The pains of hunger never leave. They are as constant as breathing. If considered worthy, they are rationed food once a week and only allowed to eat one meal a day. There is no personal property. All is owned by the religious leadership. Even their children are considered property of the church. A young girl commonly becomes the next wife of an old man before she's old enough to receive a learner's permit. Sexual molestation and rape are the norm.
Children are commonly taken from parents for the purpose of slave labor. They are told what to wear. They are told who to marry. They are manipulated with terror and indoctrinated to fear the outside world. They live under constant video surveillance. Local law enforcement is hopelessly corrupt, under the control of the religious leadership. This is life in Colorado City and surrounding Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) communities, outposts of merciless totalitarianism dotting the Utah/Arizona border.
When boys are old enough to become sexual competition for old men they are discarded. When community members can't find a way to stay in the good graces of leadership they are exiled. When the burden is too great to bear, when members are finally able to swallow their angst to leave on their own, there is no one to whom they can turn.
Penniless. They have only the clothes on their backs. Many have little more than a 6th grade education. Few have marketable skills. They don't know who the president of the United States is. They don't know how banking works. They speak English but don't know the language of our culture. They are robbed of dignity. They are robbed of education. They are robbed of hope.
These stories might be easier to stomach if they came to us from far-off places. Distance can soften the realness of it. Disbelieving that we will ever meet these people, not allowing the thought that they'll walk our streets or mingle with our children at the park, we insulate ourselves from the urgency of it.
We are a refugee-taking country, not a refugee-making one. The unflinching truth that we must come to terms with is that these are Americans. These are our people. These innocent ones were born under the shadow of our flag. They were born into the promise of our Constitution.
It's understandable that many reading this may wonder if these claims are, indeed, true. More can be read about the towns, fiercely controlled lifestyle, sexual abuse and more. Some of it may be hard to digest, but the cost of apathy or willful ignorance is too great to bear.
This reality lacks the grotesque horror of dissenters losing their heads to a madman's blade. Yet, at the core this is the very same evil that grips our national attention as we watch it suffocate nations around the globe. Somehow, for reasons that aren't all too clear, this has evaded our notice. Somehow, it has been twisted into barely palatable shows on cable networks for our entertainment. Audiences are amused, troubled or both. Yet, when the show is over and scenes forgotten these waking nightmares continue.
These aren't the stories of the naive who willingly joined a lunatic's cult. They are not guilty of being foolish, nor unintelligent. They are guilty of being born in the wrong place. They didn't gullibly choose this tyranny. They can no more be held responsible for being born under a dictatorship than we can take credit for being born free. The devastating irony is that these inhumane communities have found safety in a nation that prides itself on freedom and certain unalienable rights.
Some are quick to ask, "How can our local and state governments allow this to take place?" Finding that answer has proved challenging and is possibly more complex than we'd care to admit. Though it's a valid question, there are better questions. How long will we allow this to endure? How long will we wait for someone else to do something about it? When is enough, enough?
Some have become aware and refuse to allow the cries for mercy to go unanswered. Undaunted by the magnitude the crisis, there are organizations like Holding Out Help. They serve these American refugees with the resources necessary to meet physical, emotional, and educational needs. By offering help and resources like housing, food, clothing, counseling, mentorship, job training and education, the goal is to offer hope and knowledge to bring about self-sufficiency. Their efforts are heroic, but even heroes can't stand alone.
When roused from our ignorance and our attention fixed, we are a people who've proved relentless in our response to inequality. We refuse to knowingly tolerate even isolated acts of injustice. The veil of ignorance has been torn. The unwanted truth now stares us squarely in the face. What will our response be to the American Refugees?