Former Polygamist Speaks Out

Kathy Nicholson Was Preparing for Her Marriage at Age 14

ABC News/July 2, 2007

Being a 14-year-old girl is hard. Being a 14-year-old girl who's isolated from society, has multiple mothers and is preparing for her wedding is almost unimaginable.

That was Kathy Nicholson's life -- until she broke free from America's largest polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. The 36-year-old grew up with one dad, three moms and 13 brothers and sisters. She said that while such a lifestyle at times mirrors the one portrayed in HBO's popular series "Big Love," in reality, polygamy is much more pain than pleasure.

"I watched my dad go from bedroom to bedroom, tell the wives, 'I love you, good night,' and then crawl into bed with whoever had the turn that night," Nicholson told ABC's John Quinones. "It's a very, very lonely life for those women. And they're told to just swallow their pride, swallow their emotions and 'keep sweet.'"

"Keep sweet" meant girls should accept the polygamist lifestyle and the men's wishes without complaint.

"'Keep sweet' -- that means don't question," Nicholson said. "That means don't flinch when your husband puts his hands on his other wife's knee or chooses two nights in a row with the other wife because she's ovulating."

This mantra was what eventually led Nicholson to break from the group at the age of 18 rather than accept an arranged, polygamous marriage. She began preparing for her wedding day at an age when most girls are going to middle school dances and gossiping with their friends.

"I began sewing my wedding dress when I was about 14," she said. "And all I could think about is 'I just want someone to love me.' And then it hit me, I could be going from bad to worse."

Nicholson was also bothered by the actions of her school teacher, Warren Jeffs -- the man who would later become the group's prophet. In August 2006, Jeffs was arrested and charged with rape and arranging a teenage marriage. Though he's now in jail, Nicholson believes Jeffs hasn't been charged with enough.

"He was the headmaster and I believe his evil reign and mind control began then," she said. "The charges are nothing compared to what I know he's done."

Nicholson's break from the sect was complicated. To her family's great disapproval, at age 18 she decided to marry a different man than the one who had been arranged for her, though he was also a polygamist. He father disowned her and the couple ran away to California, where their relationship crumbled. They eventually divorced.

Freeing Others From the 'Chains'

Nicholson is now married to man she met after leaving the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. The couple is raising two young boys who, she said, will have the freedom to think and discover the world for themselves -- a luxury she was never given.

But much of Nicholson's family is still in Colorado City, Ariz., where the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints are based. In 2005, Nicholson went there looking for her father and siblings. Her family refused to see her.

"As we went into the community, doors slammed and children scurried inside," she said. "I've shed a lot of tears over it. I have huge issues now about abandonment. That's still my dad."

Recently, Nicholson was able to convince her biological mother and a brother to come live with her. She's now working to rescue other girls from what she calls the chains of polygamy by redefining the mantra that haunted her childhood.

"For me, 'keep sweet' now means peace and talking and communicating and ... questioning," she said. "For me, having that inner peace keeps me sweet. I think I'm a sweet person now."

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