The cult leader burst through the door of the small room where I
was being held prisoner. "Are you ready to repent!" he shouted, his face
red with anger. "Are you ready to come into our meeting and admit you
were worshiping at the altar of Baal!"
I fell back on my bed, emotionally cringing at the thought of
another encounter. After nine months of his tirades and charges of being
a traitor, plus disillusionment over beloved doctrines and believing i'd
never see my family again, i didn't care if I lived or died.
Sick, and fighting waves of nausea, I had no strength to reason
with this man . . .a man whom I once thought held special favor with God.
"All I wan't to do now, is die," I said weakly.
"No way!" He moved closer, his body authoritatively towering
"Wouldn't you just love to have something happen to you so the police
would come in! There's no way you're going to bring a murder charge down
on me! You're going to stay alive so you can repent!" he shouted.
"You're a traitor, not only to us, but God! You must denounce the God
you found in that Christian church!"
He stormed out of the room yelling, his footsteps echoing
through the empty building. I heard the front door slam shut, leaving me
in the silence.
I stared at the bare light bulb dangling from the hole in the
ceiling above me. Looking continuously at bleak unfinished walls day
after day was almost more than I could bear.
Captive in that room for nine months, I suffered through crushing
disappointments, mental and emotional agonies, unanswered questions,
depression, and failing health. At times it became so bad, I thought I
was losing my mind. All I wanted to do was die. Little did I know that
a week later my death would nearly become a reality.
I lay there wondering, How did such a noble venture on my part
turn into such a nightmare? I prayed to be led to truth! I hoped to
serve God more fully by joining the commune!
My mind retraced the steps of how I had landed in such a
frightful situation. Dissatisfied and bored in the main-line cult I had
belonged to for thirty-four years, but spurred on by the cult's teaching
to strive for perfection, I discovered its secret underground movement.
It seemed like an answer to prayer. I learned about communes where
everyone equally shared goods and finances. Believing the biblical way
as in the Book of Acts was correct, that of having everything in common,
it would be a good method to purge out any hidden selfishness and grow
closer to God. It was the opportunity of a lifetime! I envisioned
everyone spiritually loving each other--a virtual paradise! My husband
had passed away a year earlier, my children were grown, so I was free to
I put my home up for sale, ready to give the proceeds to the
commune. Since it didn't sell by the time I was ready to leave, I left
it in the hands of a realtor. With stars in my eyes, I took off for the
commune, a farm in Montana.
It was a tough adjustment. Drinking-water had to be hauled in
because too much iron was in the well water. The brownish-red water we
bathed in was like taking a bath in root-beer--a novelty at first. In
the main house, there was only one bathroom for fourteen people and the
toilet was clogged most of the time. There were shocking conditions
which I preferred not to think about. But, I didn't mind. I was living
a principle I believed was right!
My first shock came when I realized everyone didn't love each
other. After being showered with love and attention when I first
entered, strife, jealousy and contention took over. As the months
dragged on, life on the farm grew progressively worse. Stricter rules
were added. Robot obedience to the leader's religious authority was
demanded. If I had to drive into town to the laundromat, I was forced to
say, "Please, may I"--and then only if I said it just right.
In addition, the violent temper and sharp tongue of the leader's
wife continually left me in tears. Devastated over her jealous hatred
toward me and shocked at the commune's unexpected demands, I began to
withdraw. The joy I experienced at the beginning of my venture was gone.
I felt empty and desolate.
Although most of my activities were curtailed, I still had one
freedom--that is, if I asked permission. Early Sunday mornings I was
allowed to drive to a nearby lake. I told the leader I wanted to pray.
But, the real reason? I needed to get away from what seemed like a dark
cloud over the farm. It never entered my mind to take that opportunity
One morning, by the lake, I poured my heart out to God asking
him to lift my depression. I prayed for humility so I would be more
submissive to the leader--for charity, so I could become immune to his
wife's verbal abuse.
Winter soon set in and the snow became too deep to drive to the
lake. Determined not to give up my Sunday mornings, I pretended to go to
the lake but, instead, drove aimlessly over the barren plains. Coming to
a small country church I decided to go in knowing I dare not be found
Entering, I quietly slipped into the back row. The singing and
atmosphere of peace and love was in such sharp contrast to life on the
farm, that my spirits were immediately lifted. The song leader and
pastor spoke so many kind and loving things that by contrast I began to
gain a clearer perspective of how wrong things were in the commune.
