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In 2011, Warren Jeffs, a polygamist religious leader, faced the harsh reality of the law. He was arrested and accused of child abuse, rape and assault on several underage girls, whom he considered his brides. Jeffs led a group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which was a separate sect located near the Utah-Arizona border, separate from the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called Mormons. After a series of legal battles, Jeffs was convicted of numerous felonies and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today. Let’s see what Warren Jeffs’ life is like behind bars.

Polygamy in the FLDS

A defining feature of the FLDS is their practice of polygamy, or plural marriage. While the official LDS church distanced itself from polygamy in the 1890s and now strictly forbids it, Jeffs’ upbringing was steeped in this tradition. Polygamy was deeply rooted in his family for generations. Shockingly, his father, Rulon, reportedly had 50 wives. By 1986, Rulon had been declared the prophet of the FLDS, and as his health declined, Warren Jeffs maneuvered to become his successor. By 2002, after Rulon’s death, Jeffs took over leadership of the sect and moved his branch to West Texas. During this period, allegations of sexual abuse began to surface, initially by two of Jeffs’ daughters during an interview on CNN’s “This is Life” by reporter Lisa Ling.

The accusations are piling up

The accusations against Jeffs didn’t stop there. Over time, more allegations surfaced in various states, including Utah, Arizona, Colorado and Texas. As Jeffs’ FLDS sect moved around to avoid authorities, more and more individuals came forward with statements of abuse. Some were excommunicated young men, but many more were underage girls whom Jeffs had taken as “brides”, and some of them were even related to him by blood. Jeffs maintained strict control over every aspect of their lives, separating the girls from their families and excommunicating any men who dared challenge his authority. It is astonishing to note that Jeffs had “spiritual” or “heavenly” wives, amounting to at least 80 wives and maidens, but none of these marriages were legal.

Isolation from the world

Jeffs was known for isolating his wives, some as young as 12, along with other members of the FLDS sect from the outside world. Some reports even suggest that the abuse began when the girls were just 8 years old. When the authorities finally caught up with Jeffs, he was in Las Vegas, using torch cell phones and wearing a mask. He had significant amounts of money in his possession, which only added to the growing evidence against him. Jeffs’ own detailed records contained troubling statements in which he expressed guilt over his actions.

The decline of Warren Jeffs’ mental health

After Warren Jeffs was on trial, his mental health deteriorated significantly. He was originally convicted in Utah, but the conviction was later overturned. Subsequently, charges were brought against Jeffs in Texas. He decided to act as his own defense, but his performance was marked by inefficiency and incoherence, which further emphasized his instability. Jeffs was eventually convicted in Texas and has been serving a life sentence there ever since.

Disturbing behavior behind bars

Jeffs’ behavior behind bars provides a troubling insight into his deteriorating mental health. As more charges piled up, including a lawsuit against the FLDS’s multimillion-dollar foundation and additional allegations of rape, molestation and sexual assault, court rulings declared Jeffs incompetent to stand trial.

While in prison in Utah, Jeffs attempted suicide by hanging himself. He went on a hunger strike in Arizona, which is why they had to force-feed him. His self-imposed starvation in Texas led to a medically induced coma. A lawyer involved in the Warren Jeffs case noted that “The Foundation has received reports that Warren Jeffs has suffered a mental breakdown.”

Maintaining influence from afar

Despite his life sentence and deteriorating mental health, many FLDS members still consider Warren Jeffs their prophet and leader. In 2012, Jeffs wrote a book titled “The Message of Jesus Christ to All Nations,” aimed at those who continue to follow him. In the book, Jeffs describes his life in prison and warns, as a supposed messenger of God, that retribution will come to those who mistreated his followers and him as their prophet. Despite this, FLDS ranks reportedly dwindled, and the sect lost control of its community in Short Creek.

Continued influence from afar

Conversations between Jeffs and his brothers during prison visits may be secretly recorded. Jeffs can also communicate with his followers through encrypted letters. He reportedly continues to exert influence over the South Dakota-based FLDS sect, which is reportedly led by Jeffs’ other brother, Seth. Warren Jeffs remains ineligible for parole until 2038 and is serving his life sentence at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Louis C. Powledge Unit near Palestine, Texas.

The full story of Warren Jeffs’ life is presented in “Preaching Evil: A Woman on the Run with Warren Jeffs,” available for streaming on Peacock+. Jeffs’ journey from religious leader to convicted criminal raised critical questions about the practices and beliefs of certain sects.

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