I have been reading the book “My Story”, which narrates the story of Elizabeth Smart. Even though I generally take the advantage of my quiet time on airplanes to do work or to write, this time I decided to go into a bookstore at the airport. Two books caught my attention and I bought them. I bought “My Story” because I could still remember when Elizabeth Smart had been kidnapped from her home. It happened while I was on my leave of absence in the US. I followed the story. Being a mother myself, I could only relate to the grieve the mother of Elizabeth could be suffering. I prayed for Elizabeth and for her family. I still remember thinking how beautiful she was. It saddened me to think that there was so much evil in the world. Elizabeth seemed to have a nice and loving family…She seemed to be happy…They believed in God…She played the harp…Such a celestial instrument…and still…it had happened to her. When they found Elizabeth after almost a year, I remember how happy I was. I rejoiced thinking of her and her family getting reunited. However, I was saddened to learn what she had gone through and, again, I could not understand how she had been so close to her house…so close to being released from her captors, and how she had not screamed for help.
Now, reading this book, which was extremely easy to read, I can understand it perfectly well. Moreover, having gone through hard times myself and having felt fear, having seen how fear can affect strong people, and how innocent and pure individuals can be manipulated, I was impressed to read in the book thoughts that Elizabeth had, which are similar to thoughts I have had. Even though the circumstances are completely different, some common factors are fear, manipulation and psychological abuse.
From the book, it is obvious that many people have thought many of the things I have thought. I have always wondered if there are any thoughts I have which have not already been thought by someone else before me…
One of the questions that comes to mind when you learn about Elizabeth’s kidnapping is, why did she not scream, run or seek for help more actively, when she had the chance? The answer in the book is very clear..She was afraid…Not only was she afraid…She was terrified…and she had become completely submissive to the point where even though she hoped to be freed, she could not do much about it…Well…in fact…she did a lot…She prayed…she had hope…she had gratitude…she was determined…and she stayed alive…But…one still wonders…Why if she did all of that did she not scream for help when she had the chance?…Again…the answer is…She was afraid…And fear paralyzes…
Of course she had other mixed emotions…Embarrassment, shame, despair, fatigue, pain…She was the victim, but she still felt that her worth had been tossed…she wondered if people remembered her…she wondered if she was still loved…She felt like a slave…It is so sad to think that an innocent victim of evil can have such feelings of herself…As a society there is no doubt that there are many things that we need to correct and that is one of them…Victims should be supported, strengthened, loved and cared for. Everyone should know that a victim has the right and the duty to denounce the offender. This should be taught in the schools and at home. Everyone should be trained to protect the victim and accuse the offender.
Notwithstanding all the mixture of feelings, the one that paralyzed Elizabeth and prevented her from screaming for help was fear…Fear that Brian David Mitchell, the man who claimed to be a prophet of God, who told her she had been chosen to be his second wife of seven, who raped her, who manipulated her, who forced her to go against her own beliefs, and who was a lazy, lier, heartless man would kill her and/or would kill her family.
She indicates that she felt her only hope for escape was that she would be put in a situation where someone else could save her. The process had to be completely out of her control. It could not be her fault. She could not contribute to her own rescue in any way. Otherwise, Mitchell would hurt her…This is what happens to alienated children…They are screaming in their hearts to be rescued…They are screaming in their hearts but they can not exteriorize what they are feeling. Elizabeth, when in public, with her veil on, would scream in her mind…but no one heard her…
How confusing must it had been to have morning devotionals, sing hymns pointedly focused on God, read the scriptures and pray daily with Mitchell and his first wife, Barzee, to then be raped by her captor and later on be reminded that she was very lucky because he had brought her out of sin and out of the ugly world…How terrible must it have been to be waiting for Mitchell to bring the water and the food Elizabeth so much needed and waited for…How awful must it have been to start believing some of the things that lier told her, having lost any contact with the real truth…Elizabeth describes Mitchell and Barzee as two malicious and self-serving people who justified their own behavior by twisting the truth…This is an amazing description…How many people are fooled daily by others like Mitchell and Barzee?…How many people can be like Mitchell, calm and cool, and show no sign of panic or deception , speaking softly and acting confident and sure, while being interrogated by policemen and having a girl who has been kidnapped and raped right there listening to how he lies saying that that girl is his daughter? How many people can consider themselves ministers of God while doing evil things?
