ESCAPE - (intransitive verb) 1. a: to get away from, b: to issue from confinement, 2: to avoid a threatening evil. (transitive verb) 1: to get free of: break away from (Merriam Webster, 1828)
Polygamous communities are complex. You do not have to actually get to the stage of being/having a plural wife to experience the systemic oppression of polygamy, and heart-wrenching journey of escaping. We were born into the system of polygamy, or better said, the cult of polygamy. We were groomed from infancy that polygamy was our way of life. Many of us were one of many children to a father with many marital relations. Some families live with all the wives and children, some are spread out with each mother in her own home. Each family or group practices polygamy in its own unique way, with the common thread that polygamy was our religion, it was our way of life. We had no other options for our futures, but to participate in the polygamous system we were born into, or escape. Some of us do become/have a wife before we escape and some of us get out before we’re betrothed. Nonetheless, the escape for everyone comes with an immeasurable amount of loss. We lose our family, friends, futures, birthrights, worthiness, identity, salvation…. everything! Yet, each of us can tell you that it is worth it!
Escaping this system is not as simple as packing up our things and moving out like the normal ageing child who leaves to college. It’s not even as simple as moving out to have a different lifestyle than your family. Leaving or better said, escaping polygamy is a journey uniquely filled with condemnation, abandonment, chastisement, damnation, castigation, deprecation, dispiriting, loneliness, anguish, grief, trepidation, anger, frustration, identity crisis, panic, disheartening, heartbreak, depression, anxiety, sadness, guilt, desolation, heart wrench, fear, tragedy, terror, shame, embarrassment, liberation, autonomy, excitement, wonderment, eagerness, ambition, tenaciousness, willingness, indifference, worry, stress, yearning, daring, anticipation, surprise, inadequacy, insecurity, vulnerability, determination, relief, shock, devastation, cautiousness, curiosity, feeling-lost, empowerment, exposed, alive and hopeful. Each person’s journey is full of emotions that can literally cripple a person, and many find coping in what we call “going emotionally numb”.
So if leaving polygamy means a person experiences these extreme emotions, can you understand now why more people “don’t just leave” or why we call it “escaping polygamy”?
As founders of Hope After Polygamy each of us were stuck in the system of polygamy, the cycle of abuse, the cult that we literally had to escape. We are sharing some of our unique experiences from when we attempted to leave/escape polygamy. We know these stories are vulnerable and can be triggering for some of you who have escaped yourselves. We warn you to read when you have a moment to address the emotions that may come up within yourself. We also invite any of you who would like to share your own experiences of leaving polygamy to do so in the comments below.
We are not alone, you are not alone!
I escaped polygamy with the help of the juvenile court system through a lengthy dependency case that ultimately ended with my mom (Heidi) and Daniel relinquishing their parental rights to me. It all started when I was 12 years old.
On Thursday February 19, 2004 law enforcement arrived at the Order’s school with my uncle, (who had left the Order years before) and his wife to take me into their custody pursuant to a protective order. The police officers entered the door right next to the classroom I happened to be in. I recognized my uncle, and knew they were there for me, but I didn’t know why or how. My teacher greeted the police officers and instructed them to go to the main office, at the opposite end of the building. He refused to tell them I was standing right there. The teacher returned to the classroom, and the Order games continued. The other students cleared out and the teacher grilled me: “Why are they here” “What have you told them”. I began explaining things that were going on at home during the past week, and started to piece it together.
Week of February 9, 2004: My mom went to Las Vegas with Daniel (#15) for a convention for the week, and would not be back until Saturday night to pick us up from the Order’s Valentine’s Dance. My then 15 year old sister Jessica (Stephanie at the time) was allowed to come home (so much backstory here) to babysit for the entire week. Our mom had 10 kids, ages 1 through 15, and a couple of the older kids stayed with another wife for the week. The school age kids had to find a ride to school (Stephanie was only 15 so she couldn’t take us), and Stephanie stayed home all day caring for the younger kids on her own. By Thursday, I had been in charge of myself for almost a week, and helped Stephanie care for our younger siblings without any adults in the house.
Friday, February 13, 2004: I decided to skip school and go shopping with Stephanie at the mall for the Valentine’s dance. But we needed money, and a way to get to the Order’s bank, and a way to get to the mall, and someone to care for the youngest kids since the rest were at school. Our mom’s van was in the driveway all week, but the keys were at the Order’s auto mechanic shop. Stephanie was preparing to become our 42 year old uncle’s 3rd wife, and by this time he was spending a lot of time with her, and doing little favors regularly. So we decided she would ask him to help her get the keys. Problem solved.
