I spent the first twenty years of my life almost completely isolated from society. I had grown up in Mexico in a violent, polygamist cult then came to the US at age seventeen, where I lived in rural Texas and had little contact with other teenagers or outside society.
Life in the cult was a true horror story. My life of recovery, which entailed completely losing my reality and everything I had formerly believed to be true, then reintegrating a new version of truth into my worldview, as well as undergoing long periods of extreme PTSD symptoms, took approximately fifteen years.
What I learned in this journey has not only set me free, but also given me tools to assist others while they walk their own journeys of transformation and/or overcoming extreme life challenges. This has become the thing I am most passionate about.
This “extended bio” is still extremely brief. In order for one to fully appreciate my experience growing up in the cult, then the transition to a new life and later embracing an entirely new reality, one would need many long conversations. Because I cannot have these conversations with each individual, I will need to find a new way to communicate it. For this I am writing a book, and am also beginning a YouTube channel where I talk about my experience and how I’ve grown into who I am today. I hope to share tools and viewpoints that will help others find their own freedom. If you would like to know the general outline of my life, continue reading below.
Early Years – Mexico
I was born in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. My father, Ervil LeBaron, had been running from the law for several years by this point and was hunted by both the FBI and Mexican federales (federal law enforcement/investigators). He was, eventually, captured and sent to the US to be tried, where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I was five years old.
Following his imprisonment, some of his still-faithful wives left for the Mexican desert of Sonora with their children in tow. I was among them. My mother stayed behind, though, for she was responsible for making the money that would support us while we set up long-term camp.
The area where we camped was a ranch which one of my father’s followers purchased a year or so earlier. It was officially named La Joya, but everyone just called it the ranch. It was here that most of the worst things happened. My fathers followers broke into two separate factions, then began using his “blood atonement” doctrine as a basis to kill one another. Those of us who stayed at La Joya were all in one group, and mostly teenagers and small children. We lived in fear constantly, believing that those of the opposite side would show up to murder the adults and kidnap the children. We, therefore, learned how to defend ourselves and use guns, small and large. One day they did show up, but we were well prepared. There were no killings, and the children knew where to run and hide–it was a hill buried in so much cholla cactus that only those who knew how to navigate it could make it through.
After a year or so on the ranch, I, along with my older sister, was taken back to the US to stay with my mother. Here we were not permitted to go to school (nothing new for us), and were made to stay indoors during most of the day, only allowed to venture outside after school hours. Mom woke us up early every morning and gave us Spanish lessons, then left for work and would not return home again until nighttime, sometimes 9pm, sometimes 11 and sometimes we wouldn’t see her until 1am. On many occasions we stayed up waiting, often hiding in a closet or behind a couch so no one from outside could see us through the windows. I was six years old, my sister, 8.
As the religious civil war continued, the energy in the house grew ever more intense. Everything became so scary! We were warned that some of my uncles, (those who would definitely kidnap us), could show up any day. If we heard of someone knocking, then we should run to the back room and call the shop. (All the more reason to hide behind couches!) Then my older brother who was the leader of our small pack, was killed by these uncles and some members of their group. These uncles were my mother’s brothers, and the pressure of the conflict eventually drove her to a mental breakdown. She left home and I never saw her again. The way I reacted to all this was to stop feeling at all. I simply became stone. Shortly afterward my mother’s departure, my sister and I were taken, once again, to live at La Joya.
