Escaping a lifestyle

Author Susan Schmidt shares polygamy story

The Spectrum Utah/May 11, 2007
By Patrice St. Germain

ST. George -- Susan Ray Schmidt believes that she is truly one of the lucky ones - one who escaped a life of polygamy.

Yet as Schmidt talked about her life, which she turned into a book, "His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy," Schmidt had a message for the more than 100 people who attended her book discussion: Help others who want to leave the life.

Schmidt spoke at the Book Cellar in St. George about how as a young girl living in a polygamist community in Mexico, she became the sixth wife of Verlan LeBaron when she was still in her teens and he was 38. A member of the audience asked Schmidt if she ever questioned what she was doing, especially marrying so young or questioned the wisdom of the church leaders.

"You are not allowed to think for yourself," Schmidt replied. "You don't feel there are any other options."

Despite marrying young, Schmidt said she truly loved her husband and said he was a wonderful man to her, yet she saw little of him during the years they were married as he frequently lived in the United States for months at a time to support his families as a house painter.

Schmidt said she existed on $5 to $10 a week, yet said the poverty was not a big deal.

"The poverty was not having a husband to hold me and love me," she said.

Schmidt's life could have taken a very different path had she not stood her ground when Verlan's brother Ervil told Schmidt that he had a revelation that she was to become his wife.

Ervil LeBaron ended up excommunicated from the Church of the First Born and began his own church, the Church of the Lamb of God, and orchestrated several murders, including of his own brother Joel, a wife and a daughter.

Schmidt said she was able to leave because she had older siblings who never moved to Mexico with her parents and were not involved in polygamy.

"I was very blessed. I had somewhere to go," Schmidt said.

A member of the audience asked Schmidt why only men had revelations, to which she replied, with a laugh, that she had often wondered that herself.

Several people who said they were new to the area didn't understand why polygamists were not arrested because polygamy is against the law and felt that the government was turning a blind eye on the issue.

Schmidt said her focus now was to help the young girls trapped in polygamy because they don't have a chance, but said if there were a safety net and these women knew they would be accepted, loved and taken care of, there would be a mass exodus.

Elaine Tyler, director of The Hope Organization, talked about the nonprofit agency that does help those looking to leave polygamist communities and what the foundation needs in terms of help.

By the time the room emptied out, all of the fliers Tyler put out were gone.

Book Cellar co-owner Margi LaPorte said if each person does a little to help, it would help those looking to leave polygamy find a new direction.

Many of those leaving the discussion clutched a copy of Schmidt's book. One lady said she found the talk very informative and could hardly wait to read the book.

Marcia Adams said the talk was very interesting and that Schmidt had a good attitude.

Adams had a girl from the area who was looking to escape a life of polygamy live with her for a while.

Schmidt said helping those women will take time because the people looking to leave need to know someone will be there to help them.

"It's like when a mother puts their baby on the counter and tells them to jump and you tell them they can do it, to trust you. Here (in polygamist communities), it's never been done. They need to know someone will catch them," Schmidt said.

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