[Homestead] Typical Religious brainwashing
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 5 15:08:16 EDT 2004
Boys Seek Salvation Outside Church
Excommunicated from a fundamentalist LDS sect for seemingly minor
infractions, the teens are largely uneducated and ignorant of the world.
By Angie Wagner
Associated Press Writer
September 5, 2004
SALT LAKE CITY — Damned by his religion, denied by his family and left
with nowhere else to go, the teenager slept in a cold tool shed just
steps from a company owned by his relatives.
They went home at night to warm, cozy beds while Tom Sam Steed stole
bread, cereal and nutrition bars from a gas station just to survive. He
tried, several times, to kill himself, convinced that he was worth nothing.
His salvation came when he got a job cleaning carpets and finally left
the control of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints and its leader, Warren Jeffs.
Former members describe a religion that thrives on domination. Every
detail of their life was scripted — from plural marriages to what they
could wear, who they could associate with and what job they could have.
In the last 4 1/2 years, more than 400 teenage boys have been
excommunicated, many for seemingly minor infractions such as watching a
movie or talking to a girl.
Former church members suspect something else is causing the banishment
of young men. In a polygamous community, there are only so many women to
go around. Older men don't want to compete with young men for wives. The
boys have to go.
Now, they have been thrust into a society they have been taught is evil.
They are homeless, uneducated, confused and unprepared for a world where
they can make their own choices.
They are lost boys.
Sweaty and out of breath, four teenage boys barge into the kitchen for
glasses of water after an exhausting game of basketball. They tease each
other about who won, then stretch out on couches and chairs.
In many ways, they are typical teenagers. They brag about souped-up
cars, listen to rapper Eminem, admire supermodel Heidi Klum, have seen
the "The Matrix" multiple times and want to go to college.
But ask them how many brothers and sisters they have and it's clear that
these teens have had unusual lives. Seventeen brothers and sisters for
one, 21 for another. Another lost count after 300. Most of their fathers
have at least two wives.
Almost all 11 boys gathered this day grew up in the "creek" — the twin
FLDS communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where most
of the estimated 10,000 residents are church members, the largest
polygamous group in the West.
The FLDS is different from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, which has disavowed polygamy and denounced the FLDS.
Living in the creek, along the Utah-Arizona border, means total
submission to the church. Jeffs, whom many former members accuse of
brainwashing, directs all parts of his members' lives. The church,
through its charitable trust, owns the land its members build homes on,
arranges marriages and requires members to wear long underwear at all
times. Movies and television are banned. Basketball and football were
taken away a few years ago, the boys say. Wives can be assigned to
different men if the church orders it. Most members don't attend school
past the eighth grade.
"We're taught the only way into heaven is through this church," said
Steed. "If you leave, that's worse than murder."
But this restricted life is the only one they have ever known.
Some boys ran away or left after a family member did. Others were ousted
for violations such as wanting to go to public school, something that
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney and church spokesman, denies.
Parker said it was hard to generalize about the boys, but noted they
were not involved with the church anymore because of the choices they made.
"These people are minimizing the reasons for their not being part of the
church anymore," he said. "They tend to be juvenile delinquents, they
tend to have criminal problems, they have drug problems. They have all
kinds of things going on with their lives that are incompatible with the
Once out of the creek, the boys mostly roamed southern Utah, living in
flophouses or their cars, dabbling in drugs and alcohol, meeting up with
other excommunicated members.
They can't return to their families because church members are forbidden
from associating with them. Sometimes, parents secretly send money. But
mostly they are on their own, homeless, some as young as 13.
Three years ago, Shem Fischer and his brother, Dan Fischer, helped a few
excommunicated boys find jobs and an education in Salt Lake City.
Former members of the FLDS church, the brothers knew the struggles that
the boys faced.
Dan Fischer, founder of Ultradent, a Utah-based dental products
manufacturer, never lived in the creek, but was once a believer and at
one time had three wives. Shem Fischer grew up in the creek and left
three years ago at age 33.
He never had reason to question the church until he started working
outside the community, doing sales and marketing for his family's
cabinetry and interior design business.
The FLDS doesn't believe that man landed on the moon. When Fischer
learned the truth, he was embarrassed: "It makes you really start
questioning what else you've been duped on."
Fischer complained to the church after his father's three wives were
taken away. Fischer, a member of the church's board of directors at the
time, was told by the board to leave.
His mother still lives in the creek, but mail and phone calls from
Fischer are blocked. He was not allowed to attend his father's funeral
in February 2001.
After the brothers helped a few boys, they started getting calls from
others who had been kicked out and were sometimes dropped off in nearby
communities with just the clothes on their backs. Word got around that
the brothers wanted to help, and soon more than 400 excommunicated boys
had been identified.
"The older men don't want to compete with the young bucks. Sheer math
will tell you a certain amount of them have to go," said Shem Fischer,
who is related to several of the boys.
