From Polygamist Royalty To FLDS Lost Boy In his new memoir Lost Boy, Brent Jeffs talks about growing up in the polygamist FLDS chuch, his expulsion from the community, and his sexual-abuse lawsuit against his controversial uncle Warren Jeffs.
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From Polygamist Royalty To FLDS Lost Boy

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From Polygamist Royalty To FLDS Lost Boy

From Polygamist Royalty To FLDS Lost Boy

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Growing up in a polygamist family, my guest, Brent Jeffs, had one father, three sister-mothers, 19 siblings and 87 aunts and uncles. The family belonged the Fundamentalist - Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the FLDS, which broke with the Mormon Church over 100 years ago so that its members could continue practicing polygamy, or plural marriage, after the Mormons gave up polygamy.

Jeffs' grandfather, Rulon Jeffs was the prophet of the FLDS from 1986 until his death in 2002. Rulon Jeffs' son Warren Jeffs, my guest's uncle, took over as leader and prophet. Warren Jeffs is now serving a 10-year prison term, convicted of two counts of being an accomplice to rape. Before those charges against him were filed, my guest Brent Jeffs became the first person to sue Warren Jeffs for sexual abuse.

Brent Jeffs has written a new memoir about growing up in the FLDS and leaving it. It's called "Lost Boy." Brent Jeffs, welcome to FRESH AIR. Within the really insular world that you grew up in, your family held a high place when you were growing up. You had what the church described as royal blood. Your grandfather was the prophet.

Mr. BRENT JEFFS (Author, "Lost Boy") Yes, yes.

GROSS: What did that mean to you?

Mr. JEFFS: You know, it was really different for me growing up because I really didn't understand, you know, the impact of having my grandfather be the prophet. The way people treated us as, you know, they're afraid to talk to us, they're afraid to say anything to us because of who we were. And also I didn't really like it growing up because I had absolutely no relationship with him whatsoever. He was just considered some very high-powered person that I just knew as a handshake, and that was it.

GROSS: Now the FLDS is a polygamist sect that broke away from the Mormon Church after the Mormon Church gave up polygamy. So as a polygamist sect, what's the explanation for polygamy as interpreted by the FLDS?

Mr. JEFFS: Well basically they teach that living the laws of the FLDS, which means, you know, the polygamy, you receive more than one wife. And if you do, you are at the highest level of the kingdom of God. And they teach that all these other religions like the LDS, they are not at the highest level because they do not have more than one wife. They say that this was obviously started by Joseph Smith and that this is the word of God through Joseph Smith and that it had to be carried on.

GROSS: And in fact, to have three wives gets you into the highest realm of heaven? There's three realms of heaven?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, there's three realms of heaven, but just more than wife basically they would call it plural marriage, and so you would have to have more than one to make it to the highest level.

GROSS: Did you just assume that polygamy was normal when you were growing up?

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah because we grew up in such a closed-off society. We rarely made it out into the real world, maybe going to the grocery store, buying clothes and stuff like that. But you know, as far as I knew, we were just a big group of people in this religion.

I always questioned and wondered why because we lived in a neighborhood full of, you know, just everybody else, you know, out in the world in our neighborhood. And they would drive by screaming at us, you know, polygamist pigs, you know, stuff like that. That really got me wondering, why are we so different from everybody else?

GROSS: You didn't grow up on a compound?

Mr. JEFFS: Well I did. I did. I grew up in the compound up in Sandy, Utah, basically encased by a big, concrete wall. The compound up here was relatively pretty small. It only had, like, three of my uncles and my grandfather and then our family lived on that compound. And then there was the big school building/meeting house, and all the other members in the church lived all over the valley, all over the Salt Lake Valley.

GROSS: Oh I see, so this was like an exclusive compound for your family.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, and there was only Jeffs on this compound.

GROSS: Now as you point out in your memoir, "Lost Boy," a lot of people assume, oh, in some ways it must be pretty cool to be a man with several wives because you have sexual variety without guilt. But you say it's actually a recipe for misery for everyone involved.

Mr. JEFFS: Absolutely. You know, I can understand where some people would come from, yeah, you know, having multiple wives and having that variety. But yeah, only if you're living in the world of Hugh Hefner.