We jumped in the van with the little kids, drove it around the neighborhood enough to get comfortable since neither of us knew how to drive, then headed out for our day of shopping. We knew Stephanie would be married soon so wanted to do something fun together as sisters. We made a list, and narrowed it down to piercing our ears, but Claire’s required an adult to sign off. We called our18 or 19 year old half sister; Claire’s wouldn’t allow it. We finished shopping, then went home to meet the other kids after school. Later that night, Stephanie and I arranged for the next oldest girl to care for the younger kids and headed back to the mall to meet our aunt who would sign for the piercing. It worked
Saturday, February 14, 2004: I spent the day at Papa and Grandma’s with other family members getting ready for the Valentine’s dance. One by one, people noticed the earrings. I started to realize my mom and Daniel were returning from their trip, and they would see the piercings later that night at the dance. It occurred to me that Daniel might not approve, but my mom’s ears were pierced when she was younger so it couldn’t be that big of a deal. I wore my hair down just in case. The Valentine’s dance went great, and my mom was finally home.
Sunday, February 15, 2004: There was a family gathering after church. The kids all hopped in different cars to hitch their rides, Stephanie and I jumped in our mom’s van. Stephanie sat in the front seat, I sat right behind my mom. Heidi looked over and noticed Stephanie’s earrings for the first time. She began shouting, and immediately saw my earrings in the rearview mirror. Heidi made arrangements for family members to get the other kids home from the gathering, and drove Stephanie and me back to the church where Daniel was at a meeting. Heidi explained to Daniel how well the kids were cared for in her absence, we were so mature and ready for that responsibility, we only did one thing wrong. She instructed us to put our hair behind our ears, and it was over. Daniel had Heidi drive us to his office for our bus meeting (on the completely opposite side of town from our home where the kids were going to be alone, again). On our way there, Heidi coached us on how to deal with Daniel’s anger, gave us tips on how she gets through his outbursts.
At Daniel’s office, he sat at his L shaped desk, Stephanie and I sat directly across from his desk, and Heidi sat in a chair crowding the opening. Daniel started off by talking about keeping our bodies clean and pure for our husbands. Eventually he asked if we would take the earrings out. We explained that they would get infected, the lady told us we had to keep the earrings in for a few weeks. That’s when Daniel changed.
I had been in this office many times before for one of his bus meetings. I recognized the rage in his face. Daniel lunged across his desk, grabbed the back of Stephanie’s neck and screamed “Take them out NOW! Take them out or I will rip them out!” We were sobbing. Heidi watched – silent, stone faced. My hands were shaking, I couldn’t get the earrings out. He started counting down, still holding onto Stephanie’s neck. I knew he was going to rip our earlobes. I got one out. He was almost to zero. Stephanie asked if she could use a mirror. I don’t know why he said yes. He finally let go of her neck and she left the room. He was still towering over me, but the counting finally stopped. Suddenly he ran out of the room. It was just me and my mom. Me sobbing; her staring off emotionless (how she usually looked when Daniel got like that). Where did he go? What was he doing to my sister this time?
A few minutes later, Daniel returned to his office, alone. He handed me his wallet, which had his key card to the building, and demanded “Go get your sister!”. She must have got away from him! I walked down the hall, then down the stairs, and out the door into the cold night. Where was she? I walked toward the gas station next door, nothing. I walked into the gas station, did a loop. Nobody. I asked the gas station worker if she had seen a 15 year old girl. Nope.
I walked back to the office, handed back the wallet. Then it hit me. For the first time, Daniel was scared! He had just let me walk off with his wallet. We had the power. His voice shook. He told me how much I matter to him, how important I am to the Order, how he just wanted to protect us and prepare us for our husbands. I didn’t know where my sister was, but she always protected me.
Soon, the cops were downstairs and Heidi left to deal with them. It was just me and Daniel, alone in his office. I remember feeling cautious, but safe again. I spoke candidly to him about how abusive he had been to me and my family my entire life, how we deserved better than the abusive system of polygamy. Eventually, Daniel and I went downstairs, and I saw my sister. She was ok. The cops spoke with Heidi and Daniel in a separate room. Stephanie told me she was leaving, but she would leave me out of everything. I reacted “Please don’t leave me here!” and that was it.
