In recent years, several hundred young men who had been raised in the FLDS culture are now former members, no more welcome to even associate with their former families. These young men have been coined as “the Lost Boys.” FLDS faithful claim that these boys left the FLDS by their own choice. Others claim that these boys have been tossed out on the streets against their choice.
The facts show something in between these extremes. Under Warren Jeffs’ leadership, the FLDS culture and rules has been a hard environment for teen boys to cope with. Absolute acceptance of all the rules is difficult. The injustices and inconsistencies seen cause these youthful minds to question. Teen rebellion is unacceptable and there is no longer a good support structure within the FLDS to help teens through these difficult years. Parents understand that if FLDS leaders hear of problem children in their families, that the father can be charged for not having control of his family. He risks losing his priesthood, which means losing his home, wives, and children. Warren Jeffs wrote, "I am to give a warning to the parents that they must watch over their young people or the parents will be removed out of their place." (Priesthood Record, July 29, 2005).
Boys understand well the rules and the consequences. These rules include: No association at all with girls, no talking, no dating, no kissing. No music. No sports. No TV. No movies. No video games. No Internet. No late-night hours. Their life is only religious school and work. The temptation is huge to test the limits and experiment with some of these “evil” gentile pursuits. Many of these boys have the additional added challenge of being assigned to new fathers. The father they knew has been taken away from them and their new father doesn’t understand them. Life is very difficult for these wayward boys and eventually the choices are few. They can leave on their own or continue to live in a “hell” to them and watch the people they love be hurt by them or the FLDS leaders. The vast majority of these boys choose to leave on their own.
Some of these boys have family members on the outside to turn to for help, but most do not. Many joined together and lived in apartments in the St. George area. Hurt because they are were not accepted by their families anymore, they turned to a life without the rules and strict oversight. Many of them, for a time, turned to drugs, sex, and alcohol abuse. Most of them have a good work ethic and construction skills. They try to make a living, but their education is lacking and they are naïve about the “outside” world they are now in.
Let’s back up and examine the role of the young man in the FLDS culture. An FLDS member explained: “At age 12, the young men usually receive the Aaronic Priesthood. To honor this Priesthood, the young men must keep themselves morally clean, honor their Priesthood father, and be teachers of the gospel. They can’t have a wife until they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood (higher authority). The Aaronic Priesthood holders, if they have a job, are also to turn over their money to their Priesthood head, which is their father. Once a young man is considered ‘worthy’ (these days it is total submission to those over them) they can receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.”
“When a young man is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, his father is no longer his Priesthood head, it is now the Prophet. The young man may still live in his father’s house, and must obey the rules of the house, but his father is now his “brother” in the Priesthood. The young man now shows his worthiness by his loyalty to the prophet and those in position of authority that act under the prophet’s direction. Most are asked to turn in their monies to the storehouse, except what they need for their “just wants and needs.” If the Prophet feels they are loyal enough, he will give them a wife.”
This is the only acceptable path for a young man. Any deviation and he will be viewed as unworthy for a life among the FLDS, including having a wife and family. A man cannot obtain a wife on his own, she must be assigned by the prophet. The prophet will not assign a wife to a man who isn’t 100% loyal to the prophet.
“Many boys have been sent away from their father’s homes and the community. Many others have left without being sent away. In all cases, if they don’t profess total loyalty to Warren and complete submission to him, the family will cut of all ties. If the family does not, they risk being sent away because they are talking with an ‘apostate’ son.”
“Why do they get sent away or leave? As is often the case, it is because they won’t obey their father’s and/or the Priesthood authorities exactly. What I mean by that is they may do any of the following “sins”: talking to girls, watching movies, listening to “gentile” music, not following the FLDS dress code of long undergarments and being fully clothed to the neck, wrist, and ankles. With these “sins”, they are usually counseled to do better, but if they don’t change their ways, the father must remove them from the house or risk losing his own Priesthood.”
“Why would a young man want to rebel? More often than not it is because they don’t feel like they are loved unconditionally. The only love and sense of belonging in the FLDS household is conditional. They feel a lack of freedom. You see, in the FLDS, as a loyal young man, you are to check in with the Prophet and be told what to do and become (profession wise). In the past, the young men could get a building lot and build themselves a house. This gave them something to work towards, a goal, an identity, a place to raise a family. Under Warren, they are to simply turn in all their money over to the Prophet, and they may get a house, or a trailer, or who knows what.”
