Of Growth
And Strength

Sect's 'Lost Boys' struggle to find a place
The St. Paul Pioneer Press ^ | Mon, Dec. 26, 2005 | JAIMEE ROSE

Posted on 12/28/2005 7:39:44 AM PST by tkathy

Sect's 'Lost Boys' struggle to find a place

An Arizona-based polygamist sect has expelled more than 400 teen boys to leave more brides for older men


Arizona Republic On an icy evening before Christmas, two teenage boys pulled their Christmas tree from its slick new box and stared in wonder.

They fluffed the branches and puzzled over ornament placement how exactly does this work? Are you supposed to follow a pattern or just stick them on? They knew they wanted piles of lights, and the boys laughed as they chased each other around the tree, spiraling light onto the dark branches.

"This is, like, my first real, actual Christmas," says Johnny Jessop. He is 16 years old.

Jessop grew up in Colorado City, Ariz., in a polygamous home with 39 moms and more than 300 brothers and sisters, but no Christmas. The holiday is not observed in his religion-ruled town, where the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has orphaned more than 400 teenagers like Jessop in order to leave young women for marriage to the older men. The men believe they need three wives to get to heaven.

Shunned by their families and forbidden to return home, the "Lost Boys," as they are known, are left to fumble darkly through a world they can't comprehend. With no money and often only eighth-grade educations, many end up homeless or in jail. But a lucky few have found their way to a Salt Lake City support network of mentors who are sending them to school, finding them jobs, giving them homes and asking these boys, for the first time, what they'd like for Christmas.

In the apartment shared by five of the Lost Boys, since the day they put the tree up, the Christmas tree lights have never been turned off.

The tree "fills up space, fills a hole," Jessop says.

The first time Jessop saw Christmas lights, they were on TV.

When you first leave Colorado City, they say, you sit on borrowed sofas in small towns across southern Utah, in the home of whoever has let you in, and stare at the TV screen, uploading American culture.

In the twin communities of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah, TV is banned by FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, who is in hiding and wanted by the FBI. He was indicted on sexual misconduct charges for arranging the marriages of underage girls. He is also being sued by a group of the Lost Boys, who say he forced them out to reduce competition for wives.

Also against the rules in Colorado City: kissing girls, having a dog, swimming, listening to secular music, celebrating worldly holidays, wearing short-sleeve shirts, talking to people outside their faith and being outside after dark.

The boys go to work in construction at age 8, handing their paychecks over to their fathers. By age 14, they're operating heavy machinery. Education is administered through a religious sieve: no history classes and no biology instruction; and for most, schooling ends after the eighth grade. The only book they read is the Book of Mormon, although the FLDS and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not associated; the FLDS split from the mainstream Mormon church more than a century ago over the practice of polygamy.

When a boy reaches his 20s, if he's followed all the rules, he might be allowed to marry, but he won't choose the girl.

"You get a call on the phone," says Brad Zitting, 21, and it's the prophet. " 'Be in my office in one hour.' He marries you right there, work clothes and everything." Then, you're sent off to consummate the marriage, whether you like her or not.

"You know what the worst thing is?" says Zitting, who was exiled for kissing. "The worst thing is when you have the hots for this girl, you're just like uhhhhn. And then she marries your dad."

But in recent years, as a young teen, it is far more common that you'd have a message from Jeffs that goes like this:

" 'Warren wants you out,"' recalls Jessop, banished one week into eighth grade as punishment for visiting a friend's house outside of Colorado City. "I went up to my mom's room, and she was crying. All she said was 'Why?' "

This Christmas, Lost Boy Sam Icke is buying just one gift. He's having a plaque engraved for a man who has everything, and has given Icke and the other Lost Boys everything in return.

Dan Fischer is white-haired, with kind eyes and a dignified air.

He grew up in polygamy, and once had two wives himself.

He is the eldest of 36 children, and his own father was expelled from the faith, his mother reassigned in marriage to another man. For years, he has been watching this exodus of broken-hearted boys.

Fischer, 56, started the Diversity Foundation to help the boys, and has donated more than $2 million to help them.

He finds them work at Ultradent, the dental-supply manufacturing company he owns in the Salt Lake suburbs.

He sends the boys and young men to college to illuminate their minds, gets them into therapy to correct what was there before. In return, he asks that they go to school, keep a job, return phone calls, and learn, above all, to see their lives in a new light.