After we had a chance to speak with the cops alone, they concluded their call. “If my daughters just ran off and got their ears pierced, I would beat them too!” WHAT! A mandatory report was made to child protective services, they should be following up within the week, but so long as Daniel and Heidi promised not to hurt us that night, there was nothing to be concerned about. Apparently, the years of abuse, the system of polygamy, the week long absence of our mother we had just survived, and the fact that my 15 year old sister was about to become our 42 year old uncle’s 3rd wife didn’t matter. Our mom drove us home. I put a new pair of earrings back in.
Monday, February 16, 2004: School was closed for President’s day. Mom went to work, and most of us kids stayed home cleaning the house in preparation for a child protective services investigation. We had been through so many of these already, we knew exactly what to do.
Tuesday and Wednesday, February 17-18, 2004: I went to school, but I wasn’t allowed to work until I removed my earrings. The same sisters and cousins who were jealous of my earrings at the Valentine’s Dance mocked me. I was going to hell. I was ruining the Order. How could my family be causing another investigation?
Thursday February 19, 2004: Back at the Order’s school my teachers continued to hide me from the police. They moved me to another part of the building through the back doors to avoid running into law enforcement. My teacher and another teacher called Paul and Daniel for direction on how/whether to cooperate with the police. I refused to speak to Daniel. After what felt like an hour, the numbered men finally decided to hand me over to the police. Of course, the last thing they needed was law enforcement roaming the Order school halls. When I got to the front office, I saw my mom outside. I hugged her good-bye and she warned “You know how to make this go away.” I left the school with my uncle and his wife, with my school binder and the clothes on my back.
The police asked me where Stephanie was, if the teachers were hiding her in the school too. They weren’t. The school only went up to 8th grade and Stephanie had not attended that school for years. I had no idea where my sister was. I told the police the addresses for different businesses and houses she might be, but I couldn’t be sure. When the night came, my uncle took me to the store to get a few of the basics: a toothbrush, a clean pair of clothes.
They still couldn’t find my sister. They told me a warrant was issued to arrest my mom and Daniel if Stephanie was not handed over by 8 o’clock the next morning.
I slept on a mattress in my aunt’s spare room. I was out. But my sister and the rest of my family were still there, and I knew this was only the beginning.
The following are only a few of the news articles reporting on the case:
There were several turning points that led to me leaving the polygamous group I was raised in. These catastrophic events, if you will, changed my life and my perspective in ways I could never have imagined. One of the first was when my husband was late coming home from his ‘meeting’ with a single woman he was proposing marriage to. He had permission from his father and the leader of the group to tell the girl he had direction from God that she was to be his wife. Although I agreed to marry him when he explained he didn’t believe polygamy was required to make it to Heaven, he started dreaming of other girls by the end of the first year of our marriage. He told me his plan before he left that morning for work. He explained he was going to meet her at her mother’s home and tell her his dream given to him by God and would subsequently come home. This direction from God came in the form of a dream, as most did. His dream was that he was married to both myself and her, so I knew it wouldn’t take long. I often wondered how he could tell the difference between his direction and his desires.
Yet here I was pacing back and forth three hours after he should have been home, holding my eight week old baby girl and feeling sicker to my stomach with every long drawn out minute that passed. I picked up my phone more often than I could count hoping a message had come through that I just hadn’t heard. My other three children ages three, two and one were already in bed for the night, and I could have put my baby down as well but I desperately need a distraction and do not want to be alone. Where was he? Was he still with the other girl? There is no possible way it would have taken him this long to talk to her. I have to be a good wife, and be patient. I have to be understanding and trust that God will make sure that whatever is supposed to happen will happen. I glanced out the window into the darkness. This is ridiculous; he’s probably hanging out with his brothers and forgot to text me that he’s done. I picked up my phone to send a text asking if everything was ok. I tried not to look at the phone but after what seemed like an eternity I looked down and realized it’s been ten minutes and I have no answer. My heart and my stomach sank and I sat on the couch. Does he think so little of me that I don’t even get a message letting me know he will be longer than he expected? I was becoming angry and sent another text. And another. Then I couldn’t control my thoughts. He said he didn’t think she was going to say yes because her father had not given her permission to say yes, but what if she did? What if he’s engaged right now to another person? I began to panic and my arms were shaking. I put the baby on the couch next to me and tried to breathe. I can’t do it. If he is engaged I know I can’t do it. Other first wives faces flashed through my mind. How did they do it? How did they just let their husbands marry other girls?
In that moment I felt I must be different than the other women. There was an earth shattering realization that I did not think I could survive my husband, whom I loved so much, becoming engaged to another person. It would either kill me or I would have to avoid it in the first place. I had doubts and fears about polygamy before, but never before did I know in my heart that I absolutely would not be in that situation.
