Roy Jeffs: Why I Left My Father's Church

CNN/ Newswire | 3/8/2016, 10:02 a.m.
Talking to Roy Jeffs, you might think he's just like any 23-year-old: He's working a construction job, trying to save ...
Despite his imprisonment, Jeffs is still firmly in control of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The FLDS is a breakaway Mormon sect that openly practices polygamy, something the mainstream Mormon church renounced more than a century ago.

By Tricia Escobedo


(CNN) -- Talking to Roy Jeffs, you might think he's just like any 23-year-old: He's working a construction job, trying to save up for a car. He's taken a couple of college classes, but he's not sure college is worth all the effort.

He's met a few young women through his Tinder account, and gone on a few dates -- nothing serious.

But underneath the normalcy of his life lie a pain and confusion that few can understand, gnawing at this young man as he adjusts to a world he was taught is sinful and evil.

Roy Jeffs was born and raised in the isolated fundamentalist Mormon community in Short Creek, along the Arizona-Utah state line, under the strict rule of his father, the so-called prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs.

About 19 months ago -- acting on what he described as "an impulse" -- he walked away.

"I left on my own," he said from his new home near Spring Creek, Nevada, about 250 miles west of Salt Lake City. He shares an apartment with his brother-in-law, another so-called "apostate," a term for those who have left the FLDS.

Roy is still getting used to making his own decisions about his life.

"When I first came out, it was nice to feel that way. ... I remember standing there, just staring at myself in the mirror, just in shock forever, just sitting there like, 'Oh my God, I can choose.' But at the same time ... because I was so used to being told 'You can do this, you can't do this' ... I wanted somebody to tell me what to do.

"It was terrifying."

A life-changing repentance mission

Roy Jeffs can thank his father for giving him his first taste of the outside world.

One of the punishments for breaking the rules within the FLDS community is to be put to work on "the crew" -- a construction team made up of fundamentalist Mormon men who work for businesses usually owned by other FLDS members.

The jobs are often in different states and can last for several months.

"Usually when they send you out on the crew, at least for me, it was considered a repentance mission -- so I was there to earn money for the priest and repent and become worthy to go onto one of their sacred lands," Roy explained. "(But) it never really works."

That's because the restrictions that would apply in the FLDS community are harder to enforce on the job sites.

"I was living in Wyoming, Texas, Kansas -- you're out there, you have a little more freedom."

Roy Jeffs and some of the other young men on the crew would secretly listen to music and watch movies -- actions that were forbidden back home and would have gotten him in trouble with his crew chief as well.

This "repentance mission" was more than an attempt by Warren Jeffs to punish Roy: The prophet was isolating his son.