Warren Jeffs' 'lost boys' find themselves in strange world

Polygamists, Polygamy, Warren Jeffs, FLDS, lost boys/September 7, 2007

St. George, Utah -- Franky admits he's conflicted about the life of polygamy he has left behind along with the nearly three dozen brothers and sisters he's banished from seeing.

He also has mixed feelings about the man he once considered a religious prophet, polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, he says, was good to him. He taught him the values of family and the need for structure. "He ain't what everybody portrays him to be," the 21-year-old says.

But still Franky rejected Jeffs' polygamous lifestyle and the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). He's now trying to make it on his own, one of the estimated 400 so-called "lost boys" who were kicked out of Jeffs' sect or left on their own.

It's not a term he particularly likes or embraces. "I'm not lost, because I ain't running around in a circle. No, thank you," he says.

He pauses to ponder what the term might mean. "Lost in the head? Lost as in: They don't know how to cope with it and deal with it and move on?"

Gary Engels, an investigator for the state of Arizona, has seen many "lost boy" cases. The reasons for leaving are many. Sometimes, it's because parents are too strict. Other times, it's for minor reasons.

"They leave because they have been caught talking to a girl or if they have been caught out at one of these beer parties or just not obeying the rules," Engels says.

He adds, "How a father or a mother can suddenly take a child and kick them out and never speak with them again, that's just unbelievable."

Jury selection began Friday for Jeffs, who is accused of being an accomplice to rape by arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Timeline »

About a half dozen "lost boys" filed suit against Jeffs and the FLDS, saying they were thrown out of the FLDS community to allow older men to have more wives. The suit was partially settled earlier this year, with an agreement for a $250,000 fund to be created for housing assistance, education help and other aid to boys who leave the FLDS.

Jeffs' trial is unrelated to that suit.

Franky, who was not part of the lawsuit, left the sect three years ago -- just weeks after his father got kicked out of the sect. He decided to leave because he didn't want to suffer the same fate as his dad, growing up in the FLDS and then having his family "pulled away."

Franky left behind three mothers and about three dozen siblings. Two of his sisters are married to Jeffs. He's not allowed to contact any of his family and nervously agreed to speak with CNN. Members of the FLDS have been banned from speaking with outsiders.

"[Jeffs] would be very angry that I am talking to you," Franky says.

Quite simply, he says they're not supposed to talk "to you outside people."

Learning to cope is another thing altogether. When the boys leave their structured religion-filled lives in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, they find themselves totally unprepared for society. Most have no money, no real education and nowhere to live.

Dozens of "lost boys" gather in homes like Robbie Holm's to blow off steam and drink.

"They're going to do what they feel is good to them," says Holm. "Drinking alcohol and drugs are one of those things they want to do."

Franky says he soaked up pot, ecstasy and cocaine to "cope with the outside world and deal with where and what it is."

"I couldn't have done it without the drugs," he says.

But it came with a price: He went to jail for drug possession.

"It's almost a natural consequence for them to get involved to some extent or another with alcohol or drugs," says Greg Hoole, a Salt Lake City-based attorney who represented the "lost boys" in the civil suit.

One group is trying to help the boys and young men adapt. St. George, Utah, just down the road from the FLDS headquarters, has become an epicenter for the lost boys. Next month, a home will become refuge for 10 "lost boys."

Franky and others who have left the sect have volunteered their time to paint, tile, and clean up the house and call it simply "the house off bluff."

Michelle Benward, a psychologist and activist for the lost boys, sees it as much more.

"It's really a transitional home. It's an opportunity for them to have a place to stay, food to eat, and a time to sort of adjust," she says. "We like to think of it as a bridge between the two communities."

As for Franky, he remains perplexed about the man he once knew as "prophet." He still admires Jeffs in some ways and comments that "he enlightened my view of how to perceive things."

"He figured out how to distill people's hearts into loving one another unconditionally."

Sometimes, he still longs for his old life. "I miss the society of it. Somebody that cares. Somebody that you know that you can go home and have a good plate of food, home-grown cooking sat in front of you."

That cozy home cooking may soon get replaced with a heap of gossip. Jeffs' trial is expected to put the highly secretive organization's beliefs and practices of faith, power, isolation and sex front and center.

"It will be very quiet out here all through the trial. I am sure they will be fasting and praying for his release," says Engels. "Most of them believe that God's going to step forward and free him anyway and punish us 'bad-doers.' "

Engels believes there will be celebration among the flock if Jeffs is freed. If he's convicted, Engels predicts, the FLDS will "go more underground and they will continue to scatter out into the world."

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