“We all make mistakes as we grow up, and we need someone who loves us and will listen to us, without judging, to guide us through to manhood. With recreation removed, there are fewer ways to channel the energy and emotion that all of us go through in the change from a boy to a man, when we have more hormones than brains. Many of the young men, at least at first are not trying to be rule breakers, they are simply trying to deal with adolescence. Many of these young men badly want to open up with their fathers and confide in him, but don’t dare. If they do try, instead of listening, the father starts to lecture about ‘keeping sweet’ and ‘doing the will of your Priesthood head’ and ‘never questioning authority.’ You must understand the father often doesn’t dare have a one on one with his son because some of his own (the father’s) questions may come out, and you can’t ask questions about why you should or should not do anything. If you do, you will lose Priesthood, and therefore your family. ‘God and the Prophet always do right.’”
“Because the young men feel that they are only loved and listened to if they are perfectly obedient and without sin, they begin looking for an identity, a friend, someone who will listen. Who do these confidantes end up being? Usually other young men with questions and a poor relationship with their fathers. This is usually not the best source of guidance through the troubled teenage years. The real problems start when the relationship between father and son gets so bad that the son turns to alcohol and drugs to try to escape it all. When this happens, the father has no choice (if he wants to keep the rest of his family) but to send them away, sometimes as young as 13 years old.”
Girls are under similar constraints, but far fewer rebel. For the few that do, the solution is reform tactics that may even include assignment to marriage at a young age. The theory is if she marries, has a child, she most likely will be faithful to the FLDS for life.
Under Warren Jeffs’ leadership, there is no longer is a support system for “problem” teen boys. Prior to Jeffs, there were only a “normal” number of runaways. It has only been in recent years that so many of these boys have been flowing out of the FLDS culture. There is no firm evidence that the motivation is a “numbers game” to reduce competition for wives. It is more about control and the unwillingness to tolerate anyone who will not accept this control.
In August 2005, while Jeffs was in hiding, he received a report that of the 900 boys in Short Creek, there were 49 boys who were known to be involved in beer parties with girls and some involved in illegal drugs. 34 of those boys were not allowed to attend priesthood meetings.
One FLDS father explained the difficulty in his home. “In my case, one son left on his own, but not after a lot of turmoil. I am still working with other children in the home who have been influenced by him as well as others in the home. Three more were asked to leave, but they had a place to go.”
A former member shared their view: “It's a sad commentary that the parents’ responsible for these children allowed Warren Jeffs to intimidate them to act with such indifference regarding their charges. Teenagers are at times difficult to deal with, but patience and lots of nonjudgmental love generally prevail in dealing with the temporary [rebellion] of some teenagers.”
Once gone, these boys are shunned if they are seen or try to return. Gideon Barlow said, ''I couldn't see how my mom would let them do what they did to me.” When he tried to visit her on Mother's Day, he said, she told him to stay away. When he begged to give her a present, she said she wanted nothing. ''I am dead to her now."
It is sad that these boys are never accepted back into their families. “I believe that some of them would have made their way back to home after ‘testing the waters’ had they been welcome and loved. Some parents tried to show love to their wayward sons and were threatened publicly with losing their families and being kicked out themselves if they continued to welcome back their sons.”
A young man wrote, “I don't even consider myself a ’Lost Boy.’ I've never even touched drugs, and I've been off alcohol ever since I left Colorado City. And yet FLDS kids who still live there will go out and drink, watch disgusting movies and then come to work the next morning down here (St. George) and look down upon others and put themselves so high above everyone else on earth that they can't even give a friendly smile, or ‘lower’ themselves enough to shake my hand when offered.”
Many of these “lost boys” now blog on the Internet. Here is a story from one of them. “I was 18 when I was told that I had to be out of town by nightfall, and had no financial assistance whatsoever. It was like being abandoned in a new world. Some boys have been asked to leave there at 14-17 years of age, which makes it harder to get jobs out in the real world, or get around, or do anything with courts or schools because you have to have your legal guardian there. Some parents are more caring though and will help their sons find a place to stay, or at least talk to them once in a while and ask them if they are doing OK. But for the most part the people that still live in Colorado City and are still controlled by Warren's radical fanatical behavior and treat the "Lost Boys" with disgust and won't even talk to you when you walk up to them to just give them a friendly ‘hello.’”