Living in a society like this, you have multiple women trying to share their love with one man, trying to have that, you know, one-on-one connection with that one man. But obviously there's going to be jealousy and hate and all sorts of things going on. So for me growing up in this family, it was absolute chaos because they were always trying to get attention from my dad and just trying to be that wife that he really loved. And there would be favoritism and everything else going on.

GROSS: What was your relationship to your father's two wives who were not your mother? Your mother was one of three wives.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. My mother was the first wife, but my relationship with those other two moms were not good. They both hated me and my other brothers growing up because they resented us because of, you know, we were my mom's kids. You know, there was a lot of physical abuse going on from both of them. And whenever these moms would fight, it would be them attacking my mom. My mom was always just defending her kids because she loved us, and she did not want anything to happen to us.

GROSS: Now the other two women who were married to your father were sisters, actual sisters, like blood sisters.

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, two of them were. My mom and one of the other moms were full-blooded sisters, yes.

GROSS: Oh, it was your mother who was a sister with one of the other wives.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, yes.

GROSS: You know, for somebody's who outside of that world, that just seems so bizarre to have two sisters married to one man. And for you to have your aunt also be one of your mothers.

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, that was extremely weird. You know even for me growing up, I thought that was a little weird, just the fact that they were full-blooded sisters. For me, you know, that's a recipe for disaster. That's just never going to work. And so, you know, there was just never any sort of calm and peaceful feelings going on around the house. You know, they were always just trying to get my dad's attention and stuff.

GROSS: Was there a formula for how your father divided his time between his three wives and the children of his three wives?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. He would, in the beginning, he would spend, you know, like one night with each wife and just move around. And then like on the fourth night, he would have his own night. And so, like, let's say he would come home and he had, you know, his evening with my mom, he would come home and that was basically our night with him, on somewhat of a one-on-one level with him and my mom.

GROSS: Did your mother know when she married your father that she wouldn't be the only wife?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: And she was okay with that?

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, you know, she grew up the same way. You know, FLDS was, you know, it was the highest form of, you know, in the FLDS religion, it was the highest form of way to live to get to the highest kingdom. She absolutely, 100 percent, believed it, so…

GROSS: You put that in the past tense. Does she no longer believe it?

Mr. JEFFS: No. I really - I can't speak for her totally, but you know, she doesn't believe it now. I mean, my whole family, besides a brother and a sister, are out. They've been out for 10 years.

GROSS: Out of the faith and out of the compound?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, yes.

GROSS: I guess one of the many things I really don't understand is how can you be an openly polygamist group when polygamy is against the law and still, you know, not get arrested or anything?

Mr. JEFFS: Well you know, they always have loopholes. The loopholes they created was, you know, the first wife always is married legally, and they would marry all these other wives so-called spiritually marriages. And so that was a loophole for them. The law could not go after them because they were not legally married, you know, to the man. They were spiritually married in the church.

GROSS: I see. I see. So you couldn't accuse them of polygamy because there wasn't a civil contract.

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, there was only the one wife legally married. All the other ones, no matter how many amount there were, all were spiritual wives.

GROSS: So your parents have been off the compound for about a decade. You say you think your mother no longer really believe in polygamy. Your parents are still married?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. My dad is married to my mom. And they are absolutely the happiest they've ever been.

GROSS: And the other two former wives or current wives?

Mr. JEFFS: Well stepping back a little bit, with the third wife, she left our family years and years ago because of just several circumstances, it didn't work out. She basically left when we were gone on a trip. And so she moved down to Colorado City, and she's married to another man and has her own family.

GROSS: Colorado City is another FLDS compound.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, down in Colorado City. And the other wife, she's just - you know, she's here in the valley kind of doing her own thing, but I mean, she's happy, so…

GROSS: And so is your mother still in touch with her sister who used to be a fellow wife?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. Just the fact that the kids of, you know, of my mom and her sister's kids also, they come up. You know, they hang out with my little brothers, too. So there is always connection there, and they're still my dad's kids. So there's still a connection there.

GROSS: My guest is Brent Jeffs. His new memoir about growing up in the FLDS is called "Lost Boy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Brent Jeffs, and he's written a new memoir called "Lost Boy," about growing up on a polygamist compound as a member of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, the FLDS, which is the group that broke away from the Mormon Church after the Mormons gave up polygamy.

