“Helping Hands,” by sculptor John Vin Klarek, in front of San Angelo City Hall. to me that she was speaking every night with someone who was giving her instructions about what she could and could not say. Once I answered the phone just as she had picked up the receiver, and I heard an older man’s voice. I hung up. When Abby asked me what I thought of her and of what was going on, I tried to be honest. I told her I didn’t agree with some aspects of her religion, but that I hadn’t invited her into my home to change her. She said she had “chosen” her life as a member of the FLDS. I said that while she might have made that choice, it didn’t appear that the children being raised at the Yearning for Zion Ranch were being given a choice. They were being raised in such an insular and isolated community that they didn’t know they had options. Abby’s immediate response was, “If I have to choose between my religion or my children, I will, without question or hesitation, choose my children.” After a week at my home, Abby came to tell me that someone would pick her up the next day to move her to a rented house in Austin. That night at dinner, she tearfully asked that I “please not forget” her. Hugging her, I assured her I had grown to love her, that she had enriched my life, and that she will always have a place in our home. “I could never forget you,” I told her. The next morning a young man arrived in a large, new SUV. I invited him into the house to help us gather Abby’s belongings. He was respectful and polite. As they left, Abby, the only passenger in the vehicle, tucked herself into the back seat behind the driver. I have seen and spoken with Abby several times since. We e-mail almost every day. Several days after her move, I took her to visit her children at the time appointed by Child Protective Services. When I asked where I should pick her up, she said she would meet me at Costco. She was delivered by a different young man in a van, and Abby, the only passenger, was again sitting in the back. When the visit was finished, she called for her ride, and I dropped her off at a public location where she again climbed into the back seat. A few days later, the day before Mother’s Day, Abby called to ask if she could visit. Delighted, I urged her to come. To my amazement, Abby showed up at my home with her “man” She never referred to him as her husband, but she did tell me he was her daughter’s father. She had explained to me earlier that her son’s father was a different man, from Hildale, who had gotten into trouble with the church. She had been sent to the Yearning for Zion Ranch while pregnant with his son. I would estimate her “man” to be in his mid to late 30s, and he was respectful and kind toward me. Both he and Abby brought me flowers, Abby saying hers were for Mother’s Day. He offered his thanks for the kindness I had shown Abby. My husband asked if he was staying at the ranch. He responded, “No, I am one of the bad guys, so I have had to leave and go a couple of thousand miles away.” I told him that I recognized the courage it took for him to come to our house. And then they left, Abby in her prairie dress, he in his buttoned-up shirt and jeans, walking hand-in-hand up my driveway to their large, late-model truck. This time I didn’t see if Abby climbed into the back seat. The original fervor that fueled my offer of assistance has been modified by this experience. I would take Abby into my home again without hesitation, but I no longer have such clarity of purpose. I am a devoted feminist who has spent almost my entire adult life working for the rights of women and girls, but I have seen how hard it is for the state to impose those rights on unwilling participants. And I have seen how an inept bureaucracy can subvert the best intentions. This debacle is firmly in the hands of a rigid and unbending bureaucracy. Almost everyone involved seems to recognize the inadequacy of the system for dealing with this issue, but no one seems to have the power to fix it. By my count, we must now have more than 600 attorneys involved in this process. Each child has an attorney, and each mother has an attorney. Some have more than one. State agencies, public health systems, children’s and battered women’s shelters, court-appointed special advocates, and many more are devoting resources, staff, and volunteer hours to the issue. All of this in a state that is notoriously stingy when it comes to allocating funds for health and human 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 13, 2008
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