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Irene Spencer Speaks

 Irene Spencer is a former plural wife, and the author of two fascinating books detailing her colorful and sometimes tragic life: New York Times bestseller Shattered Dreams, and Cult Insanity. For twenty-eight years, she was the second wife of prominent polygamist leader, Verlan LeBaron, and almost single-hand-idly raised thirteen children for his "kingdom in heaven." She is also an old friend who has given me the honor of this interview for my website.

Kim: Irene, you are the author of two books about the polygamous lifestyle you once lived, one of them being a New York Times best seller. I consider you an expert. You are well acquainted with other polygamist groups and personally know people involved with them. Your parents were polygamists and you married into plural marriage at a young age and stuck with it for quite some time. Would you care to elaborate about your background?

Irene: I feel that I'm qualified to talk about polygamy because I'm a product of five generations of Fundamentalist Mormons who broke the law of the land to live what they deemed a higher law of God. My polygamist father had four wives at the time of my birth.  I was the thirteenth of my father's thirty-one children.  Though we were "Independent" polygamists who never joined a specific group, we grew up associating with various polygamous factions and were well acquainted with most Fundamentalist. I married my sister Charlotte's husband, Verlan, at the age of sixteen. I was the second of his ten wives.

Kim: You deeply believed you were doing the right thing at the time, and made many sacrifices for what you thought was a higher calling. Looking back, what was the hardest part of being a plural wife?

Irene: The hardest part of being a plural wife was that I felt like just a number.  I was lonely, needy and seeking validation.  I longed for a relationship where my husband valued me.  One where he and I  would display our love and commitment.  That was impossible because other wives were always there to spoil your moment.

Kim: You were very poor during your marriage to Verlan LeBaron. Do you think if you had been provided with a more comfortable living arrangement, you would have been happy living polygamy?

Irene: Money would have made a world of difference.  It would have limited the jealousies of seeing another wife's needs met, while you were overlooked.  The pain ran deeper than "money", I was looking for validation.

Kim: I know personally that you loved your children dearly, and worked hard to care for them but, as a result of the polygamous lifestyle, what was missing from their lives ?

Irene: The love and council from their father, not being validated by him, and very few of their needs were met.  They also  suffered when they saw my unhappiness.

Kim: Opinions about polygamy have changed since you were a young girl, and children of polygamists are not as likely to be persecuted. In general, what problems do you think children raised in polygamy still face?

Irene: The modern day polygamist's children do not see any benefit in polygamy. They too, are lost in the crowd of needy siblings.  These kids resent the fact that they are like notches on their father's belt.  Religion glamorizes the principle, while in reality they experience  the burden of too much responsibility

Kim: How did the polygamous lifestyle affect the men you knew who lived it? In what ways did it change them?

Irene: Most men were also victims.  They "bit off more than they could chew".  I saw their pain and disappointment when it was impossible to fulfill the needy cries of their wives and children. Most of them were overwhelmed and filled with guilt, knowing it was impossible to extend themselves so far. Many of them drank to ease the pain and distanced themselves from their families.  In spite of these drawbacks, they pursued and wooed other women to make themselves feel virile and worthy to become gods.

Kim: Like you, I'm sure some of the young girls you knew had idealistic ideas about entering into polygamous relationships. Did the idealism about becoming a plural wife, and the reality of actually living plural marriage ever match up in your observations?

Irene: Absolutely not!  As women we were promised that we'd become goddesses and own a planet along with our husbands who would be Gods. There, we'd pop out babies throughout all eternity and experience great joy.  After twenty-eight years of polygamy as the second wife among my husband's other nine wives, I finally realized that I was living in a mentally abusive hell! My idealism crumbled when I realized that I was, "just a number".  We women were the breeding stock that kept the polygamist cult expanding and alive. 

Kim: Do you know of any polygamous marriages that have lasted into old age?

Irene: Yes, I can count them on my hands.  The part that saddened me was the sorrow and pain etched on the faces of the women.  The absence of joy revealed that the religious sacrifices were just a facade.  Old age only meant that death would soon rescue one from the mental prison which had held them captive for so long.  