So when you were ready for kindergarten, your parents sent you to a public-school kindergarten. And you were the first kid in the family to go to a public school. So what was it like for you to be off the compound and be exposed to children who weren't like you?

Mr. JEFFS: I felt really out of place. Thank God I had my sister with me, but that was explained to the teacher at the time…

GROSS: So your sister was in kindergarten, too.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, my sister that's like from the other sister-wife that's like six months younger than me.

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. JEFFS: And so that was - thank God I had her. But the teacher kind of knew, she knew where we were coming from, so she tried to make the experience the best she could. But for us being around the kids, we didn't know how to interact with them. We didn't really - in the beginning, we didn't really know how to talk to them, but they eventually warmed up to us. And we kind of got a taste of what the world outside the compound was like, and I think that's where, you know, a lot of questions for me started because they taught in the church that all these people outside of this church are evil and horrible and, you know, all these rotten people. And for me to go to kindergarten and see all these little kids, playing with them, they're little kids just like me, having fun, and they're not evil, and they're not bad. So that for me brought up a lot of questions inside.

GROSS: Did you dress differently than the other kids? We've seen a lot of photos of women and girls wearing kind of old-fashioned prairie dresses and shirts and hairdos, but what about the boys?

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, we had the dress pants, long shirt, stuff like that. I mean it wasn't - it didn't stand out near as much as the women, but we definitely had to dress that way. There was a dress code, and so yeah, some of the kids in the kindergarten were definitely, you know, would ask, it's pretty hot outside. You know, why are you wearing all those clothes? And the teacher would kind of explain to them you know, that's what they decide to wear.

They would come up to us afterwards when the teacher wasn't there and ask us, and we really wouldn't really have an answer to give to them because we were so confused.

GROSS: You write that things changed over time while your grandfather, Rulon Jeffs, was the prophet of the FLDS. And that after a while, he decided that all marriages should be arranged by him. What was your grandfather's reason for deciding all marriages should be arranged by him?

Mr. JEFFS: For me, I guess it was just - it was another form of control over the people for him to kind of decide who goes with who and how it should happen. For me it was just another form of control on his end.

GROSS: You know you write in your memoir about some of the difficulties of being raised a boy within the FLDS. And a lot of it is just the math of plural marriage. So how does that work against you when you're a boy?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, you kind of grow up just in preparation to become basically a man ready for that type of lifestyle. But for me I didn't want it because I grew up in such chaos and stuff, and hatred. I dreaded growing up and being a part of something like because I didn't want that. I didn't want to be a husband with a bunch of wives that are fighting and screaming and kids screaming and just chaos. I did not look forward to that at all. So growing up, as I got older into the teenage years, it definitely hit me hard, and it really started scaring me a lot.

GROSS: If you wanted it, you'd be up against mathematical problems because as you write, unless you kowtow to the leaders, you're likely to be expelled or have a hard time getting even one wife, let alone the requisite three. And that's because if there's an equal number of boys and girls growing up within the FLDS, then there's not going to be enough girls for all the men to have plural wives. So what happens to make the math work?

Mr. JEFFS: Well basically these older men that have control, that have - you know, that are higher up in the church, they're the ones that were setting all these boundaries and all these rules of kicking these boys out to have enough girls for them to marry, for them to keep getting these new wives. Any sign of any sort of free thinking, rebellion or anything, they immediately would clamp down on that with that boy and find a reason to kick him out.

GROSS: Another thing that you grew up with was a belief that the end of the world was near. And that's something that your grandfather, Rulon Jeffs, when he was the prophet, something that he preached. Was the end of the world supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing? Did it mean that heaven was getting closer or that you'd be suffering? What did it mean to you?

Mr. JEFFS: It was good and bad because they preached that if you were not good enough, you're not going to go. You're not going to be picked to go. You're not pure enough. So there was constantly a battle within each one of us that, are we good enough? Are we obeying him enough? So that was definitely - we were all scared because we all felt like that we were not good enough to be saved.

GROSS: Oh so now I really see where the control comes in because he's the one you have to prove you're good enough to.

Mr. JEFFS: Uh-huh, and that was an absolute form of manipulation on his end.

GROSS: So did you in your heart of hearts believe you were good enough to get into heaven, or that you'd punished when the end came?

Mr. JEFFS: I knew in my head that I was going to be punished because I had random thoughts of free thinking, questioning things, you know, wondering why these rules the way they are and when they're doing the things they do. So I felt like for me growing up that I was never good enough.

GROSS: The way you said free thinking, it's like that's something you'd be accused of, not praised for.

Mr. JEFFS: Absolutely. Free thinking meant for these leaders in the church that we actually can see what's really going on, looking around at the world around us and figuring out for ourselves this really isn't so bad. The world around us is not as bad as you're saying it is. Anyone having a free-thinking mind they would definitely want to get rid of.

GROSS: Now even though your father was the son of the man who was seen as the prophet when you were growing up, the prophet was Rulon Jeffs, Rulon Jeffs excommunicated your father. For what reason?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, because he called it harboring gentiles.

GROSS: Gentiles was anybody who was not a member of the FLDS.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. Gentiles were anyone that was not a member. And another form would be called apostates, which were former members that were kicked out. So he called my dad on being that, harboring gentiles, which my oldest brother, Clain(ph), lost his little daughter, six months old. She died of SIDS. And my dad didn't even hesitate. We helped my brother. He was out of the church, obviously, helped him with the funeral, helped him go through all that stuff, just be, you know, family around him because it was such a traumatic event.

Well, when we had done that at our house, Warren at the time was spying in our yard basically and kind of basically sabotaged us. And so he went and told my grandfather what was going on, that we had gentiles at our house. Soon, like the next day, my dad got a phone call from my grandfather, basically, you know, calling him in there to talk about that. And so on the grounds that my dad was harboring gentiles, my grandfather offered him to either, I take away your family and you can kind of repent and leave.

You know, I'm going to take away your family, and you're going to be on probation and think about what you did, or you can just leave the church and I'm still going to take away your kids. So after my dad got offered those two things, he stood up for himself and said, absolutely not. I refuse both. I am going to leave, and I am going to take my family with me.

GROSS: When you say Warren, that's Warren Jeffs, who became the leader of the FLDS after your grandfather died.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: What did Rulon Jeffs mean when he said he would take away the family? What does that mean?

Mr. JEFFS: He would reassign them to another family.

GROSS: Reassign them to another family. Was that something that was practiced then?

Mr. JEFFS: Not so much. It was something new that was coming up, and basically that would mean that the man was not worthy to have his family anymore. And so the man would literally just let them take the family away and marry off all the wives to another man, and all of a sudden, all those kids are that other man's responsibility and that he has nothing. I mean, he's basically either kicked out or put on probation.

GROSS: Did you know about this when it was happening, and were you afraid that you would be reassigned to a different family?

Mr. JEFFS: We really didn't know a whole lot when it was actually going on. All we knew was that we were being perpetrated by Warren. And dad just came home and told us that, you know, this is what happened, and I decided I'm taking my family with me. So that type of control was all new.

GROSS: Brent Jeffs will be back in the second half of the show. His new memoir is called "Lost Boy." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Brent Jeffs. His new memoir, "Lost Boy" is about growing up in a polygamous family in the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. The FLDS broke with the Mormon Church over 100 years ago so that its members could continue practicing polygamy after the Mormon Church gave up the practice. When we left off, Jeffs was describing why his father decided that the family should leave the FLDS.

When your father decided to leave with the family, where did your all go, how far away did you go?

Mr. JEFFS: My family really only moved, you know, just probably a few miles away, and my dad just basically rented a house and sold his house and property because he, you know, he owned it. And so he sold it to one of his brothers. And so he basically just - we just packed up and left.

GROSS: So moving just a few miles away, were there still a lot of FLDS members in the neighborhood?

Mr. JEFFS: No, in the neighborhood that we moved there was none.

GROSS: How did that feel?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, that was extremely, you know, that was definitely different. Let me back up a little bit.

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. JEFFS: When we all found out what was going on with my dad leaving the church, I felt an overwhelming sense of fear come over me because I felt like all of a sudden I'm no longer part of this religion, and if I'm no longer a part, I'm going to burn in hell. So I made a personal decision to, just me, moved down the Colorado City and live with a friend that's in the FLDS church and make one final decision on whether or not that this religion was for me.

GROSS: Yeah, you mentioned in the book you're about 14 at that time, and at the age of 14 is when you become a deacon in the church. What does that mean within the church?

