The social justice issue I chose to work on for this course is the abuses in polygamy. I chose this issue because I grew up in the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), which is a polygamist group that is currently headed by Warren S. Jeffs. This issue is something that has directly affected me, and continues to affect me in some ways, as well as many of my family members and friends who are still involved in the group. After selecting this issue, as I began to work on the assignments, I started to do research. I did online searches, searched the database of the SLCC library, and talked to different people over the course of the semester. What I discovered was somewhat startling: there is very little information about polygamy and its inherent issues and related crimes to be found. I couldn’t find any statistics or solid, credible information to use. So, I had to fall back on my own, personal knowledge and experiences, as well as speaking to others who also escaped polygamy – some were from the FLDS, like myself, and others came from other groups, but our stories are all very similar. Or, at least, there are many elements that seem to be universal when it comes to religious beliefs in polygamy.
Having grown up in the Salt Lake Valley, and knowing that there are an estimated 30,000 – 75,000 polygamists living in Utah alone, I assumed that everyone in Utah would be familiar with this issue. In this assumption, I found I was very mistaken. Although just about everyone I talk to is aware that polygamists live here, and most either know some polygamists or know someone who does, their understanding of what goes on “behind closed doors” so-to-speak is extremely limited. As I searched for information I had the thought: “Someone needs to get more information out there for people who want to understand this issue!” Then, I realized that I am someone. I can help people understand.
I left the FLDS in March of 2012, with my husband and our six children. When we left we knew that we would be vilified by the church leadership and considered an apostate – traitors to god. Not only traitors to god, but we were told that the “innocent blood of our children would be on our skirts,” for taking them from the church. Basically, this means that my husband and myself, as their parents, would have to answer before for their sins and ultimately their damnation. My family and friends would be required to shun us and no one would be allowed to even talk to us once we took that step. It has been four years since I’ve seen my mother, my brothers and sisters, or nieces and nephews.
Along with a full-time schedule of classes at SLCC, I was also enrolled in a course at the University of Utah called Humanities in Focus – Life Through the Lens. It is a documentary film making course focused on raising awareness about different humanitarian issues in our community. My group made our film on my story. How and why we ultimately left the FLDS church. Through working on that, also, I came to realize that people really had no idea what polygamy was like – outside of shows like “Sister-Wives” and “Big Love.” Those shows definitely do not show the truth of polygamy.
So, my perspective shifted somewhat based on my understanding that before I can do much to address the abuses inside of polygamy, I have to raise awareness within the larger community and get some information out there. At that point, I shifted my focus from my basically fruitless research to figuring out the best way to present information from my own experiences. I understand that I cannot speak for everyone, but I can tell my own story. It was interesting for me to see how many opportunities came up once I had made this determination to speak up.
As part of this course, I chose to volunteer with IRC (International Rescue Committee). An organization that provides resources and help to refugees who are being resettled here in Utah. I chose this volunteer opportunity because those who are able to break free from these secluded polygamist societies have much in common with the refugees that IRC serves. I was hopeful that I could learn more about what resources might be available, and if there was a way I could help others get the help they need when they escape. I know, first-hand, how difficult it can be to be suddenly cut off from all that you lived for, and have everything and everyone who was a part of your life gone. As I worked at IRC and played a small part in helping people get the assistance they needed to make a new start in their lives, I couldn’t help but draw parallels and hope that someday the help will be available to all who need it.
Another opportunity that I had was to speak on a panel of women about escaping polygamy. The supportive atmosphere of that experience and the number of people who came up to me afterwards and expressed gratitude for what I had said helped encourage me to keep going. People really do want to know the truth, and they want to help – but the information has to get to them.
I chose to write a profile because I felt that my own mother’s story would be a powerful example of what a woman’s life is within the FLDS. I felt that the profile genre was a better fit than a memoir, because I wanted to profile her life – where she came from, how she ended up a part of the FLDS, and how her life has changed – I felt it would be a powerful way to set the tone for my issue.
In order to understand why I chose the genres I did for my other pieces, I feel like a short explanation is necessary. February was a rough and emotional month for me. First, I traveled down to Short Creek to get film for my documentary (now called Hildale, UT and Colorado City, AZ – twin cities that straddle the border. Originally called Short Creek, which is still the favored name by the FLDS). This was the first time I had been back since our family moved to Salt Lake in September of 2013. It was hard to be back in town, knowing that you are viewed as evil and also knowing that your family and loved ones are so close to you, yet may just as well be a million miles away. Shortly after that, we learned of my sister-in-law, Joanna’s, death. We didn’t hear about it until after she was buried. This hit both my husband and myself really hard. I was too late for her. My efforts to protect and save my family from what they are involved in weren’t enough, not soon enough. I decided that I needed to redouble my determination to help anyone I could. These were dark days for me.
Joanna passed away on February 14, 2016. The day my husband and I were in Short Creek. Then, on February 23, I was on Facebook when I saw something I never dreamed would actually happen. The FBI was collaborating with other law-enforcement agencies and had raided some businesses in Short Creek. There was an indictment for the arrest of 11 members of the FLDS church in relation to alleged SNAP benefit fraud and money laundering. Lyle S. Jeffs and John C. Wayman were among those indicted. My heart soared with hope that something was finally happening and that the future would hold a change and freedom for my family.
I attended the detention hearings for Lyle and John. They were held at the Federal Court House here in Salt Lake. I took notes and then typed up reports of the proceedings, and then I posted them on my Facebook page so that others who have been hurt by the actions of these men could also know what was happening. I chose to write my report on these allegations of fraud, so that I could show one aspect of harm that is being perpetrated, and then I chose to write an evaluation of the hearings. I felt that these choices were the best genres and would best reflect the message and information I wanted to present to the world. (If you are interested in reading my hearing reports you can find them here, here, here and here.)
My translation/adaptation was probably the hardest assignment of all. At first, I wanted to find statistics to use, but that led nowhere. So, I decided that I would draw from several of my different pieces, and then add to them to give a short explanation of how fundamentalist polygamy came to be, why so many people still practice it, and one of the inherent issues with this practice. I called it “Robbing Future Generations.” I believe it helps to give some depth to the issues as well. I put a lot of time and stress into trying to figure out a way to translate or adapt one of my original assignments – in its entirety – but I was unable to come up with something that I felt was truly effective. Thus, this “hybrid” was born.
Working through the assignments in this class has given me a different viewpoint on how to approach the issues. Especially in our Notebook assignments.
I am forever grateful for the other ladies in my group. They really stepped up and kept the ball rolling when I was overwhelmed with finishing my documentary. I enjoyed working with them both, and I truly did feel the “girl power” and support through this process. There really is something to be said for working together on a collaborative project and feeling the love and passion we each have for our issues. Although they are fairly diverse issues, it’s not difficult to tie them all together in different ways. I enjoyed taking the time to read through and “tweak” the different pieces and see how they all came together. I think our magazine is an exceptionally powerful work and I’m proud to have been a part of it!
"I freed a thousand slaves.
I could have freed a thousand more,
if only they knew they were slaves."
-- Harriet Tubman
I could have freed a thousand more,
if only they knew they were slaves."
-- Harriet Tubman