Michelle Michaels is a strong-minded woman raised in the Kingston Order, with a very unique story. Michelle was one of the fortunate girls allowed to receive an education. However, many people in polygamy, especially women, do not earn an education without stipulations. Michelle was no different. Like most of the Order children, she attended the Order's school, Ensign Learning Center, for her elementary years. She was taught only by school teachers who are members of the Order community. She attended school with other children from polygamy. Ensign Learning Center is not accredited for high school, so these students transfer to another building during their high school years where adults supervise them as they complete online packets to an online high school. This was the high school plan for Michelle until her mother advocated for her to attend a local public high school. Michelle was shocked. Apparently, after her older sister completed the online high school, Michelle's mother felt online packets were not a sufficient education for her children. To advocate for her children to attend a public school, Michelle's mom had to speak with her "spiritual" husband, who is also a high ranking numbered man, who then had to take it up to the leader "brother" Paul. After much debate, Michelle was granted the opportunity to attend Brighton High School.
Michelle recalls knowing for years that she would leave the Order if "things did not change" when she became older. She kept her head down, avoided whatever punishments she could, and observed the world around her, figuring out how she could survive. She was always very intelligent and knew something was wrong with how she was being raised. It wasn't just the fact that polygamy is against the law, but it was also the controlling tactics used in her upbringing. She took advantage of her educational opportunity and soaked up as much information as fast as she could. At 15 years-old, she graduated from the public high school two years early, with honors.
Michelle was further blessed to pursue her college education without having to be married; however, this came at a cost. She was not allowed to pursue the degree and education she desired for her own career. In fact, she remembers her father telling her that her dreams of becoming a school math teacher were “stupid” and “would not help advance the Order.” Michelle’s father chose her degree, he picked her classes, then he put her brother in charge of her. She was not allowed to enroll in any classes without her brother attending the same classes. This solved the problem of finding a partner for class projects and prevent her from interacting with "outsiders". He watched her, and he reported back if she interacted with any outsiders. She was free to go to school, she was free to walk among outsiders, but she was not FREE. Her brother was always there in tow, to report, to keep her in check, and to remind her that she and her education belonged to the purpose of building up the Order and her father's family.
While pursuing her education, she was also required to work full-time for various Order businesses, including her father's businesses beginning at the age of 11 years-old. In fact, she began working part-time for these so-called "family businesses" at the age of 7 years-old. Michelle is a remarkable girl who truly found a way to survive the Order's oppression of women. She did not want to leave her family; she loves her mother and her siblings. She prayed things would change and the abuse would stop. She hoped she would be fortunate enough to escape a pressured marriage, and stay with her family. Instead, her father told her who she would be marrying when she was just 8 years-old; but she was clever and found ways to postpone setting a wedding date. Her father approached her multiple times in her early teen years asking if she was ready for marriage, prepping her for marriage, suggesting marriage, etc. Each time Michelle responded that she wanted to graduate with her associate's degree first. This song and dance worked for many years keeping her single through her childhood; however, her father was very aware of her aging body and its need to produce the Order’s next generation.
When her father made it very clear that she was expected to get married by the age of 18 years-old, she had to face the hardest decision of her life. Does she fall in line like the other women in her life, or find a way out? She was still a child, so of course she did not have the luxury to simply move away. Her hopes of making it to 18 years-old unmarried were fading quickly and she had to act fast. She researched all her options, reaching out to her family members outside the Order. Being under 18 years-old, her options were limited: foster care, kinship placement, become a runaway child, or emancipation. This was a decision that she needed to make on her own, because refusing her impending marriage and taking control of her future had major consequences, such as losing her place in her family.
After much anguish, she knew that she needed to leave. She wanted to stay, but she knew that staying meant giving up her whole sense of self and watching the cycle of abuse continue. She was fortunate to have an actual high school diploma, and she could show that she worked full-time while paying rent to her mother during her teen years. So, she decided to seek emancipation. This was a daring pursuit because she would be the first of her father's daughters to successfully leave, and there was so much uncertainty. With a well-thought-out plan, she was successful; the judge granted her emancipation when she was 17 years-old. After leaving, she continued her education and graduated with her associate’s degree two days after her 18th birthday.
Although her family has responded negatively to her, Michelle does not regret leaving. She stands strong in her truth knowing that she made the best decision for herself. We at Hope After Polygamy feel so honored to know her and we're excited to see where her strong spirit takes her in life. We know that her education was a lifeline and we want to support her through her bachelor's degree. She is an example to many and a shining light of hope to girls in polygamy.