Mr. JEFFS: That is the first level of you becoming a man in the church, basically, you know, that time you're deacon, you have a few responsibilities and then you work your way up to what they would call a priest, a teacher, and then when you received your Melchisedec priesthood, that's when you're able to get married and stuff.

GROSS: So you had just kind of taken a step deeper into the church just as your family was pulling out.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. I was in question. I was in question and so I had to find out for myself if this was really what I wanted to do.

GROSS: So you moved into a friends' house…

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: …who was a member of the FLDS. How did you decide whether to stay or to go?

Mr. JEFF: Well, in the beginning it was okay. Everyone in the town treated me okay, but once they really started finding out, you know, who I was and who my dad was, the gossip is crazy, you know, it just goes on and on, and they found out that, you know, obviously my dad left with his family. People started pointing fingers at me, started, you know, not talking to me at all. And I guess I kind of bent the rules a little bit down there. I had my very first girlfriend down there, who I had such a deep connection with.

We would actually, you know, kind of go behind the scenes down there and kind of get to know each other and fall in love. We got found out and basically got ripped apart from each other.

GROSS: She's FLDS too. She was anyways at the time.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. And I'm not sure where she is now, but she was at FLDS at that time.

GROSS: So did that help you make up your mind that you're leaving…

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS:… the church?

Mr. JEFFS: You know, there was nothing left for me, nothing. I knew after all that they had nothing left for me. So I came and moved back up to Salt Lake and just moved back in with my parents for a little bit.

GROSS: So you were how old and this was what year?

Mr. JEFFS: I was 15 by the time I moved back up, so I went to public school, ninth grade.

GROSS: Oh, ninth grade kind of the worst under any circumstances.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEFFS: It was, yeah, it was absolutely just - it was just mind-blowing for me. All of a sudden I'm thrown into a world of these teenagers that looked at me and talked about me behind my back and knew who I was, and I just felt so small. I felt like, you know, why am I here, you know, it just, it hurt really bad because I didn't choose this lifestyle. I just grew, I was born into this lifestyle. So trying to find any sort of a connection, it was really difficult. But you know, after time I did. I found friends that accepted me for whoever I was, and it felt really, really good.

GROSS: In the world outside FLDS, a lot of people don't quite understand the distinctions between the Mormon Church, LDS, and the fundamentalist breakaway sect FLDS, which still practices polygamy. When you're living in Salt Lake, I'm sure there were lot of people of the Mormon faith in your school and in your community. What was your relationship like with them and how did they see you?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, you know, they wanted to obviously make it very clear that that was not a part of their religion. That ended years and years back, prophets back. So you know, in a way they kind of felt like they didn't want to be associated with us as long as we were part of the FLDS church. Now, when we were out, that was a different story. They were open arms to us if we ever needed anything, just as long as we didn't represent the FLDS church.

GROSS: What were some of the things that you learned in public school as a teenager that contradicted everything you'd ever been told, or things that you learned that astonished you?

Mr. JEFFS: For one, it was history, oh my heck. I mean history was - in ninth grade I had so much information going in because growing up they didn't teach us about anything. I mean they didn't teach us about dinosaurs or anything. So all of the sudden I'm having all this overload of information thrown at me and I would have to after class talk to my teacher and say let me explain to you where I'm coming from, and if I don't catch on, this is because I, this is all brand new to me. And so I kind of developed a relationship with all of my teachers. So after class I was able to kind of go talk to them and get a little bit more clear on what was, what was being taught, you know?

GROSS: Did they understand, were they sympathetic to the position you were in?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes. They were completely sympathetic. They got me and they were proud of me for stepping out of that and into the real world, and so absolutely they helped me.

GROSS: My guest is Brent Jeffs. His new memoir about growing up in the FLDS is called "Lost Boy." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Brent Jeffs, and he grew up a member of the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. This is the sect that broke away from the Mormon Church to continue practicing polygamy after the Mormons abandoned polygamy. And his new memoir is called "Lost Boy." Now, not long after your grandfather, Rulon Jeffs, died in 2002, Warren Jeffs - who was your uncle?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: Became the prophet. You were no longer living on the compound when that happened.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: But you knew people who were still living there. How did things change when Warren Jeffs, who is now in prison, took over as the prophet?

