SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A son of jailed polygamous leader Warren Jeffs describes how he was manipulated, shuffled around the country and assigned to work crews to atone for his perceived transgressions before leaving the sect last year.
The comments by Roy Jeffs, now 23, provide a window into the secretive sect based on the Utah-Arizona border in which cellphones, toys, movies, bicycles and even swimming lessons were strictly forbidden. He said Warren Jeffs imposed his control over followers by reassigning children and wives to different men, sending people to "houses of hiding" and wielding the constant threat of exile.
At one point as a young teen, Roy Jeffs spent long days typing up his father's sermons while at a house in an Albuquerque subdivision where he and his mother were sent to live in hiding. In the middle of the night, the phone would ring. It was his father.
"There would be, like, this piercing of despair in your heart," Roy Jeffs said. "What's he going to say now? Is he going tell me I've lost my place? Is he going to kick me out?"
The son described his upbringing in the polygamous sect in an interview Friday with The Associated Press. He first told his story to CNN in a story broadcast this week.
The younger Jeffs said he lived a childhood almost entirely cut off from the outside world. He didn't see a movie at a theater until he was 20, when he slipped away to one in Tucson, Arizona. He has seen hundreds of movies since, with "Fast & Furious 6" among the most memorable.
Roy Jeffs usually landed in trouble because of the confessional letters he would send the man he still calls Father. Warren Jeffs, considered a prophet, ordered his young son to confess his thoughts, temptations and sins to preserve his place in the faith and avoid going to hell.
Among the things he wrote about was his attraction to girls, some of whom were his father's child brides who were younger than Roy Jeffs.
Warren Jeffs would then turn around and punish the son for his admissions, sending him to do construction work around the West or live in the houses of hiding like the one in Albuquerque.
"I was scared of him," said Roy Jeffs, who left the sect in February 2014 and lives in the Salt Lake City area. "He told me he knew exactly what I was thinking."
Lawyers for Warren Jeffs did not return messages seeking comment Friday, and an email sent to him at the Texas prison was not immediately returned. The sect, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, does not have a spokesman or a phone listing where leaders can be contacted.
Roy Jeffs' story is not uncommon for members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor who has studied the sect for years.
People often are moved around the country in hiding or working on crews for the group. The sect has homes scattered across several states where people are sent to repent for so-called misdeeds, Guiora said.
Roy Jeffs also says his father sexually abused him before he was 6 year old. He says he's not filing a police report because Warren Jeffs is already serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered wives.
"I just want the truth to be out there," Roy Jeffs said. "I want that information to be there so when people are questioning things and they are looking around, my story is there."
Roy Jeffs is enjoying his new freedom — he recently went boating and wakeboarding for the first time — but says the transition is difficult. The sexual abuse and controlling mandates still fill his head and plague his ability to have a normal life.
"If I think about it too hard, think about everything that has happened, it just breaks me down real bad," Roy Jeffs said.
But he has hope: "I feel like I can do what I want. It's my life now."