FLDS warped lives, "Lost Boy" recounts

Compassion is urged toward the Mormon fundamentalist sect.

The Denver Post/June 14, 2009

Brent Jeffs was one tired-out ex-Mormon fundamentalist last week in Denver, but still a man on a mission.

Back-to-back book-signings and 17-hour days in Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Denver for Jeff's recently released memoir, "Lost Boy," alternately wound him up or wore him down to feeling like "a zombie," he said.

Jeffs juggles a day job with Ultradent dental products with a personal quest.

Brent, the 26-year-old nephew of Warren Jeffs, the convicted felon and former prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is determined to make known the extent of what he describes as his Uncle Warren's evil.

At the same time, Brent advocates for fair treatment of remaining members of the sect, which has several outposts in Colorado.

Brent wants people to know that forced underage marriages were not the only horrors under Warren Jeffs.

Brent years ago filed a civil lawsuit against Warren Jeffs in which he alleged that his uncle had raped him several times when he was in kindergarten and first grade.

Warren Jeffs used church tenets to satisfy his own perverse sexual appetites and to control every aspect of members' lives, Brent claims. As prophet - the title the sect gave its leader - he banned almost all music and all literature except the Book of Mormon and the Bible. He even banned dogs and, most infamously, ejected many young boys from FLDS families.

With Warren Jeffs now in the Utah State Prison after conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape, the sect's towns, such as Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, are coming back to a semblance of normal life, Brent said.

"Things are much more mellow there now," Brent said.

Brent is asking the "gentile" neighbors of the estimated 10,000 sect members scattered from Mexico to Canada to be warm and welcoming to FLDS members.

"Treat them with dignity and respect and maybe you can plant a seed in their minds: 'Maybe I could leave and have a normal life outside,' " Brent said. Last year he told people in Westcliffe, which is near one of the newer FLDS settlements, "If they're not so isolated, maybe they can get out."

Sect members also hold property near Crawford in Delta County, Mancos in Montezuma County and Cotopaxi in Fremont County.

Growing up FLDS

Brent, who is bright and articulate, was well-received, said Shannon Price, spokeswoman for the Diversity Foundation, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit that has offered support to some 350 young ex-FLDS members. It helped arrange the Westcliffe forum.

"Everything he has been through only deepened his soul and compassion," Price said.

Uncle Warren was one of Brent's 65 uncles and aunts on his father's side of the family. There were 22 on his mother's side.

Brent said the abuse began when he was 5 and took place in a bathroom at the church. It continued when he was enrolled in first grade in the FLDS Alta Academy, where Warren Jeffs served first as a teacher and later as its principal.

When Brent moved on to second grade, he said, Warren Jeffs moved on to other victims. Some of Brent's brothers were also sexual-abuse victims at the same ages, he says.

Brent's father had three wives and 17 children. His mother was loving. His father's younger two wives were not particularly kind, he said, and were even brutal at times.

Although Brent was the grandson of a revered prophet, Rulon Jeffs, he was one of the hundreds of teenagers forced out of the FLDS church.

The boys, some as young as 13, were considered surplus to requirements. The older, more powerful men required at least three wives to achieve the highest realm of heaven. Younger men competing for young women upset the balance.

The issue of polygamy is what split this Mormon sect from the mainstream church in 1886. The breakaway FLDS sect, originally called "The Work," refused to relinquish the practice of plural marriage when a majority of Mormons did so in 1890. The mainstream Mormons gave up polygamy because it stood in the way of statehood for Utah.

In 1986, Rulon Jeffs ascended as prophet. He eventually instituted a very significant change, "the one-man rule," Brent said. It gave absolute authority to the prophet, rather than portioning out some functions, such as control of church property, to a leadership council.

He also began a practice of reassigning the wives and children of men who were not suitably obedient to the church's more faithful servants.

Crying for enforcement

Things went from bad to worse under Warren Jeffs, who succeeded his father about a year after Rulon Jeffs' death in 2002 at 93.

By then, Brent and five of his brothers had left the church as teenagers.

Only one brother had completed high school before leaving home. None received financial support or guidance. Almost everyone eventually got a diploma or GED, but only one went to college.

Many, including Brent, struggled with alcohol and drug problems. Many suffered depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

One brother shot himself. Another died of a drug overdose.

Brent's 2004 marriage is now ending in divorce, but he has joint custody of his 2½-year old daughter Hailee, he said.

"Having a family is all I ever wanted," Brent said.

Brent was not the only boy to file a civil suit against Warren Jeffs. Soon after his was filed, a group of about six dozen boys brought another suit alleging child abuse and abandonment as a result of Warren Jeffs' leadership of the sect.

The two suits together put pressure on law enforcement to do something about reports of underage marriages, sexual abuse, domestic violence, welfare fraud and other crimes.

"I like to think there was a ripple effect from my lawsuit," Brent said.

Brent dropped his suit after Warren Jeffs was arrested on Aug. 26, 2006, because he had "just wanted him stopped.

"I've forgiven him for what he's done to me," Brent said.

"I still believe in God and doing good for mankind, but I won't go back to organized religion."

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