Netflix’s docuseries titled ‘Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey’ delves into the religious practices of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With Warren Jeffs as their prophet, underage marriage and child abuse were rampant, in addition to polygamy. On the show, Elissa Wall talks about her experience while she was part of the church. In 2001, she was married to her cousin against her wishes when she was only 14. But a few years later, Elissa’s voice was instrumental in bringing the horrific things transpiring within the FLDS compound to light. So, let’s find out more about her then, shall we?
Who is Elissa Wall?
Elissa Wall grew up with 13 siblings born to Sharon and Lloyd Wall, with one of her sisters being Rebecca Wall. As a child, Elissa recalled her day starting with helping her mother bake bread before attending religious school, with Warren as the teacher. She said, “No matter what age you were, you were expected to attend and take notes. It was a very religious education. Every aspect of history was spun differently. They didn’t believe in evolution, and we were taught that dinosaurs came from a different planet.”
When Elissa was not in class, she would listen to tapes of sermons delivered by Warren. While she didn’t realize it at the time, she later maintained that it was brainwashing, adding, “If you take a person, strip them of all identity, all emotions, then, yes, that’s what it was.” When Elissa turned 14-years-old in 2001, she was told she had been chosen for marriage. Elissa remembered being shocked but, at the same time, thinking, “Wow, somebody finally noticed me.”
But soon, Elissa realized that she wasn’t ready for marriage at all and pleaded with Warren to give her a couple of years to prepare herself. However, nothing changed, with Warren reportedly telling Elissa that it was her duty to get married. In April 2001, Warren conducted a ceremony at a motel in Nevada, where a 14-year-old Elissa was forcibly married to her 19-year-old first cousin, Allen Steed. Talking about it, Elissa said, “I was trapped. I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I did not want to go through with this marriage. I felt, honestly, what it was like to die.”
What followed were years of hell for Elissa, with Allen raping and sexually assaulting her several times. During her marriage to Allen, she had four miscarriages and gave birth to a stillborn baby. Since Elissa had no sex education at school, she never expected all of this to happen. Elissa added, “I’d been taught to think of men as ‘poisonous snakes,’ so being exposed to marital relations was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. I probably had the innocence of a nine-year-old, and that was brutally shattered. It broke a piece inside me that I don’t think will ever be completely healed.”
To avoid Allen, Elissa said that she would sometimes sleep in her car, and during one such night, she met Lamont Barlow, an ex-member of the church. In 2005, the two ran away, starting their own life together on the outside, away from the church and all the abuse. However, the adjustment was not easy for her. Apart from learning how to make money, Elissa had to figure out what to wear and how the world worked.
Where is Elissa Wall Today?
Elissa eventually went to the authorities to report her forced underage marriage. This led to charges against Warren, and she testified how he was responsible for the marriage. She said, “This intense, burning, consuming anger affected my daily life for a while. Then I realized that by being angry, I was allowing them to control my life. It’s not that I’m not angry anymore, but it’s that I needed to get past it because it’s so exhausting to carry it with you everywhere you go.”
While Elissa’s testimony was crucial, Warren’s conviction was overturned before he was convicted of sexually abusing underage girls. Elissa also wrote a book about her experience titled ‘Stolen Innocence.’ In September 2017, a judge ordered Warren and the church to pay her $16 million in damages. Earlier, Elissa had also received $2.75 million in cash and property from a trust that owned most of the land in Short Creek, straddling the Arizona-Utah border, where some of the church members resided.
Elissa hoped to use the money to help others like her that left the sect. While Elissa had two children, Tyler and Emily, with Lamont, she has since divorced him. Elissa currently lives in Hildale, Utah, raising her kids (now in their teens) and running her online alternative clothing store for babies. In 2019, she filed to run for the Hildale City Council.
Read More: Where Are Lloyd and Myrna Wall Now?