Ever since the raid on the YFZ Temple in Eldorado, Texas in early April, America has been taking a long look at the polygamous lifestyle of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). At this point you've probably heard about the strange bed in the top of temple. You've heard about the DNA tests, the anonymous phone call, and the difficult decision to take the kids away from their mothers. Everyone, and I mean everyone, I talk to seems to have an opinion on this issue--whether it's how terrible Texas is for removing the kids or how terrible the parents are for allowing the kids to be there in the first place.
It's hard to understand what it means to be in the FLDS unless you've lived there. It's even harder to understand how little freedom there is for women to choose for themselves. For eighteen years of my life I was an FLDS member. I wore long pioneer style dresses, styled my hair in the FLDS up-do fashion, and I believed that Warren Jeffs was the prophet--the embodiment of God on earth. When I was fourteen years old, I, like many young FLDS girls, was forced by Jeffs to marry a man whom I did not want to wed. My husband to be was not a fifty-year-old man, he was my nineteen year old first cousin.
When I learned about my coming marriage, I did everything I could to stop it--even going to the top men in the church and begging them to give me just a few more years before marriage so that I could grow up. My pleading was met with rejection. They told me the marriage was God's will; if I didn't go through with it, I would be banished from my house and most likely from the FLDS. Worst of all though, I would lose my family.
A fourteen year old girl faced with that "choice" doesn't really have one. After a week of pleading my case, I whispered "okay" when they asked me if I took this man to be my husband. What followed were the three most difficult years of my life, years spent stuck in this marriage that I did not want.
Eventually I fled my marriage and the FLDS to start a new life with another former FLDS member, a man who helped give me the strength to leave. The day that the YFZ raid took place, I was leading my new life, far away from the FLDS. That day, I received a call from a member of the Texas law enforcement involved in the raid. His question was a simple one: could I go down there and help them? The magnitude of what was going on was just beginning to become clear and they needed help learning about the people inside FLDS. A few short hours later I was on a plane to Eldorado.
All at once, I was put back into the world that I'd left behind. During my time in Texas, I saw incredible displays of generosity and unfortunate amounts of pain. I saw FLDS women, holding their heads up high, defiant as officials loaded them onto buses. I saw the FLDS men, cowering behind the scenes, afraid to so much as walk their wives and children to the waiting cars. I saw how the Texas authorities did everything they could to understand the people and their beliefs. But most of all, I saw two sides that were put in an incredibly hard situation. It was my job to try a build a bridge between those two sides, to provide everyone working on this investigation with knowledge of the culture and the mindset these men and women and children were in.
After returning from Eldorado, I had a chance to revisit my past again, when I traveled to Alta Academy, where I had gone to school from first to sixth grade. Though it's slated for demolition today, Alta Academy was once the center of FLDS life in Salt Lake City. The building is now abandoned, but here is the exclusive footage from my trip back there, to the building where Warren Jeffs taught me what it meant to be a good and obedient FLDS girl. As you go on this tour with me, if you'd like more information please click here.