Hildale woman holds Q&A session on polygamy

Black speaks in Kingman, Ariz., awaits court case

TheSpectrum.com/May 15, 2003
By Jane Zhang

Kingman, Ariz. -- Pam Black, who has broken ranks with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, talked about her 46-year struggle with polygamy Wednesday evening at the Powerhouse, located along Route 66 in Kingman's historic district.

"I think I'm a living miracle," Black told half a dozen people who attended the hastily called meeting sponsored by Help the Child Brides, an anti-polygamy advocacy group. "I have no fear. It's worse than death already."

Following the church's teachings, she said, her husband had tried to control her and she then tried to control their 13 children. As an apostate living on private land about five miles from Hildale, Black said her phone is tapped and the road leading to her home is watched.

"It's the fear that keeps us confined," she said. The third recent event organized by Help the Child Brides, organizer Jim Ashurst said, the question and answer session was aimed at raising the public's awareness of abuses in the FLDS-controlled towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"They don't enforce laws," he said. "They enforce rules of the church."

Utah and Arizona prosecutors are investigating what they say are abuses, domestic violence, tax and welfare fraud and the practice of marrying young girls.

With a high percentage of families below the poverty level, 66 percent of Hildale residents in 2002 were enrolled in Medicaid -- a welfare health insurance program -- according to the Utah Department of Health. In Colorado City, almost all of the population is enrolled in the state's Medicaid program, according the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

Black, who has turned to state welfare aid to raise her children, said it was not an easy feeling to receive government help.

"I'd go shopping, I was so ashamed," she said. "Still, it's very prevalent."

She said she was surprised to learn that the FLDS church spent $6 million trying to defend land officially owned by the United Effort Plan, the financial arm of the church. Every time the family took paychecks to the church -- sometimes it was $500, sometimes $1,000 -- her husband, Martin, hoped to get another "blessing," or plural wife. But the children were hungry.

"They are using our money to support court cases," she said. "This is done in the name of the religion."

Some audience members asked why she still hasn't moved away from the town of Hildale. She said she's in poverty, and three of her young children still go to school. Martin and her parents also live nearby. All her children have left the FLDS church except a daughter, who has married as a second wife. She now has born seven children in 11 years. Pam bore 14 children in 22 years.

Women are taught to be obedient to their husband, she said. And she never had a chance to date or know how to live as a teenager.

Jenny Larson, a niece to FLDS bishop Fred Jessop, said she was raped at age 7 by a cousin, but never told anyone until a few years ago. She has left the church and has tried to help young women who have fled the polygamous culture.

"I'll fight to the last (moment)," she said.

Black said she wants to show that women have choices. But she said she doesn't want to be known as an anti-polygamist.

"I don't want to attack anybody," she said. "I don't like war. I'm a loving, compassionate person."

A family being evicted from their Colorado City home will appear today in a Kingman courthouse to answer charges in a lawsuit filed by the FLDS church. A judge will decide whether Milton and Lenore Holm will lose the home that they built on land owned by the UEP.

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