Mr. JEFFS: All the members of the FLDS I know were just completely blown away. Basically how it works is when a prophet knows that his time is very limited on this Earth, he appoints another prophet, okay? So this didn't happen with Warren. Warren stood up in front of all these people and says that, you know, his dad appointed him as the new prophet in the church and that that is what it is. And everyone believed him, everyone just let it happen. All of a sudden all these rules, all of a sudden all these changes, you know, and that's when everything started with him.

GROSS: How do you know that your grandfather didn't appoint your uncle to be the next prophet?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, I guess I didn't know for a fact but there was a lot of other members in the church that everyone felt like should have been the next prophet, not Warren.

GROSS: Was the word already out that Warren was trouble before he took over the FLDS?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, yes. Just inside, you know, inside close quarters of the people inside, you know, the church and stuff, we knew, especially for our family, that Warren was tainted. You know, Warren was, if he was going to be put into a position of leadership, that it would not be good.

GROSS: Well, you say that he sexually abused you and one of your older brothers when you were boys.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes, absolutely. I knew for a fact he was absolutely the wrong person for that type of position in the church. I knew that he was going to take over that church and do all the wrong things for his own personal gain.

GROSS: So what did he do? What changes did he institute?

Mr. JEFFS: For one, it was absolutely crazy. He - I remember hearing about it, you know, I wasn't a member then, but like I had a friend call me up and he had all of the dogs in the town of Colorado City. He made everyone get rid of their dogs and kill them all.

GROSS: Kill them?

Mr. JEFFS: Kill their dogs.


Mr. JEFFS: Because I guess he felt like they were getting in the way of what he was trying to do. He's basically punishing these people, making, you know, gaining more fear, gaining more control over these people. Every little thing they did was completely monitored and controlled by him. He had people behind the scenes working for him, watching, waiting for people to fumble or, you know, screw up a little bit and he would nail them to the wall.

GROSS: Now, your father was threatened by your grandfather, the prophet, with having his family reassigned because your father had quote, you know, harbored a Gentile, which was your brother. But you write that when Warren Jeffs became, quote, "the prophet," that he started reassigning a lot of families and threatening a lot of families with reassignment.

Mr. JEFFS: He saw that. He saw the advantage of doing that.

GROSS: More control being the advantage?

Mr. JEFFS: Oh yeah, and that was all him. It was - everything to him was control. By him doing this, he put the fear of God in all these men, in all these families, that you mess with me at all, you do anything outside of what I say, guess what's going to happen? I'm going to take away your family. I'm going to take away your kids. You're going to have nothing.

GROSS: Do you think people believed in him as being an actual spiritual representative or do you think they were just afraid of him?

Mr. JEFFS: Afraid and brainwashed. If you could taught the same thing over and over and over your entire life, you're going to eventually 100 percent believe it. That's going to be all you know, so by control and brainwashing these people's entire lives, absolutely.

GROSS: Now, you had sued Warren Jeffs for sexually abusing you. What happened to that suit?

Mr. JEFFS: Basically it kind of got thrown on the backburner because it was considered a civil lawsuit and the attorney general felt like it wasn't a strong enough lawsuit to take against Warren. And so when mine came out, others started following. Other lawsuits started coming out, people started talking, and so basically that was ammunition for all these other lawsuits to come out. It was like I paved a road for all these other people to finally step up and come out and have enough evidence against him to put him away.

GROSS: And the one that really put him away were the charges of being an accomplice to rape, in other words forcibly having a 14-year-old girl get married against her will. So he's doing, what, 10 years for that.

Mr. JEFFS: Yeah, that's undeniable evidence. I mean, all you have to do is, that girl has kids, you look how old they are and compare it to how old she is. She is under age, that's completely illegal. With what happened to me, it happened so long ago, you know, basically it was my word against his.

GROSS: And also, I should add, it was kind of a recovered memory for you. You didn't even have that memory until you were how old?

Mr. JEFFS: Well, it was always there subconsciously, but it really surfaced when I had talked to my oldest brother (unintelligible) when he had told me he was the victim of Warren also.

GROSS: Now, your brothers who left the compound before you did, they left of their own will, right?

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: They weren't thrown out.

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: You lived with a couple of your brothers for a while…

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: …after you left the FLDS, and both of them have drug problems, cocaine, heroin, one of them sold drugs. Did you ask yourself why they turned to hard drugs like that? Did you have any sense of why?