Unfortunately, I will cannot share the other crucial experiences that lead to my departure at this time. I feel it is important to distance my four wonderful children from polygamy as much as possible and for that reason I have been in court since 2014 fighting for custody. It saddens me to know that every story of my truth I share may be used against me in this ongoing battle. As I attempt to find my place between my old and new world, I’ve realized by assisting others who have left polygamous groups, more and more of my friends and family turn their backs with conditional love. With all my heart I love my parents, my siblings, and many people I knew in the group I left.
Education has assisted me in growing more than I thought possible by shedding light on falsehoods I was raised to believe were of God. Without learning the things I have, I might still believe I am going to hell for leaving the group or not obeying my husband or trying to help others obtain an education. I feel so blessed to be on the path I am on.
My first official attempt to run away from polygamy was Halloween night 2001 at the age of 13 years-old. I can’t say there was one thing that sparked my desire, it was more of a build up! I was getting so sick of the abuse, and frustrations of how normal it was to see children being slapped, punished, and beat! I couldn’t walk around the halls at church without hearing a parent tucked away somewhere saying “1, 2, 3” followed by the sound of a slap or two, then a small pause to begin again until the child stopped crying. It hurt, it hurt my soul to hear this, to be around this and to do nothing. Sometimes I would find these moms and lash out saying “you want me to count to 3 and slap you across the face, then do it again because you’re crying that I hurt you? Stop slapping them and maybe they will stop crying!”
Then I would walk away and start crying because how overwhelmed I felt, I would start to think: Why didn’t I have the power to just take that kid with me and stop them from getting hurt? Why wasn’t there someone who could help? And why did so many adults walk by completely numb or ignoring the crying kid with the slapping parent nearby? What was so wrong with me??? Why couldn’t I just ignore it too? Why do I always have to get involved?
Something about my character, my soul… it hurts me down to my core to watch someone being hurt!! I would cry for that kid, I would cry for how overwhelmed I felt, I would cry because no one cared, and it was so normal for me to see kids, ages 1-years-old to 12-years-old get slapped! I would get angry with myself for getting involved, sometimes I took the slaps instead, or the person told my father Daniel Kingston, who would find me, and make sure I was always physically punished for the long list of things I did wrong since I saw him last.
So needless to say, I hit my breaking point and could not take it anymore. I remember sitting in the Order school in Mrs. Marie Evans class (or Ms., she was a spiritual wife with a made up last name), and we had a pull-a-card system in school; green, yellow, orange, and red to correspond with your behavior at school, which was reported to your parents. So yes Daniel made a list of spankings for us. Anyways, this particular day, I was asked a question from another student, which I was responding too, to help her understand what the teacher was saying. Then Ms. Evans called me up to pull my card because I was talking. There was no protesting her or even explaining myself it would have just made things worse.
So after my card was pulled, I sat back down at my desk and started crying, feeling sorry for myself, having the same conversation with myself for the millionth time “why do I have to get involved, why do I have to help, I should have just ignored her, I should have just told her I don’t know either, I should…” I was looking at my paper and realized the word “ME” was written on it where my card was pulled, and I was thinking how ‘stupid’ I am. So I decided to write ‘stupid’ next to the ME! I felt so horrible, and soooo stupid, and seeing ‘ME stupid’ validated my feelings. I tell you this because this was happening at the time I was literally hanging on by a thread. I was done, I was done with life, I was done with everything, I was done. I knew that there was no future in the order for me. I WANTED TO DIE. I prayed to die for months, I even started praying to both Satan and Heavenly Father telling them both, whoever got me out of here I would worship for the rest of my life.
I got in trouble again, for some reason as I always did, and Ms. Evans told me to bring my card/paper to her again. I completely forget about the ‘ME stupid’, but when she saw it, she sent me straight to the Principals office. I was so confused, and asked “why”? She showed me the paper, and I saw ‘ME stupid’, and I was still confused and told her ‘ya it says I’m stupid’, and she replied “no you are saying I am stupid!” I was still confused, because I knew the mental state I was in when I wrote that…. I must have looked confused because she pointed at the paper and spoke harshly, but slow…. “ME is Marie Evans, and next to it ….you.. wrote that I am stupid!” As the light bulb went on for me, I started to plead, “wait no, that was about me” BUT to the office she sent me. Going to the office meant that your parents were going to be called, BOTH of your parents. Heidi, I wasn’t worried about, BUT Daniel…. NOOOOOO!! I did the walk of shame, and literally shamed myself the whole way… wishing ‘why couldn’t I just stop breathing right here, right now!’
