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Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

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Beneath their clothes, fundamentalist men and women must wear an undergarment that extends to the ankles and wrists. Except when bathing, the sacred long johns are to be worn at all times after baptism at age 8.

Once married, women seldom leave town, except for occasional forays into nearby St. George. A wife who does not submit to her husband's will risks punishment, including beatings, and possible eternal damnation.

In conformance to what the men are told, wives are taught that they must have at least two sister wives to gain admittance to the highest level of heaven.

"[This] has been drilled into them since they were babies," says Annie Bistline, who raised more than a dozen children during her monogamous marriage to Benjamin.

The pressure to accept additional wives is enormous. "I used to pray for another one," says 51-year-old Pamela Black, a former fundamentalist who raised 14 children before breaking away after the church threatened to take away some of her kids.

Spirit Murdered

Growing up, Pamela Black had only one goal.

"I just wanted to get married and have babies because that is all I thought I could do."

Her biggest fear was that she was going to be damned.

"I thought that God would destroy me if I did not do what I was told," she tells New Times.

God has a very real face in Colorado City. At the time, Pamela was a comely teenager. God was embodied in FLDS Prophet Leroy Johnson, or Uncle Leroy.

Typically, girls turned over their name to the Prophet when they wanted to be married. In Pamela's case, the Prophet came to her.

Uncle Leroy showed up at school while Pamela was singing in the choir.

"Wow, he sure seems to be looking at me," Pamela recalls. "Sure enough, he was."

Later that day, 17-year-old Pamela was summoned to a meeting with the Prophet. It is a major event in a young girl's life.

"We have someone for you," Pamela says Uncle Leroy let on.

The official line is that girls can refuse a marriage.

"They give us a choice, but there's really no choice," Pamela says. "You either do what they say because [the Prophet is considered] God, or face damnation.

"So, I got married."

Her groom was 27-year-old Martin Black, a man she barely knew.

After a brief courtship of holding hands and kissing, but rarely talking, the couple were married by Uncle Leroy.

The night before the wedding, Pamela's mother told her about sex.

Pamela spent her wedding night hiding in the bathroom, hoping to avoid the matrimonial bed.

"I was brushing my teeth for an hour," she says. "Eventually, it had to happen."

She got into bed.

"Take off your nightgown," Pamela says her new husband told her. "I said, No.'"

Her new husband ignored her plea.

"And thus the sex act was performed against my will," Pamela says. "I was completely traumatized. I was raped."

The night set the tone for their marriage.

"He literally spent the night alone in the living room while I stayed in the bathroom crying," Pamela says.

That such events transpired should not be a condemnation of Martin Black, Pamela says. Martin is a kind, gentle man of high integrity who raised a huge family on $12 an hour working for the school district.

Martin, Pamela says, was as much a victim of FLDS doctrine as she was.

There is nothing more important in the fundamentalist Mormon world than obedience.

Martin had to obey the religious doctrine that he dominate his wife.

"He told me he did it because he wanted to own me," Pamela says. "He wanted to prove that I belonged to him."

Her husband expressed some backhanded regret for his hard-line stance.

"He told me later that he would never do that to his next wife," Pamela says.

From that moment on, Pamela says, she put on a "mask" in public as the happy, dutiful wife. She adopted the "keep-sweet" mantra that the religion pounds into women's heads.

Privately, with nowhere to turn, her emotions burst forth in uncontrollable fits. Her children suffered immensely.

"The children witnessed a very angry mother," she says.

Eventually, the outbursts became known to religious leaders, and pressure was directed toward Martin to divorce her.

"I knew I was in trouble," she says. "They were taking my kids away. They were taking everything from me because I would not submit.

"I was reading books that were not allowed. I've been taught all my life that Buddha was the devil. I really wanted to learn about other cultures."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty