Flora grew up in the FLDS church, which is still controlled by the infamous self-proclaimed prophet Warren
Jeffs. Today, she is a well-known anti-polygamous advocate. This heartbreaking, but ultimately triumphant, narrative begins in Flora's own words: "My name is Flora Jessop. I've been called apostate, vigilante, and crazy bitch, and maybe I am. But some people call me a hero, and I'd like to think they're right too. If I am a hero, maybe it's because every time I can play a part in saving a child or a woman from a life of servitude and degradation, I'm saving a little piece of me, too."
Flora, one of 28 children born to her father and his three wives, grew up in the bordering cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Her childhood was anything but idyllic. Abuse ran rampant in her home. Her father, someone she should have been able to count on for protection and support turned out to be the worst perpetrator of all. At age 8, her father molested her. At age 12, he raped her.
When Flora was 14 years-old, she managed to escape her abusive situation. Her freedom, however, was short-lived. Although the woman who took her in as part of the underground railroad was kind to her, she felt lonely and scared. The outside world was foreign to her. One day, she called her uncle to come take her home. Fred Jessop was her father's half-brother and the bishop of the FLDS. Instead of bringing Flora home, she spent the next two years a captive in his home. Flora describes living in a room no larger than a closet, being beaten and tortured by her Aunt Lydia, and made to be a domestic servant in their household.
Eventually, she was given a choice: marry or be sent to a mental institution. Again, she chose freedom. Flora's husband-to-be was her first cousin, Phillip. He and Flora had enjoyed one another's company prior to their marriage. In fact, it was the "God Squad," a secretive group of men who patrolled the town, who had seen them talking together and reported it to her Uncle Fred. In twisted FLDS logic, this alone was a cause for marriage. Phillip and Flora were given a gun-shot wedding in Las Vegas by a Justice of the Peace.
Ironically, this arranged marriage turned out to be a source of freedom for Flora. Although she was only 16 years-old at the time of her wedding vows, she was legally married. That meant legal emancipation. Flora chose to leave three weeks later and, with the help of her husband, she moved to Las Vegas.
An out-of-the-blue call from a producer of the show 60 Minutes changed her life forever. Although Flora was initially startled, she eventually decided to give an interview. For her, it was "...the first of many media interviews I'd do and the beginning of my lifelong passion to tell the world the truth about polygamy and its abuses." Sadly, it wasn't all roses after that for Flora. She went through a drug bing to bury the guilt and shame of her past. She survived an attempted kidnapping by her Uncle Fred. Flora's life became something of a giant road trip, traveling from place to place, and from one bad relationship to the next. Flora also found stripping to be a lucrative career option. The one joy from this period of her life was the birth of her beautiful baby daughter, Shauna.
The next chapter of Flora's life developed into something drastically different. During this time, she fell in love with Tim, the man of her dreams, and they and their children became a family. Flora also learned that she need not hate and/or fear God. Last, this new era ushered in Flora's declaration of an all-out war against the FLDS.
In April of 2001, Flora's baby sister Ruby Jessop was forced into an unwanted arranged marriage to her step-brother, Haven Barlow. Ruby was only 14 years-old. Flora's unsuccessful attempt to protect Ruby meant that the family had to hider her away. Thus began more than a decade-long mission to rescue her sister. Flora's search for Ruby soon led to anti-polygamy activism. She became a member of the underground railroad, helping young girls to leave their abusive Mormon fundamentalist communities.
She began an organization called "Help the Child Brides." Later, she was recruited to be the executive director of the "Child Protection Project." One of Flora's most interesting underground railroad experiences was with two 16 year-old girls-- friends and both named Fawn-- who were leaving the FLDS. KTVK 3TV's reporter Mike Watkiss came along for the ride, filming the rescue as it was happening. Later, Watkiss created a documentary from the footage, "Colorado City and the Underground Railroad." (see video below)
Flora's book highlights some of the heart-wrenching stories of those she tried to help. Their courage to leave seemed to be a mere first step in a long process to claim true freedom. Life on the "outside" would be filled with legal battles, all while trying to recoup from their pasts and trying to acclimate to their new lives. For the young runaway girls, simple things such as a haircut and new clothes were powerful experiences. So, too, were learning to make choices for themselves.
Last, Flora recounts the arrest, trial, and conviction of Warren Jeffs as well as the raid on the YFZ ranch compound in Texas. For her, these have been victories. They have also served to help get her message out about the horrors and abuses going on within the FLDS and other Mormon polygamist communities. The tattered tapestry of Flora's past has helped to weave a safety net for others. She chooses to be grateful for the painful experiences of her past, for they have helped to shape her into who she is today: a survivor, an activist, and a heroine.
Though her work is far from over, Flora works tirelessly on in her quest to bring freedom to an oppressed people-- those who live not in a foreign, far-away land, but men, women, and children right in the heart of America. ~ ~ ~ As a side-note, earlier this year in January, Flora's dreams of rescuing her sister Ruby finally came true. Ruby, now 26 years-old was able to leave the FLDS with her six children, ranging in ages from 2 to 10 years of age. She recently gave her first interview with Katie Couric concerning her ordeal. We wish Flora, Ruby, and her children all the best as they begin their new lives! -- Review by PlygKoolAid