Kim: There seems to be a push by modern-day polygamists and the media to influence people to see polygamy as something positive or rewarding. I'm thinking of programs like "Sister Wives", and the new book Love Times Three. The women in these marriages seem to be happy advocates of polygamist marriage. Did you ever speak of polygamy in glowing terms like that? If so, why?

Irene: All women who have been brainwashed into living polygamy become "happy advocates" of the principle.  When you're taught, for five generations as I was, that if you do not live plural marriage you will be "destroyed", then you just smile and try to convince others (and yourself) that it's alright.  I was a vocal defender for years.  I complied, doing my duty and helping my husband court other women.  I did it because I was promised it would secure my salvation. I did it because the other alternative was hell.

Kim: What advice would you give to a woman, influenced by these "happy" wives, who is considering marrying a man who is already married, or to the wife who feels pressured to accept her husband taking other wives?

Irene: Don't be influenced by these "happy" wives!  You deserve a man of your own, you deserve to be loved.  If you  truly love yourself, you will NOT let a man abuse you, either physically or mentally.  You must realize your own worth.  When we love ourselves and make the choices that are right for us, then we become empowered.  You don't forfeit this wonderful life, by allowing a man to run your life into a ditch!  If your husband is pressuring you to let him have another wife, let him, but make sure you get out of  his life forever! 

Kim: What do you say to the man who has become attracted to other women, and wants to marry them?

Irene:  If a man says he is living his religion by entering into plural marriage, he'd better refresh his memory by both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  The Bible forbids a man to marry his wife's sister, and if a man marries a woman and her daughter, they should both be burned.  Yet the Prophet Joseph Smith married a mother and her daughter. So he ignored the word of God. Then, The Book of Mormon, in Jacob 2:23-24,27 it says: "But the word of the Lord burdens me, because of your grosser crimes.  For thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David and Solomon, his son.  Behold David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, hear me, and hearken unto the word of the Lord, for there shall any man among you have save it be ONE WIFE, and concubines he shall have none."  So, even The Book of Mormon calls it an abominable crime!

Kim: So, why were you afraid to not live polygamy? What kept you from leaving?

Irene:  According to church history, the God of Israel commanded Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints to obey the law of plural marriage, or be damned!  Orson Pratt once said, "Those who oppose the revelation on plural marriage will be in complete darkness, the spirit of God will be withdrawn from them and they will finally go to hell and be damned.  Therefore, those who are taught plural marriage and then reject it will be destroyed!" Those who carried on plural marriage used, false names, disguises  and even lied about it.  They were taught to not talk to strangers and to right-out lie about their situation if necessary.  I am a product of their falsification, my father was given a false name on my birth certificate.  Fundamentalists claim that polygamy is Biblical, yet they don't adhere to the rules set forth in the Bible.  Even Joseph Smith himself married five sets of sisters and a mother and her daughter.

Kim: You are now a grandmother, living in a monogamous marriage. Looking back, what do you most wish you could change about the past?

Irene: I can't change the past, I can only learn from it.  We can not blindly follow old religious dogmas, nor feel required to live the  relic laws because of guilt by association.  Just because my father spent time in prison for polygamy, I refuse to feel guilty or owe him something for his choices.  My past just teaches me that I have a wonderful future ahead of me.  I've risen from a victim to a victor, and have become empowered by listening to  myself.

Kim: Thank you for sharing you experiences and life with us, Irene. I have wonderful memories of you in my life growing up. I know you like to speak from the heart. Looking deep at the lessons you have learned, the wisdom you have gained, is there anything else you would like to share?

Irene:   I'd like to say that I'm thankful for the lessons I've learned in life.  They have opened my mind to think outside"The Box". All this has taught me patience, empathy and love.  I've gained an understanding of how we can allow others to do the thinking and have us blindly follow them.  Then, when we have lost our identity and feel hopeless, we also lose our self-worth.  The greatest lesson I had to learn was to love myself.  Once I realized my worth I became empowered!  Now, no one can ever abuse me either physically or mentally again, and get off with it.  I've found my voice and will shout, "Freedom forever!"  I want to be the voice for every woman who, through fear, has remained silent!

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