Ex-FLDS teen shares journey to freedom

Idaho State Journal/August 31, 2014

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Two years ago, Nathan Jessop gathered up Gabriel Barlow and about nine other young boys from their beds at home and whisked them away into the unknown.

They would be shuttled to houses in Big Piney, Wyo., and in Downey, Chubbuck and Pocatello, Idaho, with a short stay at Big Sky mobile home park in Power County.

“It was pretty crazy,” Barlow said. “He (Jessop) picked us up in the middle of the night, and we moved around a lot.”

Barlow was just 14 at the time and was considered Jessop’s stepson in the eyes of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Barlow remembers well when the leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, decided to give his mom to Jessop as another one of his 11 wives.

“My dad died when I was 6 years old,” Barlow said.

A couple years after the death of Barlow’s father, Jeffs decided Barlow’s mother should belong to Jessop.

Barlow said he was always proud of his mother. She had graduated from college before she became involved with the FLDS group. With the death of her husband, she became just another commodity whose fate was decided by Warren Jeffs.

“Mom had a nervous breakdown after having a child withNate,” Barlow recalled. “They took her away from her 3-month-old baby and isolated her.”

A 10-year-old at the time, Barlow said he has vivid memories of the pain that event caused his mother.

“I watched her go to where she hardly remembered her children’s names,” Barlow said.

It wasn’t the only strange thing the youngster witnessed. He said he saw Jessop get married to a 15-year-old girl when Jessop was 40.

Barlow began to rebel against what he described as cruel treatment by Jessop. The punishment was swift. He said he was once confined to a room in the house for three months and was only allowed out to use the bathroom.

Then at age 14, Barlow committed a major offense.

“I texted a girl once and I thought the end of the world was coming,” he said.

And the end of the world he knew in Short Creek — the collective name for Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. — did come to an end. Jessop rounded up Barlow and a group of other boys who needed to participate in a repentance mission and moved to Wyoming and later to Idaho.

“I haven’t seen my mom in three years,” Barlow said.

The boys were closely watched, home-schooled and forced to write letters to the imprisoned Jeffs. They were also tasked with building homemade furniture that Jessop would sell.

“It was forced labor,” Barlow said. “We (Barlow and the other boys) never saw a dime.”

And Barlow said the punishments were cruel for boys who refused to stay on task when it came to building the furniture. He said Jessop locked one boy outside in sub-zero weather in Big Piney one night. The boy, who didn’t have a jacket or shoes, managed to break a window and get back inside.

There were also beatings or days without food, but Barlow said most of the cruelty was mental.

“If you didn’t obey him (Jessop), you were told you would be sent away forever and face eternal damnation,” Barlow said.

While staying in a Chubbuck home in February of 2013, Barlow said he had enough. He smuggled a finished piece of furniture out of the house and sold it. With the money he purchased a prepaid phone and called his aunt. She drove to Chubbuck and rescued him.

Barlow said that before he left, he gave the other boys — whom he calls “my brothers” — the number for the Holding Out HELP group in Salt Lake City, which provides assistance to people who flee from the FLDS faith.

Barlow found a home in the Salt Lake City area and began attending high school. He turned 17 in July and is starting his junior year. He said that when he heard the boys held in the house in Pocatello had been freed he was elated.

“It wasn’t an environment you want to be in,” Barlow said.

The teen said he is now trying to put the years of brainwashing behind him and ignore that “I was trained that everyone is wicked and everyone is bad on the outside.”

Barlow said he has a lot of school work to make up because the education afforded him within the FLDS world was minimal.

“Their education out there is crap,” Barlow said. “They didn’t teach American history or anything beyond basic math. All they taught was priesthood history.”

But he said he is making progress and has hopes of attending college and majoring in accounting.

Like his namesake in the Bible, Gabriel said he has a message for other people — those who are afraid to leave the FLDS world.

“It’s nice out here,” Barlow said. “People care about you. There’s more to life.”

Looking to the future, Barlow said if he manages to begin a successful career, there are two main things he would like to accomplish.

“I’d like to be able to take in my little brothers and give them a place to stay,” Barlow said. “I’d love to talk to my mother again.”

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