The principal being my father Daniels little brother and another numbered man in the polygamous group expelled me and called my parents? Daniel decided to have Heidi bring me to his office. I was so scared, and rightfully so. I did receive a physical punishment in the form of multiple slaps (I say it like this because so many people in the Order keep telling us, that they don’t get beat, they get punished when they behave badly. They say that we make it up that we got beat, and when we were "punished" we deserved it for our bad behavior, so I will use their language of "slaps".) Daniel decided that during my expulsion, I would be his ‘personal secretary’ every day for the 60 days I was expelled. Literally, this was HELL, there was no way that I was going to escape his temper being his personal secretary daily. This had to have been early to mid-October, because I showed up for a few weeks before I actually ran away on Halloween.
Some days were not so bad, I got to hear stories about him, his youth, which he loved to tell stories about why he was so special, and how I get my special from him and his parents. I even got to see things about the order I probably wasn’t supposed to see. I saw some files they had on many people in the Order. I saw many of the files from my half-sister’s case. I saw the pictures of her bruises. I had questioned her story, but it became real to me at this time, I know it's true. I had some of these bruises on my body from “physical punishments”. Why would I be sitting here with the same type of bruises, and not believe that he did this to her to?
Anyways, one day on my commute back and forth taking the Order school bus to get to Daniels office, I was talking to one of my order friends on the bus. We were talking about how miserable we are in the Order. She knows who she is… BUT we spoke about how we both hated the Order and planned to leave. I remember these words coming out of my mouth so vividly as we were ducked down in one of the back seats of the bus having our secret conversation. I said “Honestly, I am literally hanging on by a thread. I want to leave right now, but I have nowhere to go.” Us even having this conversation was dangerous and a huge sin in the Order because we are never allowed to say anything negative about the Order or numbered men. We spoke and that was that, plans we would never follow through on. There was no hope for us, we needed to suck it all back in and push it deep down and just do life like everyone else in the Order.
I went about the rest of my day, even forgetting about the conversation I had on the bus, until SURPRISE, guess who walks in the door of our house just as we were getting ready for bed???? Did you guess Daniel…. Because you’re right, he walked in and sent the kids to bed, and told me to sit at the table for a chat. Again, we began another one of Daniels not-so-nice looooong chats…. He was telling me how wonderful the Order is, how I have been doing really good being his secretary, how the Order has a special place for me, how I will be getting married soon, how my future is full of so much happiness.
At this time, I was old enough, and had enough experiences with Daniel to know that him showing up like this was so out of character, I was trying to figure out what his motive was, and I still had not remembered my convo from the bus earlier that day. It was not until, after I was agreeing with Daniel, and smiling, and trying to play the game, like I had done so many times…. that he said, then why did you say “you wanted to leave the Order”. I knew I was caught, I knew she had told, and at this point I was trying to figure out my plan, weigh my options, what do I do?
I can see that his countenance is turning, he’s switching to “lose his temper Daniel”. I continue trying to say what he wants to hear, hoping to prevent myself from going to bed tonight with an aching body as I had done so many nights in my life. My bruises from the last time were finally gone…. Please “Stephanie, keep it together, tell him what he wants to hear and get yourself to bed…” I would make quick glances to my mom, I don’t know why? She never would intervene, but maybe I was checking to see if she was the same type of monster as him, maybe I wanted to know the look on her face?
The night escalated, I wasn’t so successful keeping my cool… Daniel was yelling “THAT’S FINE IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE, GO PACK YOUR STUFF UP RIGHT NOW AND I WILL DROP YOU OFF ON THE STREET WITH ALL THE ‘N’ (he used the word) and BUMS… IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?” by this time I was sobbing, “NO”, he continued to yell at me, and then of course here came the “stop crying” and now I was getting the “1, 2, 3,” slap! I don’t really know how long this went on for, but when I finally laid down safe in my bed in the dark, I thought, OK “that’s it!! I am leaving, I am running away!”
I had no idea how I would leave, where I would go, or even how I would get help. There was no one in the Order that I knew that I could trust. No one could protect me, because Daniel being #15 would always be over them in the Order. I remember being at his office the next day, being the secretary thinking my plan through. I knew I had to be so secret and TRUST NO ONE. I had family members who had left, an aunt, an uncle, half-sister with her case, even a brother from a different mom, and wondered, maybe one of them could help me. There was even other people from the Order who had left, so I thought maybe I would start looking them up in the phone book to find them. (There was no social media to make a secret account and find someone quickly, liked there is today. I think My Space existed, but I hadn’t a clue how to use it.)