There were so many, the brothers knew that Ultradent and its nonprofit
Diversity Foundation couldn't support them all. Now they have turned to
the public for help with food, housing, furniture, clothing and mentors
they hope will give the boys a new life.
"I hope that they can see they are not trash. They are valuable human
citizens," Shem Fischer said. "They can prove FLDS wrong. They will not
go to the bottom of society. They will not be damned."
Sitting inside Dan Fischer's guest house, the boys compared stories on
why they left and even joke about polygamy.
Carl Ream, 16, said he only wanted one wife because women were too
expensive. His friends laughed.
They curse too much, make up silly names for each other and play a
fierce game of hackie sack.
But, when they are alone, they speak of a childhood stolen.
Richard Gilbert, 19, wishes that he could have played Little League
Emotion rarely slips into John Jessop's conversation. The tough-talking
15-year-old was kicked out of FLDS at 13 and sent back by a court order
when he was charged with possessing marijuana. He was kicked out again
just days ago for wearing short sleeves, he said.
"It wasn't really a happy childhood," John said. "I'm never going to go
back there again." He hopes to be adopted.
Steed, a tall and gangly 19-year-old with faraway brown eyes, was part
of the FLDS church and under Jeffs' control in the suburbs of Salt Lake
City. He left at 15 when he was put on religious probation for watching
a PG-13 movie. But he still found himself drawn to the church and wanted
His relatives wouldn't let him live with them because he wasn't in good
standing with the church. He worked for his family's excavation company,
earning $5.15 an hour when they paid him. At night, he said he slept in
a tool shed on the property.
An eighth-grade dropout, Steed asked Jeffs if he could return to the
church, but Steed said Jeffs threw him out, telling him he would not be
lifted up to heaven with the other members. "That took all my hope, all
my dreams away," he said.
Depressed, confused and shunned by his family, Steed attempted suicide
"I was living simply to exist," he said.
Two years ago, he settled in a nearby town, Hurricane, and began working
as a carpet cleaner.
Shem Fischer thinks that with jobs, four boys will be able to afford the
$900-a-month rent for a small, four-bedroom house in Midvale. One boy
already works the evening shift at Wendy's. Two others just landed
They aren't used to remembering when job interviews are or how to pay
bills. They don't know how to mingle with people, and some struggle to
talk to girls.
"You're taught that everyone out here is corrupt and evil," Steed said.
"You have no idea how life works, no idea how to survive in modern society."
They are, after all, only teens, but now they are on their own.
A therapist meets with some boys; some attend self-improvement classes.
They are learning to manage money and signing up to take the GED.
Fischer evaluates them, asking about future plans and if they want to go
to college. He is working to match each boy with a mentor and find them
places to live. For now, they live in hotels and in houses that the
Fischer brothers own.
Many are highly skilled in construction, a main job in the creek.
But all this support from outsiders is confusing. The boys say FLDS
members and even their own families often turned on them, so it was
easier to distrust everyone.
"In a way, it scares us," said Raymond Hardy, 19. "I'm not used to it."
Ream wants to know what the catch is. "There's always a catch. Why are
they doing this?"
Robert R. Butterworth, a Los Angeles psychologist who specializes in
child trauma, said the boys likely would feel safe bonding with each
other for a while, but would struggle with creating their own boundaries.
"Now they're in a society where there are no controls at all," he said.
"They have to develop their own inner ability to say no…. In a sense,
Six lost boys recently filed a conspiracy lawsuit against Jeffs and Sam
Barlow, a former deputy sheriff in Mohave County, Arizona, and close
associate of Jeffs, accusing them of "systematic excommunication" of
young men in order to reduce competition for wives. The lawsuit also
accuses them of assault, terrorist threats and child kidnapping,
allegations that Parker denied and said were sensationalist.
Parker said the lawsuit violated the 1st Amendment because the church
could excommunicate anyone it chooses.
Efforts to reach church leaders were unsuccessful. Parker said they did
not speak to reporters. A dispatcher for the Colorado City Police
Department and town hall also said leaders did not speak to the media.
Utah and Arizona prosecutors have been investigating allegations of
welfare fraud, tax fraud, incest, child abuse and forced marriages of
young girls. Utah Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff has even volunteered to be a
mentor to the boys.
Steed is already getting a new start. He recently traveled to Boulder,
Colo., to visit his mentor, Jon Krakauer, author of the best-selling
book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," which is
about the FLDS.
Krakauer has offered to help pay for Steed's education or help him open
a carpet-cleaning business.
"Society doesn't pay any attention to this," said Krakauer, who spent
years researching the FLDS community. "This is a scary culture. It's
like having the Taliban right up the road from Vegas, and no one pays
any notice. These kids don't know how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
The United States of America is not something that's revered."
Steed said he no longer contemplated suicide and had been helping other
"When you come out of it, it's hard. I actually have a life I want to
live. There's a whole world out here," he said, offering a hint of a smile.
"I'm actually going to Maybe make something of myself."
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