They talked about deeper aspects of the atonement that I had
never fully understood. They mentioned that because of the atonement,
works would never get one into heaven, a concept that put me in shock.
Further, I learned about grace, something the Mormon Church never defined
nor addressed. I returned to the farm, able to cope with the abuse for
another week and by eagerly looking foward to the next Sunday.
But, after attending four Sundays, my worst fears were realized.
I had been followed! When I returned to the farm, the leader confronted
"Have you been attending that church!" he shouted.
"Yes," I replied timidly, "but, let me tell you about..." I got
no further. In times past I had seen individuals lose their temper, but
I had never seen rage before. I was dumbfounded as all hell literally
"Didn't you know you were worshiping at the altar of Baal! he
screamed. "Attending that Christian church now makes you guilty of
"Why are you treating me this way?" I cried. Don't we believe
"Of course," came the retort, "but you found him in a Christian
church instead of through me! I'm your spiritual leader!"
He demanded the keys to my car which I dutifully handed over. I
was cut off from all communication and members were forbidden to
communicate with me. I could no longer leave the farm until I came into
their meeting and publicly repented of my sin and denounced the Christian
God. Bible verses my grandmother used to repeat went through my
mind--special verses about God's love. I thought of my unselfish reason
for entering the cult. Why was God letting all this happen to me?
Alone in a small 8 x 10 room in an unfinished building at the
back of the farm, I was miserable. One bed, a small dresser, and no
running water or modern toilet facilities.
To keep from going crazy in my solitary confinement, I began
reading books which the leader had given me earlier. I discovered
strange and shocking doctrines that Joseph Smith and the early Mormon
church believed in. How could I belong to something that believed like
that! Surely this couldn't be what the LDS church was founded upon!
Through the months, the leader periodically came into my room to
revile me. "Repent!" he yelled. I refused.
As my health deteriorated, my thinking processes became more
sluggish. At times it was difficult to even make my mind work. At other
times, I found myself doing mental gymnastics in an attempt to
rationalize my circumstances. Soon I actually believed my situation was
what I deserved.
I grew very thin and slipped in and out of deep depression. I
had so wanted to live like the New Testament Christians. I was willing
to share everything I had with others and had given the leader most of my
life's savings. In addition, I was shattered, suspecting that the
doctrines I had believed in for so long, might be wrong. I felt let
down...cheated. But, in spite of it all, I was determined not to
I never tried to escape. For, even though I decided the cult
and its doctrines could possibly be wrong, I was concerned about the
commitment I made when I went into the cult. I had promised, before God,
to share everything I had. Whenever I thought about leaving, the cult
leader's words resounded in my mind over and over again: "God doesn't
like a covenant breaker--God doesn't like a covenant-breaker." Not
wanting God to think I was a covenant-breaker, I resigned myself to my
fate. Come what may, I would not try to escape and become a covenant
Seven months passed...eight. My health grew worse. I lost all
incentive to live. Although expressing my desire to die, the leader was
determined to keep me alive. I wondered, in my weakened condition, how
long it would take to actually die. My answer came sooner than I
One afternoon, one of the children wandered into the building and
found me unconscious on the floor. As was told to me later, the leader
and others rushed into my room. They began praying and anointing me with
oil, while at the same time calling upon their special priesthood
authority to raise the dead. They feverishly worked over me--not because
they were concerned about me as a person, but because the leader's worse
fears might be realized--I might die and he could face a murder charge.
I have no idea how long I was unconscious, but when I finally
came to, my body felt so terrible that I weakly raised one arm and looked
at it. I had never before seen anything so grotesque. There was no pink
color at all. Every bit of my flesh was a solid fusion of black, gray,
blue and purple. My other arm was the same. I assumed my whole body was
Seeing I had rallied, they left me; but, the leader made sure his
wife brought better food in to me. To my relief the leader, seeing I was
not going to repent, finally quit coming to my room.
