Assisting with the escape - Part IV

Jason Ferguson

This is the fourth and final story in a series about Marty and Jen Mechaley and their involvement in assisting several of Warren Jeffs’ daughters to leave the FLDS.
If you attended a Custer High School football game in the fall of 2021, chances are you saw—or maybe even briefly interacted with—one of the ten daughters of self-proclaimed Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) prophet Warren Jeffs who Marty and Jen Mechaley helped leave the FLDS.
Monica Jeffs, a then 16-year-old Custer High School student at the time, was a football team manager. And no, she didn’t stand out from other students. Well, maybe except for that bright red hair.
There was no prairie dress. There was no signature FLDS hairdo. There was only a petite teenager hauling water, cheering on the Wildcats and living a normal life.
That doesn’t mean other students didn’t know she was a former member of the FLDS.
If they didn’t know, many of them figured it out one day in class when a get-to-know-you exercise included students telling the other students how many siblings they had.
“Fifty-three,” Monica said to audible reactions and enlarged eyes around the room.
But, like all of the girls who the Mechaleys helped leave the FLDS, Monica’s number of siblings or FLDS past doesn’t define her. The Mechaleys will point out all of the girls are extremely smart and exceptionally talented. To be sure, they are much more than the caricatures FLDS women are often portrayed as due to the lifestyle forced upon them at birth.
Take Monica, for example. She was a well-liked student in her time at Custer High School, and played the piano at a concert level. The Mechaleys have a video of her flawlessly playing the baby grand piano the girls brought into the Mechaley home when they moved in (but only recently came back to retrieve).
These days, all of the girls the Mechaleys helped leave the FLDS have all moved away from Custer and started their own lives. Some are married. Some are working. Some are attending college. All are free of the constraints of the FLDS.
That’s the part that makes the Mechaleys so proud. They are not only surviving outside the FLDS, but they are thriving. The Mechaleys knew once they took the plunge to help the girls, failure wasn’t an option. Failure would have played right into the hands of the higher-ups in the FLDS.
“You couldn’t say no. If we said no and they didn’t succeed, the FLDS would have taught that and instilled that in everybody’s head,” Marty said. “‘(Church leaders would say) See—look. They all tried to leave and now they are back.”
The FLDS company line that those who leave the church are “apostates” who can never come back is, Marty says, “a bunch of crap.”
“They tried so hard to get them back,” he said. “That’s what made me want to fight harder. I didn’t want the FLDS to be able to say ‘don’t do this.’ They tried and failed. It can’t be done.”
The Mechaleys are certain the success stories of the girls—and many others who have left the FLDS—have others within the church considering leaving.
The Mechaleys are quick to point out, however, that they didn’t do this alone. There were many people, both locally and in other states, who helped him and the girls along the way. Juliann Gramkow of Allure Spa gave the girls free haircuts after shop hours. Chris Beesley and Garland Goff both offered their services as attorney for Monica Jeffs and never billed them. Custer School District superintendent Mark Naugle helped enroll Monica in Custer High School. Nicole Parker of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office spent time with the girls and gave hours of her own time to help the girls achieve their GEDs. Nicole’s daughter, Kenley, befriended Monica and supported her at the school. Donna and Glen Talley of Women Escaping A Violent Environment pitched in as needed.
It’s said it takes a village to raise a child. It truly takes a village to free a child (or a young woman) from the grips of the FLDS.
Marty said Esthers Rising, a faith-based organization working relentlessly to rescue, redeem and renew child survivors of human sex trafficking and exploitation, assisted the girls. Custer County Sheriff’s Office deputy Matt Tramp reached out to Esthers Rising as well as Southern Black Hills Realtors for Kids, which also helped the girls. The Tietsort and Hirt families were also there to lend a helping hand.
Also lending a hand was Holding Out Help, which helps those from a polygamous culture with care, support and resources to become independent and self-sufficient.
Tonia Tewell is the executive director of Holding Out Help, and said when she heard what Marty and Jen were doing, she first thought to herself, “Oh no, what is he getting himself into.”
After asking Marty some clarifying questions, however, it didn’t take long for her to realize Marty and Jen were the perfect people to help the girls.
“They naturally had the instinct not to push certain things, let it be their (the girls’) time and their way,” she said.
She said one of the things she appreciated the most is when one of the girls wanted to return to the FLDS, they didn’t try to talk her out of it. In a conversation, Tewell told Marty the girl would be asking to come back soon enough, which is exactly what happened.
“They were very respectful it was (the girls’) time to make the choice whether to do certain things their way. It was their journey,” Tewell said. “They were really patient and kind. They were just there to be a support system in any way they needed them to be.”
Holding Out Help was key in helping with Monica’s transition of custody, as it worked with local attorney Garland Goff to finish the job Chris Beesley had started prior to his death.
“(Garland) was so kind and generous with his time,” Tewell said. “I didn’t do anything fabulous other than I’m really good at pounding the pavement and begging for favors.”
Ironically, Tewell got involved with helping FLDS members the same way the Mechaleys did. Someone looking to escape the sect needed a place to stay, and she and her husband let the person stay in their basement. Fifteen years later Holding Out Help had a place for adult women to live, a place for adult men to live and a main hub that provides counseling, case management, tutoring and other services those leaving the FLDS may need.
Holding Out Help doesn’t just help FLDS members, either. Of the 2,558 people Holding Out Help has helped leave the polygamous life, most are from the FLDS, although some are from the growing Kingman and Allred groups and other offshoots that practice polygamy.
Marty said Holding Out Help was nothing short of amazing, and said it is a worthwhile charity to which people can donate.
Anyone interested in donating to Holding Out Help can find the group on Facebook or visit the website to find out more information on what is needed at any given time.
The girls may be out of the Mechaley home, but they certainly aren’t out of their lives. They stay in touch through phone calls, Facetime, social media, email and—of course—text messaging. Sometimes it’s just to check in. Other times it’s to ask more questions about a world outside the FLDS—a world they’ve still only known for just over a year.
Sometimes they ask advice on what to do when they are sick. One wanted to know what St. Patrick’s Day is and why it’s celebrated. They’re still very much learning.
“They weren’t taught a lot of things,” Jen said.
Marty said there were times the local area’s curiosity about the compound and the people inside its fences made his job as sheriff (and a deputy) more difficult.
“When people make rumors or put stuff on social media saying ‘I heard this, I heard that, this is what they are doing,’ and only put out the bad things you’ve read about or heard about, the FLDS uses that,” he said. “They have smart phones, internet, social media. When you say a bunch of horrible things they show that to other members and say ‘this is what the outside world thinks of you.’ Why would they want to leave? They think everybody hates them.”
The Mechaleys are glad they were able to help, but they are also glad to be back to their normal lives, spending more time as Grandma and Grandpa than counselors, protectors and everything else that went into all those months of helping the girls.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to help. I don’t think this has been done before,” Marty said. “It’s a blessing we were able to help. We’ve changed some lives. They might have been there for God knows how long. Now they are able to get on with their lives.”
It’s mission-accomplished for the Mechaleys, and they firmly believe the sacrifices they—and all those who helped them—made are well worth it when they see nine productive, beautiful women with their own opinions, own lives and own freedom.
They were such kind spirits, Jen said, you couldn’t help but want to help them.
The main reason the two got involved, however, is perhaps the most obvious.
“It was the right thing to do,” Jen said.
Tewell lauds what the Mechaleys did, saying the two have hearts of gold.
“I think the world of those two,” she said. “They should have wings on their backs.”

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