This book deals with the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the extremely conservative sect of Mormonism that has recently been in the national news with the raid on a Texas FLDS camp. Mainstream Mormonism is not a factor in this book. All references and opinions in this review are strictly based on the FLDS as presented in these pages.
Stolen Innocence is the autobiography of Elissa Wall, a former FLDS member who managed to break free from the religion. Elissa was born into the FLDS. Her mother – who birthed 18 children – was the second of three wives. All three were “assigned” to Mr. Wall, and it led to a strained home life. After much shuffling, Sharon Wall and all her birth children were removed from the Wall residence. After staying with relatives, the prophet “assigned” them to a new man, Fred Jessop. He was an elder in the FLDS community, and was to be Elissa’s new father. She was not allowed any contact with her biological father.
The FLDS operated much like a cult. Television and pop music were banned. Clothing was restricted to heavy prairie-style dresses that covered clavicle to ankle, even in the summer. For a brief time, children were allowed to attend public school. But when prophet Rulon Jeffs fell ill, and his son Warren took over, things became even stricter. Children were forbidden to attend public school. Their education came from church elders, was completely based in religious teachings, and often children were pulled from school by the time they reached their teen years.
Throughout her childhood, many of Elissa’s siblings were either “married” off, shipped off to “behavioral camps,” or simply excommunicated. But the trauma doesn’t end there for Elissa. At age 14, she is assigned to “marry” Allen, her first cousin, a man of 18 who was quite a bully to Elissa in their childhood. Despite constant pleas for help – from church elders, from her new father Fred, from her mother, from her older siblings – no one would allow her to postpone her “marriage.” The marriage is not a legal one; the FLDS members marry in secret across the Nevada border to avoid the attention of the authorities.
Elissa, too young and unworldly to understand her situation, is miserable. Allen rapes her nightly, insisting that it is her duty as a good FLDS wife to submit to his every desire. Having had no education on the subject, Elissa doesn’t have words to describe what is happening to her. That doesn’t stop her from reaching out for help – but none was forthcoming.
Elissa grew more and more rebellious. She got a waitressing job outside the FLDS community, and skimmed money out of her paycheck (the entirety of which was supposed to go to her husband and the church) to put towards CDs and movies. She bought a truck, and began to live out of it, afraid to go home to her husband. She would only see him once a week or so.
A turning point came for Elissa during her fourth miscarriage. Not having told anyone she was pregnant, she jumped in her truck and left the compound. Her truck got stuck in the mud, in the middle of nowhere, and she was close to suicide when Lamont, a friend of a friend, happened by and rescued her. Lamont was also an FLDS member, and had an equally traumatic experience in the church. Their friendship soon grows to love, and after a few months, the two escape the FLDS together.
Out of the FLDS, Elissa – despite tremendous fear – agrees to bring suit against Warren Jeffs for, among other charges, accomplice to rape. He is found guilty. As of the writing of this book, a plan was made to bring rape charges against Allen, but it is not clear if any were filed.
The book is lengthy – over 400 pages – but a quick read. Wall does a good job of explaining the beliefs of the FLDS church for those of us who are unfamiliar with the religion, and she does so in a straightforward manner that is neither pro-FLDS nor bitter or angry. It is a little difficult for me to understand the true fear that is instilled in these believers – that if they do not do as they are told and “keep sweet” that they are damned to hell, and that their prophet is their god’s mouthpiece on earth.
Like most autobiographies, it can get a little repetitive and self-serving. Wall is constantly speaking of her feelings, which are the same over and over again: fear, mainly, but also confusion, anxiety, and just a touch of anger. A person can only read about the fear and anxiety she faces when speaking to a church elder so many times before it becomes grating.
The book is interesting, and topical. If you are looking for sordid details about what goes on in a polygamous cult, you won’t find that here. But if you are looking for a straightforward and mostly unbiased description of the FLDS, this is a good choice.Powered by Sidelines