I started calling people from the phone book with my family member’s names, and asking them if they left the Order group…hahahah… I still can’t believe I did this, but I was determined. BUT, after a few confused people on the phone, I was getting nowhere. I remember staring at that phone book and phone like it had the answers, one of those phone numbers was gong to lead to someone who was going to help me……. My brain wheels were turning and the word POLYGAMY came to me… I was going to look up polygamy in the phone book… I sifted through those pages smiling from ear to ear, I had the answer, I was going to get out…. I was finally going to be SAFE!
I found the phone number to Tapestry Against Polygamy, I recognized the name, but I could not remember exactly from where. I called the number and a lady answered. I don’t remember exactly what I was saying, I was so scared and so happy at the same time, I was finally going to get help. I remember telling the lady who I was, I remember she saying she was Rowena Erickson (the devil herself, as I was taught to believe in the order) BUT I did not care, the Devil, the Lord, the Black person I was taught to disgust, I did not care who was going to help me… I just wanted help. Ok, I did care a little, I wouldn’t let her come pick me up, but we did talk about people I had known from the inside that had left, and she now knew them on the outside. One name came up, it was a girl I lived near for many years at Washakie, and she ended up marrying one of my half-brother’s, then ran away from the Order. Rowena was going to get me in touch with this girl, I told her, the safest night to get away would be Halloween since I could be “out late trick-or-treating” and not get caught running away. The plan was made, and I just had to wait till Halloween.
At this age of 13 I was already in the preparation for marriage classes, I was in the 8th grade class at the Order school, which I was currently expelled from, I was working at Order businesses, which I was currently pulled from to work for Daniel, we dumpster-dived for food, we lived in a home that was dangerous for little kids, my future was pre-determined, and I was not happy!
I waited out the last few days till Halloween, and on that day, I was probably the happiest I had been in a long time. I love my family, I was going to miss them, I knew that, but I was at the end. I was wishing for death, so there really was no hope in staying! That night, I attended the family festivities, I trick-or-treated a little, and I couldn’t break away while trick-or-treating like I had hoped, BUT I had a ride coming… I needed to figure something out. So I pretended to not be feeling well and headed to bed early…. I went to my room, put my candy away – I don’t know why I bothered to do this, BUT when it came time to meet my ride… I JUMPED OUT MY SECOND STORY WINDOW AND RAN AS FAST AS I COULD to the black car 1 mile away that was WAITING FOR ME! I brought nothing, no change of clothes, NOTHING!
She picked me up, in a store parking lot and drove me to her grandma’s house. I got to speak with my half-brother who had left in recent months and he told me “just keep telling the truth!” He said to tell them everything I can think of because there are so many things that we think are normal and OK, but they are actually not… They all told me because I was only 13 years old, we needed to contact the Department of Child Protective Services (DCFS), BUT for the next 24 hours I was SAFE with familiar people!
Of course this attempt to escape polygamy failed for me as the judge sent me back into a home in the Order by Thanksgiving!
The following are some of the news articles reporting about this at the time.
Growing up in the Kingston group as one of the past leaders children I was put in many situations where I would watch the current leader and his brothers, my half brothers, get caught breaking the law and then using me and other women and men to lie and cover up for them in a court. These experiences helped me realize that they are not men of God like they say they are and the Kingdom that they say we are building is just their banking accounts. There was a situation when I decided I wasn’t going to be compliant to their story to cover up their lies in court. I knew firsthand what had actually happened and become disgusted with their actions. The leader actually said to me. ‘Oh good grief Lu Ann, you can lie and cover up for her but you can’t do that for us?’
That phrase rings in my head still today as the moment I realized that I was a member of an organized cult. What I didn’t know was how I was going to continue to live in that lifestyle under the control of these corrupt leaders.
After my 2nd daughter was born, Julie reached out to me a year after she left and asked me if I wanted to leave. At 20 years old, the thought never occurred to me that I even could leave till she said something and offered to be a support during that process.