Mitchell had some writings that contained his blessings and revelations…Among them was the commandment that he should take seven wives. Elizabeth narrates how he referred to the fact that they had to be young girls. He later said that would be the only way they would be malleable enough for him to control them…
Elizabeth indicates how she felt like a caged animal. The good thing is she realized that…There are many people who live as caged animals and never realize it.
Notwithstanding everything that Mitchell did , Elizabeth indicates that she did not suffer the Stockholm syndrome and she did not bond to her captors. Even though Mitchell tried to make her think that he was her friend, that he cared about her, that he wanted her to be happy, and manipulated her to make it harder and harder for her to remember her old life, or to worry about her family…Even though he indoctrinate her, she did not get attached to him. However, she does recognize that she did fall under his control. In her story, she makes some of the following statements that evidence how she felt and what she thought. “There was no way I could have endured this abuse without falling under his control.” She also writes, “I had reached a point where I wasn’t able to fight them any longer. Whatever they told me, I simply did. I had lost every ounce of dignity. Every ounce of pride. Every sense of my inhibitions.”… “The soul that lived inside me had been pushed so far down that everything I did was simply go through the motions.”… “I woke up the next day face down in my own vomit…Words can´t explain how humiliated and disgusted I felt…”…In this occasion, Mitchell had told her, “You know, this is symbolic of where you are spiritually, he mocked with glee. My little Esther (he had changed her name to Esther or Shearjashub) face down in her own vomit! That is where you are now”… “I was young and totally brainwashed about how the safety of my family was my responsibility.”…”Psychologically, I was tattered.”…“Mitchell was the master and I was the slave. I was also terrified of making him angry.”
It is incredible what a smart lier, expert in manipulation and indoctrination, can do with the mind of an intelligent and pure young girl. I believe that age does not necessarily make a difference in this type of situations. Barzee, Mitchell´s first wife, was also subject to his control and would allow Mitchell to abuse Elizabeth without interfering. I am not justifying Barzee and maybe she her nature was evil, like Mitchell´s, but I do wonder whether when she met Mitchell she was like she was when she met Elizabeth.
At some point, there was no need for Mitchell to cable Elizabeth to the trees again. She had reached the point where she was being held captive by Mitchell´s words… “His words were stronger than any chains or cables could ever be”, Elizabeth writes…As she herself indicates… “those with shattered souls find it very difficult to speak.” …She was way beyond ever trying to argue with him…
So much suffering, so much humiliation, so much submission, so much confusion…so much fear…As Elizabeth indicated almost at the end of the book, one of her blessings was that her captors were totally unknown to her. They were not relatives or close friends, like in many other cases of abuse. She could just continue her path without ever having to see or care for them again.
Elizabeth followed the wise advice of her mother. She moved forward with her life and she did not allow what Mitchell had done to her to stop her from being happy. She decided to live. She enjoyed herself. She created a Foundation to help others who have gone through traumatic experiences and she got married. The nightmare was over…In the meantime, Mitchell and Barzee were in jail. They faced the law and they were sentenced. Barzee to 15 years in federal prison and one to fifteen years at the Utah State Prison, concurrently, and Mitchell to life in federal prison which does not give him a chance for parole.
If you believe in miracles, you will see many throughout the story narrated in this book. If you believe that there are no “coincidences”, and that there are only “God incidences”, and that God can turn evil into good, you will be able to understand how, notwithstanding the long and terrible desert Elizabeth went through, she was always protected. She felt it throughout her suffering. She felt that incomparable protection that makes you feel warm when it is cold…that gives you living water when you are extremely thirsty, that feeds you when you are starving and that gives you a peace that surpasses all understanding regardless of the circumstances that you are living. The story was already written…Love will prevail o’er evil at the end!