During the next two months I slowly regained strength, but not
without growing health problems. Crippling pain spasms shot through my
neck and back, striking without warning. In addition (as a doctor told
me later), I had a completely paralyzed colon as well as other
complications. After my escape, I required a neck brace, was told I
needed a radical colostomy, had a severe hemorrhage requiring six blood
transfusions, eventual surgery, and suffered from other health problems.
One day something strange happened. A surprising peace filled me
as I was praying, accompanied by the strong impression of a message that
"God would deliver me". You mean, I thought, God approves of my
leaving? Why, that must mean he won't consider me a covenant-breaker!
Then I began to wonder how? When? Although extremely thin and
still suffering from physical problems, I became excited about leaving.
My thoughts turned to my furniture and personal belongings stored
in another part of the building. I didn't want to leave without them.
Suddenly, my plan of escape began to form.
I watched out the small window of my room the day I knew the
leader and the others would be going into town. After they piled into
their cars, I waited about twenty minutes, then left my room, walked
through the vacant building and out the door.
As I crossed the yard toward the main farm house, my heart
suddenly stopped. Two men came out of the house heading towards the
corral. They were about 150 feet across the yard and glanced in my
direction. But, miraculously, it was like they didn't even see me and
they continued walking. Then I hurried to the back of the house, my
heart in my throat.
Quickly slipping through the back door, I reached for the kitchen
phone and fumbled through the telephone directory. I dialed a moving
company, making arrangements for them to come the following week. I then
hurried back to my room.
The night before the van was due to arrive, I waited until dark.
When everyone was in bed, I crept out of my room. I knew the leader kept
the keys to my car on a nail just inside the back door of the main house.
I was glad for one thing--they had been using my car the last nine
months, so the battery wasn't dead. Quickly, I grabbed the keys and
crept back to my room.
The pre-arranged morning arrived and I saw the Mayflower pull
in. Hurrying out of the building, I waved my arms, motioning the driver
down the long dirt driveway.
At the sound of the huge truck, the leader and others came
rushing out of the farmhouse. They can't stop me now, I thought, not
with strangers on the property! I began talking with the
drivers, a husband and wife team. Signing the papers, I pointed them to
the building where everything was stored--then stuck to them like glue.
The leader and other members stood their distance silently fuming, daring
not to prevent me with outsiders present.
When nearly finished, the driver and his wife asked, "Is
"Yes," I said, sensing that although they were puzzled, they knew
I was in some kind of tense situation. "I'll meet you in three days at
my California address. But, just before you leave, do me a favor and let
me pull out in front of you." They seemed to understand.
I walked to my car, grateful for strength, and climbed in.
Then, suddenly, in the side-view mirror I saw the leader start towards
me. I panicked. Turning the key, I jammed my foot against the
accelerator and took off. Momentarily losing control of the car, I
side-swiped a pile of railroad ties, bashing a huge dent in the passenger
side. I gunned the car down the long dirt driveway and onto the open
highway. Free at last!
I immediately headed towards town to wire my bank for money. I
had just enough left to finance my trip home. Other than that, I had
nothing. I had given all I had to the cult and was approaching my
retirement years with nothing. But for now, the dominant thought was,
As I drove, I began to cry. First, I cried out of relief. Then
I cried because my body felt so terrible. Next, I cried because my
religious beliefs had been destroyed. But, lastly, I cried because my
dream of finding a community where everyone wanted to live, love, and
share, had been a delusion. But now, at least, it was over! . . . or so
I thought. I was unaware of the length of time it would take to overcome
all the aftereffects.
I was facing three to eight years of disorientation, flashbacks,
conflicting emotions, nightmares, irrational behavior, continuing health
problems, torn between rejecting Mormonism but emotionally clinging to
it, and much more.
Dealing with the emotional aftermath would prove to be the most
soul-wrenching, excruciating, experience of my life. Nevertheless, at
that moment, all I knew was that I escaped from the cult alive--and was
Eventually, God led me to a small Christian church in Southern
Utah. There, a pastor and his wife who were knowledgeable in working
with ex-Mormons, patiently loved and enabled me to finally reject all
Mormon beliefs and fully embrace the Truth.
Janis Hutchinson, 1993.