Friday, September 25, 2009

Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs
by Elissa Wall, with Lisa Pulitzer
Hardcover, 438 pages
HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780061628016
highly recommended

In September 2007, a packed courtroom in St. George, Utah, sat hushed as Elissa Wall, the star witness against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, gave captivating testimony of how Jeffs forced her to marry her first cousin at age fourteen. This harrowing and vivid account proved to be the most compelling evidence against Jeffs, showing the harsh realities of this closed community and the lengths to which Jeffs went in order to control the sect's women.

Now, in this courageous memoir, Elissa Wall tells the incredible and inspirational story of how she emerged from the confines of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and helped bring one of America's most notorious criminals to justice. Offering a child's perspective on life in the FLDS, Wall discusses her tumultuous youth, explaining how her family's turbulent past intersected with her strong will and identified her as a girl who needed to be controlled through marriage. Detailing how Warren Jeffs's influence over the church twisted its already rigid beliefs in dangerous new directions, Wall portrays the inescapable mind-set and unrelenting pressure that forced her to wed despite her repeated protests that she was too young.
My Thoughts:

Part of what makes Stolen Innocence so compelling and, well, disgusting, is that this memoir tries to explain the FLDS way of life and how their beliefs affect families, all from the point of view of a young girl growing up in the cult. It is unforgivable to have any adult force a fourteen-year-old to marry an adult male. What made this arranged marriage even worse is the naiveté of the young girls before their arranged marriages. Quite honestly, I was feeling pretty ticked off at all of these men, and not just Warren Jeffs but all the FLDS patriarchs. I was also wondering how do the adult women, the mothers of these children tolerate this treatment. Make no mistake about it, the FLDS cult treats women as property. They have no say. I normally have pretty vivid dream. While reading Stolen Innocence I had a reoccurring odd dream in which I was being treated like an animal. Then it hit me: this is exactly how FLDS women are treated and that was were the odd dreams were coming from.

Elissa Wall's account is not perfect. She loves her mother and seems to make excuses for her mother's behavior. She also doesn't explain everything that happened very clearly and parts are repetitious. Part of this is probably due to her only 8th grade education and being raised without the vocabulary to talk about or explain what was happening to her. Part of it may be due to her fuzzy memories of all the events in her life. Wall is not a writer and even with the help of a professional, this is a story that is written in a simple way. It is such an honest, compelling recollection of her past and abuse that most readers are going to overlook the simplicity of the writing. You will be suffering with Wall as her family is moved around, siblings are forced to leave, and she is forced into a marriage. You will be cheering for Wall as she escapes from the FLDS cult and agrees to testify against Warren Jeffs.
Highly Recommended


When I'd awoken that morning, I was a fourteen-year-old girl hoping for the miracle of divine intervention; my prayers, however, had gone unanswered. With no other choice, I'd submitted to the will of our prophet and had married my nineteen-year-old first cousin. As a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), I'd been raised to believe marriages were arranged through a revelation from God, and that these revelations were delivered through our prophet, who was the Lord's mouthpiece on earth. prologue, pg 1

It didn't seem at all unusual that we would have a third mother—or that our family would continue to grow. That was just a part of the only life I had ever known as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—more popularly known as the LDS Mormon Church—so that they could continue to practice plural marriage. Sure, our home already had two mothers and almost a dozen kids, but many of the children I knew had far more than that in their families. pg. 7

At the time, I didn't really know why everything had to be so different; all I knew was that I had to "keep sweet" and not complain. We were God's chosen people—and when Judgment Day came, we would be the only ones allowed into heaven. Judgment Day was known to the FLDS people as the day the destruction of the Lord would sweep across the earth, bringing fire, storms, and death in its wake. The wicked would all be destroyed and when it seemed like none would survive, the Lord would lift the worthiest people—us—off the earth while the devastation passed beneath us. Then we would be set back down and would build Zion, a place without sadness or pain. We would reside there with God and enjoy a thousand years of peace. pg. 8

From birth, girls are prepared for this role. their way of life is chosen for them by the priesthood. They are told who to marry, what to believe, and how to live their lives. Women are taught that they have already chosen their destiny before their birth, at which point they chose to willingly place their lives in the hands of the prophet and priesthood, having everything dictated for them. pg. 19

Through Uncle Warren, we'd been told that the prophet had ordered that all the books in the school library that were not priesthood approved would be burned, claiming that those who read the unworthy books would take on the "evil" spirit of their authors. pg. 37

While for years the church had openly taught us to hold prejudices against anyone whose skin color didn't match our ours, now Warren's language became even harsher. He taught us that non-white people were some of the lowest, worst sinners on earth and that association with them was one of the most disobedient things and FLDS member could do. pg. 71

Marriage wasn't about God, or the prophet, or any of that. It was about controlling women, trapping them into believing that they didn't have any other options.... pg. 147

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