Mr. JEFFS: I had no idea. I mean, it was so scary for me moving out and living with him at such a young age. I just followed suit. I followed everything that they did. I mean I looked up to them because they were the only ones I could hold on to at the time. They were my only support system. So in a way I looked up to him and even if they did drugs, that didn't bother me and I got engaged with him.

GROSS: Did you get addicted?

Mr. JEFFS: I never got to the extreme levels that they did but, you know, I tried things. I tried drugs.

GROSS: Wasn't that really scary for you because you'd gone from basically a sheltered compound behind a concrete wall, removed from the world, suddenly you're living with brothers who have drug problems. They have dealers who are pretty violent guys. And you're kind of exposed to all of that. It's like one extreme to another.

Mr. JEFFS: You grow up really fast. All the sudden, you have all these responsibilities. You're responsible for yourself. You got to go out and get a job. You got to go out and be a part of society. And, you know, it definitely - it was mind-blowing for me in the beginning and I didn't hardly leave the apartment in the very beginning because I was - I didn't know what to expect.

GROSS: So, one of your brothers ended up shooting himself, taking his life. And another also died, you said it was unclear if it was suicide or not. That must have really shaken you too.

Mr. JEFFS: Oh, it - even to this day, you know, I miss them terribly. They were such an amazing influence in my life and they really taught me to stand up for myself. They really did from the very beginning when I moved out with them. It really hurt a lot because I didn't fully understand, why they chose this way out. Now it's different. I mean, it's definitely not something, you know, that you ever want to go through but, you know, with my oldest brother, Clain, being such a horrible victim of Warren Jeffs I can, you know, I can kind of see where the addiction would start and wanting to numb that pain and make it go away.

GROSS: You had to choose what kind of life you wanted for yourself once you left the FLDS. Your life had always been defined for you. Every decision, kind of, made for you. You knew what was right. You were told what was wrong. And then you're kind of in the world and everything is kind of grey. And everything is like a choice and you aren't used to making choices like that. What kind of life have you chosen for yourself now?

Mr. JEFFS: I have absolutely chosen a life of inner peace with myself. I love myself. I choose positive people in my life and living a very happy and positive life. I have an absolute beautiful daughter who is my world. She is everything to me. And being able to be a dad to her on such a personal level and play with her and have that connection is absolutely the most amazing thing for me.

GROSS: Do you practice any religion now?

Mr. JEFFS: No. I choose not to.

GROSS: Because…

Mr. JEFFS: For me, it's kind of a personal decision. I kind of feel like that I've been - I've had religion jammed down my throat my whole life. I have experimented with a few - not for me.

GROSS: Have your parents supported you in writing the book and in testifying in court…

Mr. JEFFS: Yes.

GROSS: …and in filing suit against Warren Jeffs and, basically, in taking your story and their story public?

Mr. JEFFS: They have supported me a hundred percent the whole way. I really feel absolutely just so honored to have my parents support me through all of this and, you know, they are very proud of me for doing this, for standing up. They have been amazing from day one when I started doing this.

GROSS: You know, a little bit of weird question, but do you watch "Big Love" the HBO series about…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …of…

Mr. JEFFS: I've seen it.

GROSS: …yeah - about a community of - basically of FLDS who practice polygamy. I think it's a really fascinating program and actually I'm surprised by how much of the family part of the story seems to correlate with the story that you tell in your book.

Mr. JEFFS: For the most part, it does. It definitely - "Big Love" has gone through, you know, television, TV, Hollywood that type of stuff. It's been blown up, but as a general sense, yes. So…

GROSS: So what do you think when you watch the show?

Mr. JEFFS: I laugh. I really - I laugh because, you know, it's so - it's really crazy for me to look back and think that, wow, you know, I lived that lifestyle. I was - you know, I grew up all - it kind of sometimes overwhelms me but now I can just sit back and say, you know what, I really learned a lot from this. All these experiences have made me a really strong person and I'm able to stand up for myself. So, you know, watching "Big Love" for me, it doesn't make me sad or doesn't make me, you know, resent anybody or anything, you know. It just - I don't know. I think - I just laugh really.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Brent Jeffs, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. JEFFS: Thank you very much for having me on.

GROSS: Brent Jeffs' new memoir about growing up in and leaving the FLDS is called "Lost Boy." Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews a new CD by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. A quintet raised on punk rock and country music. This is FRESH AIR.

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