My response was YES! Could this even be possible? Would I survive in the outside world? I didn’t know but I needed to at least try if I was going to keep my sanity. For the next 3 days she would come over after dark and park her car a few blocks away so no one would see that I had an ‘outsider’ at my house and we would spend the night packing as much as we could. I worked for my current husband so I had to go to work pretending like nothing was happening. The night before I left someone from the group has seen my boxes packed up in my living room so I didn’t dare to go to work the next day and I for sure didn’t dare take my kids to the sitter who was one of my sister wives. Instead, I spent the day with Julie at another cousin’s house that had left 15 years prior. She said we could stay there for a week while we looked for a place of our own. That afternoon we stopped my apartment to see if anyone had stopped by because I didn’t call into work or the sitter to let her know I wasn’t coming. When we got to my apartment my sister was inside and she wouldn’t let us in. She did however chase me out to my car yelling “You give me those kid’s, you do not deserve to have those kids.” She attempted to open the car door so she could take my kids but luckily the doors were locked and I hurried into the car. Julie was driving and my sister opened her door trying to get into the back seat. Julie asked “What do I do?” so I said to her “Drive faster!” She did and my sister eventually let go of the door and started chasing us down the street yelling “Give me those kids!” I realized if I was going to try and go back to get my stuff I needed to hide my girls if I was going to get them out of the order with me. We went back to my other cousin who was letting us stay with her and asked if we could hide my kids with her. She accepted and we were able to get other people from the neighborhood to help us go back and move some of my stuff out.
When we went back later that day with our crew to move my stuff out, my sister was still there along with my brother, uncle, and my spiritual husbands parents and eventually my mom. They were all there to stop me from leaving. Thinking they were going to be able to talk me out of it and hoping to nab my kids because later I found out that my then spiritual husband was waiting in his car around the corner for someone to bring them to him. When they wouldn’t let me in the apartment I figured I’d have to just leave with the clothes on my back and whatever stuff I had in my car for my kids. Then someone had the idea to call the police. That was a hard decision. I didn’t want to call the police on my family. I knew my leaving was hurting them and that they didn’t understand why I was doing it. To call the police on my family I’d be hurting them even more. But I also knew it was probably my only chance to get some clothes and diapers for my kids so we could survive in the outside world so we did. The police came but they didn’t believe that I was trying to leave a religious cult, & polygamist marriage. They were quite rude to me about it and told me it all sounded like a lie. I wouldn’t let up on my story because I knew it was true so I kept telling them and asking for their help until one officer remembered a news story about another girl who had been beaten for leaving her polygamist marriage to her uncle a year prior. This got the police on my side finally. They told me they would give me one hour to get my stuff moved out. They had to talk to my family and work out the logistics to help me into my apartment. I didn’t have a lease so there was no legal reason why they couldn’t let me move out of my apartment.
Everyone that came to help me move my stuff out got to work. Getting all the boxes that my cousin and I had packed that week and throwing the rest of the stuff in garbage bags to haul it away. While I took my family members aside, mostly to get them out of everyone’s way, and explained to them for that hour that I was leaving, why I was leaving, and there was nothing they could do at that point to change my mind. It was hard and emotional for all of us. They didn’t understand why I would condemn myself to hell and leave what they called ‘The kingdom of God on the earth.’ But I couldn’t stay there living under the control of those corrupt leaders. I was falling into a dark place and if I didn’t get out of the Order then the alternative was detrimental. I just couldn’t stay there anymore. And I couldn’t imagine raising my girls there with the same fate that I had.
After going around in circles with my family members for that hour the police informed me that it was time for me to go. After hearing part of what I was telling my family the officer was kinder to me and even offered me an escort in his police car away from my apartment in case any of them tried to follow me.
I stayed with my cousin while my stuff stayed in the trucks of the kind strangers that helped me move. That week I went to a nearby apartment building and asked the owners if they would rent to me. I didn’t have any credit, references or a job. I didn’t even have a bank account. I only had enough cash for 1 months rent and a security deposit and then I was broke. At first they didn’t want to rent to me and after I told them what I had just left they didn’t want to rent to me even more. But I begged them to please rent to me and that I would be sharing my apartment with my cousin who did have a job and I would do everything I could to pay the rent every month to keep a roof over my kids head. Very reluctantly they said yes. The woman said I was cute so maybe someone would marry me and take care of me someday. I didn’t know how to interpret that but if that was the only reason she would rent to me then I would go with that. I didn’t want to go through begging someone else to rent to me. I then met my cousin’s boss who gave me a job selling family portrait packages to people in front of a grocery store. It paid commissions and I wasn’t good at it. But I didn’t think I be able to get any other job till I had something on my resume so I took it. I also realized that if I was going to get a better paying job so I could keep a roof over our heads I at least needed a high school diploma. I reached out to a local high school and asked how that would be possible for me. They offered night classes and home study to help me work towards my high school diploma and I was able to get that a year after I left. I then went on to a community college and started my learning career from there.
