Freedom of Religion or Abuse? Ellisa Wall
This is actually a difficult blog for me to write, but I feel it must be done. I may say a thing or two in this that some may find offensive, so it is your choice to continue reading. See, I am a father of a daughter and a step-father to other daughters. So, I may be a little uptight today. The subject of polygamy was thrown into the forefront of our attention, at least by my reckoning in the early 2,000's with such shows as "Big Love" "Sister Wives" "My Five Wives" and so on. And let's be intellectually honest, everyone is curious what it would be like. I wonder, sure. While I rant and rave while A&E is displaying Kody Brown sitting frazzled on a couch while the wives argue over who should get their house painted first, I secretly wonder "What would it be like?" Here's my first mistake (Besides speaking freely on a blog), I'm thinking like a person who has a choice in the matter.
Last week, Al and I had the honor of speaking with Ellisa Wall, a former member of what she describes as a "Cult", a branch of the "Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints" Church, a sect who still practices polygamy and was overseen by a Mr. Warren Jeffs (who is now serving a prison term for his involvement in a number of abuses connected to this cult. Ellisa tells us of a lifetime spent being groomed to be a wife, submissive, abused, married at 14 and witnessing a number of horrors, all before adulthood. While I spent my childhood riding bikes, watching "Dukes of Hazzard (the REAL one) and shooting my brother in the butt with pellet guns, Ellisa was being taught to wash dishes, scrub floors, never speak back to a man, Be the best wife so you are not the last wife and shameful. Her youth stolen by a religious, self serving idea and a man who fostered it. Warren Jeffs, the man who wielded the FLDS like a sword. A young girl, youthful dreams crushed by a created hell.
Ellisa and Church Leader Warren Jeffs
At the tender age of 14, Ellisa was married in an arranged marriage to a 19 year old boy, Allen Steed her biological cousin; almost a reward for his commitment to studies and loyalty to the church. This went very badly for her. Ellisa describes abuse both mental and physical. Immaturity on both parts combined with strict religious hard-lining was a virulent mix.
How could someone get away with this you ask? Well, let's ask Ellisa; "“We led a very secret lifestyle,” she described. “We didn’t interact with the outside world. We didn’t go to public school. We were educated, cultivated and bred to be products of the church and the religion."
"I have this one vivid memory being at a beach in northern Utah. I was watching this family play about 500 yards away from us. They looked loving, kind and caring. The mother was hugging and holding her children. They were laughing and they didn’t look like these evil disciples of the devil like I have been told they were. So I think my questions really started early on.”
These questions led to a personal rebellion, a sudden burst of vivid thought. Be it self preservation, realization, no one is sure. But Ellisa made a run for it!. In 2005, Ellisa escaped from the cult and Warren Jeffs. In 2006, Jeffs was arrested and charged with facilitating polygamous marriages involving underage girls. He had been on the run from criminal charges for more than four months. Wall would face him again in 2007.
“I remember locking eyes with him for the first time [in court],” said Wall. “I felt this overwhelming power that consumed my very soul and I refused to drop eyes. That was my stand. If I can keep contact with him, I can prove to myself that he didn’t control me… I was liberating myself from his control. I was beginning to free myself from the anger I had towards him.” Once all was said and done, the court ordered Jeffs to pay 16 million dollars to Ellisa. A sum unheard of. Ellisa still continues to tell her story, to inspire others who may be in the same situation. I took this especially hard as a father of young girls. As I watch my daughter now, Ellisa's words float through my mind, thoughts of stolen youth, abuse, and how men can create horror in the name of belief. See Ellisa's story soon on an A&E special; "Warren Jeffs; Prophet of Evil" This Monday at 9:00 pm