Justice: The Polygamist's Life

Escaping Warren Jeffs's controversial religious sect.

Newsweek/September 11, 2006
By Andrew Murr

Polygamous leader Warren Jeffs banished Sam Icke for kissing a girl. Icke, then 17, had been doing his best to follow the rules of Jeffs's insular Mormon sect-listening to the leader's taped sermons, avoiding even G-rated movies and wearing wrist-to-ankle clothes in the desert sun. But after the kiss, Icke was forced to leave his family in Colorado City, Ariz., with only a car and a 10th-grade education in tow. He floundered on his own. "I was lost and scared," he recalls. But last year he got help from a group that assists the "Lost Boys," as many call the estimated 600 to 1,000 young men who've left-or been booted from-the sect in the past decade. Today Icke, 22, is studying accounting and working full time. "I feel completely different," he says.

Jeffs's arrest last week outside Las Vegas after four months on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list sets the stage for trials in Utah and Arizona on charges that he allegedly performed illegal marriages between young girls and older men. With Jeffs behind bars, will more of the prophet's 10,000 followers try to leave? Departed members say it has never been easy to break away from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), which continued to practice polygamy after splitting from the mainstream Mormon Church (which banned polygamy in 1890). But in the last few years, an underground railroad of nonprofit groups and government agencies has emerged to smooth their path.

Some groups aid women who want to escape the "celestial marriages"; several ex-FLDS women are now helping prosecutors go after ex-husbands for sexual abuse. Other groups help the Lost Boys, who are typically told to leave because they've broken the rules. (Those who have left say the exiles are ejected so that they don't compete with the group's elders for young brides.) Icke got help from the Diversity Foundation, founded by Dan Fischer, a dental-products entrepreneur and former FLDS member who quit 12 years ago.

The transition isn't easy. Those who flee need food, shelter and jobs. Unaccustomed to managing money, many former FLDS members tumble into debt, says Icke. Some turn to alcohol and drugs, convinced that they are already bound for hell and have nothing to lose, says Fischer. His foundation has spent nearly $3 million on rent, tuition and counseling, and has helped many Lost Boys into high school and college.

Jeffs, 50, agreed to return to Utah to face trial on two counts of "rape as an accomplice." (He has not yet entered a plea.) If convicted, he could serve from five years to life in prison-plenty of time for more Lost Boys to find their way to a new life.

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