difficult to read about a group of people, so entranced by their religious values and their leader, they cannot recognize what is right or wrong.
When the young couple did escape the FLDS, Elissa was contacted by her sisters (who had since left the FLDS) as well as their lawyers, insisting Elissa take legal action against Warren Jeffs for forcing her into an illegal, underage and incestuous marriage. At first skeptical, since Elissa’s FLDS upbringing taught her that all forms of authority outside of the church were evil, Elissa finally succumbed to the legal proceedings, inspired by the idea that she could help other young girls trapped in unhappy marriages. In 2008, Elissa testified in the case against Warren Jeffs where he was convicted guilty of accomplice to rape and sexual assault in a child.
I commend Elissa Wall for her courage and ability to put her tumultuous and often scary childhood into words. It took every ounce of inner strength for Elissa to leave the FLDS to pursue a better life and yet she continues to tell her story, keeping outsiders informed on what really may be happening behind closed doors. After Elissa’s testimony against Warren Jeffs, she created the MJ Fund which aims to help young women in religious fundamentalist groups looking for a better life. All proceeds from “Stolen Innocence” are donated to the MJ Fund. I strongly suggest reading Elissa’s work in order to gain insight on such an unrelatable community; it may even move you to help those in need.
For more information: “Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs” is available at a low price on Amazon.com