“My offense was stating my opinion of how I felt about what Warren was doing to the people that I grew up around and cared about. My offense was owning a cell phone. My offense was talking to a girl on my cell phone. My offense was listening to Phil Colllins. My offense was watching the DVD sets of the series of "Friends" on a 4 inch dvd player in my closet, because that was my only private retreat. My offense was wanting to make more of myself and go to college after it was deemed ‘unholy.’ My offense was hanging out with my friends. My offense was talking to girls once in a while just to be social, nothing more. My offense was treating the people that live ‘over the hill’ (Centennial Park Group that split off from the FLDS in the 1980’s) as normal people, and not shunning my relatives from there and ‘treating them as snakes’ as Warren wanted us to do. I could go on and on about these ‘offenses’ I committed while living in Colorado City. All the good I ever did there will never be brought up, because I was just a pawn on Warren's chessboard, and any good I did was his doing, and he was the only one who deserved praise for it. I have nothing against the people of Colorado City. They indeed are good people for the most part, but there are the fanatical leaders who are poisoning the place. I am not looking for any hand outs whatsoever. Some of the "lost boys" do though, and I think it's sad that their parents will just let them rot away like they never existed, not give them any encouragement now that they live on their own, and chose a different lifestyle. A parent's love should never be conditional. It doesn't end when the child moves from the home, and neither should communication. I know that parents of some of my friends won't even answer a phone call from their son.”
Another boy wrote: “I was also kicked out of the communities of Hildale and Colorado City. I am not bitter, in fact it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I am getting an education and moving on with my life. The only bad thing is I can't see my family. I hope that one day they will see the light on the things that are happening. “
Many have tried to reach out to these boys, but it is difficult. This person explained, “We tried to help my nephew who's dad told him to pack his bags and get out....any way he is running as fast as he can to the drugs and alcohol and sex...For right now he is so blind with selfishness because of his "last name" that he expected us to facilitate him in this maddness...We used tough love and he hates us for it. Well, I hope when he has children of his own he will understand why we couldn't or can't help him until he wanted(s) to help himself.”
“Safe Houses” were set up by former members in St. George, Hurricane and La Verkin. Sadly at times these homes evolved into “party houses” attracting other troubled teens to visit from nearby Colorado City.
Dan Fischer, a former FLDS member, for years has been assisting FLDS who have left or been forced out of the culture. The FLDS view him has an evil, bitter, apostate and have charged him with bribing members to speak out against the FLDS. (Dan did offer rides and missed wages for a boy to come to Salt Lake City to make a statement). They say he provides boys with alcohol, and involves them in other evil practices. Fischer certainly has had his share of problems working with these troubled teens, many who don’t want to even follow rules set by Fischer. One boy defends him, “Dan Fischer did not even know those boys had access to alcohol. Should they have been watched more closely? Of course! He seriously is trying to help these boys, even though he can be a little pushy at times.”
Fischer set up the Diversity Foundation, which focuses on helping boys coming from the FLDS. Diversity Foundation helps them get into a house, get an education and generally get balance in their lives.
Here is an example from an FLDS defender regarding their feelings about the Lost Boys. “The ‘Lost Boy's’ term and the ‘dropped off’ stories came from Shem Fischer and his brother Dan Fischer. Dan left the church over a decade ago, and was rather bitter but not until Shem came running to him claiming to having been unjustly fired from his job (his resignation letter said otherwise), did he decide to join the crusade. They filed four lawsuits at the same time, and this was one of them. After the big media campaign and the lawsuits, the underage boys now had a place to hide behind to avoid going home. Just say ‘I'm a lost boy’ Instead of making them go home, the crusaders would ‘protect’ them from the polygamists.”
Are the “Lost Boys” kicked out or do they leave on their own? Both cases happen. The sad part is that a framework of control exists within the FLDS that does not accept boys who question or may waiver in their obedience.