I left the Kingston group on August 9th, 1999 at 19 years old. My older brother is largely responsible for my decision to leave. He no longer believed in the group and rather than walking away from it, he started to ask all the different family members questions to get us thinking about what we believed in and why. He would subtly point out things he saw going on in the group, hoping to get all of his loved ones to start thinking about and questioning things for ourselves.
Two things he said to me stand out in my mind as the turning point for me leaving. I remember a conversation with him where he told me that I don’t have to live the life that I was born into. He said, “Life is not the hand you are dealt, but how you play that hand.” The other thing he told me was that I CAN ask WHY. I’m embarrassed to say that as an 18 year old girl in polygamy, I no longer believed that we could question things. I don’t know that I had believed that for quite a while.
That is all I needed to help me start to open my mind. Immediately following that conversation, I began asking why. I jotted down questions that came to mind from religious books as I read. I began to ask why the leaders did some of the things that they were doing. I started to ask why but I couldn’t find answers that left me satisfied. I started to notice the contradictions in the teachings and beliefs. I started to notice the abuse going on with the labor force. I opened my eyes to the lying and manipulation that was going on all around me. I remember approaching a colleague one day and asked him what he thought about the group stealing hours from us as well as taking money from our paychecks. I asked him, “How can God’s chosen people be so dishonest?” The appalled look on his face let me know that these were things that I could not discuss with other members.
I soon hit a point where I could not be a part of the group for another day. I went to church one morning with the intent to say my silent goodbyes. I spoke to each and every person that I loved and cared about and then walked out knowing I would never return and I would never see any of those people again.
This wasn’t the first time I thought about leaving or tried to leave the Order. I was 16 the first time I wanted to leave the group. I made plans to get out. I packed a bag and hid it in my room. I had a ride on standby ready to pick me up. I was going to sneak out my window in the night with my packed bag and my scriptures (I didn’t want the world to swallow me alive like the leaders tell you will happen if you leave, so I planned to study every night in an attempt to keep this from happening). I was going to live in a friend of a friends basement, who’s mom was ok helping me get out and get on my feet.
I was sitting on my bed, after everyone in the house went to bed, waiting for my friend to get to the house. She was coming from Salt Lake to pick me up in Emery County so she had a two and a half hour drive. My mom came into my room that evening and I could tell something was wrong. My little sister had recently been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor on her brainstem. My mom told me that my sister was unconscious and she needed me to watch the kids while she took her to the hospital.
I called my friend and told her that I couldn’t leave yet, got through the current situation and began to plan my escape again. I once again packed my bag and once again my sister had to go back to the hospital. We heard often growing up that if we leave the Order, awful things would happen to us or our family members. The leaders would sometimes go to the extreme of teaching us that one person leaving can bring on the death of a loved one to pay for their sin of leaving. I began thinking that I was responsible for my sisters unstableness with her tumor. I felt like God was punishing me for trying to leave by making my sister sick.
It took a long time for me to dare to think about leaving again but I eventually got to a point where I felt like it would be ok. My little sister was doing better and she had been more stable than usual. I started to come up with another plan to get out. The day before I was going to leave, my sister got sick again. It was bad this time. My sister was in the hospital for more than a month and was in and out of comas. We pulled together as a family and helped each other get through it.
I vowed to stay in the Order and swore to myself that I would never leave. I planned to become the best member I could and promised that I would give my life to the group from then on. Because of the things I had been taught in church, I felt that God was telling me that I was straying from my life path and was going to kill my sister if I didn’t get back in line. After trying to leave three times with each of those times ending in the same way, the message was clear to me that I was supposed to stay.
I think about this sometimes and I wonder how different life would be if I would have gotten out at 16. I don’t like to think about how things might be; the challenges I would have faced, how different my relationships with my family would be. I almost walked away from all of them without saying a word.
I poured my life into the group after my last attempt to leave. I turned my mind off and closed my eyes to everything that would make me question my faith. When my brother made me question my reality and open my eyes when I was 18, it happened fast. All I needed was someone I looked up to to tell me that it was ok to ask questions. He did this for the rest of my family as well. In the first year of this; I left, my younger brother left, and an aunt and uncle left with their family. The following year more aunts and uncles left and my parents ended up leaving with all of my siblings.
I’m one of the lucky few that have my family out of the group and have been thankful for their love and support as we all navigate life outside of polygamy. I’m grateful that things ended up turning out the way they did. I’m glad that I was too brainwashed at 16 to be able to walk away, but only because we all eventually ended up leaving otherwise I may have spent a life wishing I would have gotten out when I wanted. Who knows...