Roy Jeffs: Why I left my father's church

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    Roy Jeffs, left, and his sister Becky speak publicly for the first time on "This is Life with Lisa Ling"

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Roy Jeffs, left, and his sister Becky speak publicly for the first time on "This is Life with Lisa Ling" 02:29

Story highlights

  • Roy Jeffs is the son of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the FLDS, a polygamous sect
  • Warren Jeffs is serving life in prison for the aggravated sexual assaults of two girls
  • Roy left the FLDS about 19 months ago and he's transitioning to a world that he was taught is sinful

(CNN)Talking to Roy Jeffs, you might think he's just like any 23-year-old: He's working a construction job, trying to save up for a car. He's taken a couple of college classes, but he's not sure college is worth all the effort.

He's met a few young women through his Tinder account, and gone on a few dates -- nothing serious.
But underneath the normalcy of his life lie a pain and confusion that few can understand, gnawing at this young man as he adjusts to a world he was taught is sinful and evil.
    Roy Jeffs was born and raised in the isolated fundamentalist Mormon community in Short Creek, along the Arizona-Utah state line, under the strict rule of his father, the so-called prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, Warren Jeffs.
    About 19 months ago -- acting on what he described as "an impulse" -- he walked away.
    "I left on my own," he said from his new home near Spring Creek, Nevada, about 250 miles west of Salt Lake City. He shares an apartment with his brother-in-law, another so-called "apostate," a term for those who have left the FLDS.
    Roy is still getting used to making his own decisions about his life.
    "When I first came out, it was nice to feel that way. ... I remember standing there, just staring at myself in the mirror, just in shock forever, just sitting there like, 'Oh my God, I can choose.' But at the same time ... because I was so used to being told 'You can do this, you can't do this' ... I wanted somebody to tell me what to do.
    "It was terrifying."
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    A life-changing repentance mission

    Roy Jeffs can thank his father for giving him his first taste of the outside world.
    One of the punishments for breaking the rules within the FLDS community is to be put to work on "the crew" -- a construction team made up of fundamentalist Mormon men who work for businesses usually owned by other FLDS members.
    The jobs are often in different states and can last for several months.
    "Usually when they send you out on the crew, at least for me, it was considered a repentance mission -- so I was there to earn money for the priest and repent and become worthy to go onto one of their sacred lands," Roy explained. "(But) it never really works."
    That's because the restrictions that would apply in the FLDS community are harder to enforce on the job sites.
    "I was living in Wyoming, Texas, Kansas -- you're out there, you have a little more freedom."
    Roy Jeffs and some of the other young men on the crew would secretly listen to music and watch movies -- actions that were forbidden back home and would have gotten him in trouble with his crew chief as well.
    This "repentance mission" was more than an attempt by Warren Jeffs to punish Roy: The prophet was isolating his son.
    Warren Jeffs with his son, Roy Jeffs
    "Normally if you're the son of the prophet ... you're running errands for the bishop, or you're right-hand man to some high-up authority," Roy Jeffs explained. "To be able to work out on a crew and to be the prophet's son was kind of degrading, and so I couldn't keep friends there for very long. ... Everybody just looked at me like I was untrustworthy."
    Roy Jeffs is one of more than 60 children that Warren Jeffs fathered with some of his estimated 78 wives. The elder Jeffs is serving a life sentence, plus 20 years, after he was convicted in 2011 of the aggravated sexual assaults of a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl who Jeffs claimed were his "spiritual wives."
    Despite his imprisonment, Jeffs is still firmly in control of the 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The FLDS is a breakaway Mormon sect that openly practices polygamy, something the mainstream Mormon church renounced more than a century ago.
    Roy Jeffs said his father's relationship with each of his children depended on whether he favored the child's mother. Roy says his mother was not one of the favored wives.
    Roy left the FLDS community in February 2014, still believing his father was the true prophet despite being imprisoned for heinous crimes against children. For the first time, Roy Jeffs revealed to "This is Life with Lisa Ling" that he was sexually abused by his father.
    CNN reached out to Warren Jeffs' attorney who did not have an immediate response from his client.
    When asked why he left the FLDS community, where his mother still lives, Roy said he needed to escape the isolation his father forced upon him.
    "In there, I wanted to be able to have a life and to talk to family, and that just would never happen," Roy explained. "The harder I tried, the further away they pushed me from contact with anybody."
    His older half-sister Becky, who has also left the church and also alleges that her father sexually molested her, explained it this way:
    "What I've seen of Roy is a boy that has tried with all his might to please his father, and never could be completely accepted by him," she said on CNN's "This is Life with Lisa Ling."
    "Father excluded him from the other boys and I didn't ever know why."
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    'A flicker of hope'

    Roy's decision to leave the fundamentalist Mormon community in Short Creek meant walking away from his mother, a topic that's difficult for him to think about.
    "It hurts a lot because she was ... the only person that, when the rest of the family was pointing their fingers at me, she was the only person that loved and cared about me and didn't say 'You're terrible,'" he said.
    He doubts his mother would leave the community while Warren Jeffs is still prophet because "she's been probably the most loyal to my dad (even though) he's put her through hell."
    He counts himself as lucky because, unlike many other fundamentalist Mormon children in his family, he wasn't separated from his mother until he was 14 -- three days after Warren Jeffs' arrest in 2006.
    "I worked with her every day, I spent every day, all day with her. We did landscaping, we did gardening," he said. "A lot of children in our family didn't get to spend that much time with their own mother."
    Roy says he's hopeful that he might see his mother again.
    "Maybe in 10 years ... some of them will finally come to their senses and realize what's been happening, maybe she'll come out," he said.
    Roy said he would also like to see his father again, to talk to him in the hope of helping him to change.
    "I can see with how crazy my dad's getting, with all his revelations (and) weird rules ... they're so brainwashed by how my dad is, and I worry sometimes that it could end up in a mass suicide because of how much control he has."
    "I would love to talk to him now. I'm a lot more comfortable with myself as far as knowing what he's done and knowing where I stand and what I feel about life," he said.
    "He's my father, I respect him for that, but ... there's a flicker of hope that if I talked to him, he'd come to his senses."