Back at the ranch, my stone-self could fear nothing. It is possible that this was helped by the simple fact there were no parents around to panic every time I did something risky. Once when I was eight, all the kids were taken on one of our regular excursions to the beach (lucky us, it was just a mile or so away), where would play all day long, collect seashells and build elaborate sandcastles. I was a decent swimmer by this time and felt the strong pull to go into the ocean. I swam and swam and swam, all the while pretending to be a dolphin and attempting to leap the waves as they came at me. It was sheer bliss! By the time I thought to stop and see how far I had gone, the people on the shore looked about a quarter inch tall. I turned on my back and let the waves bring me back home – another moment of bliss! I eventually showed up at shore a half a mile or so south of where everyone else was and walked myself back, picking up sea shells along the way; I then joined someone’s castle building and not a beat was skipped. I didn’t tell the story to anyone because it was a non-story. Not a big deal. There was another time that I thought it was a wonderful idea the walk the circumference of our thousand-acre ranch. I packed my lunch and water and began walking at sunrise. By the time I returned home the sun was going down. Still, no one noticed. Later in my adult life, I couldn’t see why the more responsible members of the family were always freaking out when I did something wild. For example, I could not see why they were worried when I went to live in a war zone in Mexico. Another time I swam in a river in Florida, knowing there were probably alligators in it, yet did not fear them. This, somehow, made family headlines. I didn’t think much of it. The alligators weren’t going to hurt me. I knew it, I felt it, and I enjoyed my swim. End of story.
Eventually our desert hiding place was discovered and the whole family had to abandon the ranch. We lived briefly in a small village in south Sonora, then from there moved to Monterrey, where we took on new identities. It was here in Monterrey, that I got my first job. I was thirteen pretending to be sixteen and got myself hired as an English teacher. I worked for almost a year until the time my older siblings decided to call all this real job business off and go back to extremist cult living. They believed that god was cursing us, as well as the whole world, because of our having “entered the world”. The world, by the way, was this evil thing we could never have contact with, much less join (i.e., have a normal life). Once you do, you are basically dead to god. We did it because all the older siblings were now in prison and we had no way to feed ourselves, but it was still the world. So one day one of the leaders of our small group of teenagers and children, decided we needed to all quit our jobs and trust in god to save us. So I had to quit English teaching and spend most of my days studying, cooking or praying. But god never saved us in the way we thought it had to happen. We were left to our own defenses and ended up being evicted from our home, then having nowhere to go and no money with which to buy food. After a month or so of living off the kindness of a friend, the older siblings decided to go back to work. This was the beginning of the end of our cult. (Talk about thanking god for unanswered prayers!)
I was just about to be fourteen and, because I was the youngest, it fell upon me to stay home and care for the smaller children. All the others had to get jobs. I was reluctant at first, but eventually committed myself to the task and when it came time to send the kids to the US, I went along with them. We landed in a small town in Texas just after I turned seventeen years old. I almost immediately got to work preparing to take the GED test. Because we were strongly encouraged to study throughout my childhood, I was mostly prepared for this exam. After three months of math preparation, I took the test and passed it.
Life in the US
Although the cult was officially called off (and called all kinds of bad words), I was not ready to let go. In fact, I was more committed than ever. I would follow my mother’s footsteps no matter what happened, and I remember being warned that these days would come. The days when “building god’s kingdom” was going to be so hard that most people would quit. I, I said to myself, was not going to be among them. I knew it in the depths of my soul. So here I was, in the states, being a closet extremist ready to do what “god told me to do” at the drop of a hat. Until that moment came, I was just going to blend into society the best that I could. My hidden identity caused me to be unable to connect with anyone or make friends; I thus lived my life in almost total solitude.
Life in Texas was extremely hard. Besides being alone, I also worked full-time at the family business, then would cook dinner for everyone after I got off. The business supported my siblings who had gone to Phoenix to attend college. It also supported all the other kids that lived with us (kids from another branch of my father’s former followers), but my work in it was entirely unpaid. No one had any experience with normal life, so the fact that I was required to do hard labor all day every day for no pay wasn’t anything that anyone saw as wrong. I wasn’t the only teenager working for now pay; in fact, all the teenagers there did hard labor. We were basically building the place we had to live in, and the business supported the effort.
I carried on like this, and only made friends with a few of the mothers who were kind to me. I felt their love and interest in my wellbeing; I also enjoyed visiting them and eating what the fed me. It was the only nurturing I got. Naturally, this was far from inadequate for all that I had already suffered and for the massive life-upending experience I was undergoing. (Regular culture shock is bad enough, but this was a pile of up many shocks, including losing, piece by piece, all the things I had held onto in order to understand reality.) I thus, ended up falling into depression, which increased in intensity over the moths. In the final six months of my life there, everything became heavy. Walking was heavy. My soul was heavy, like a soaked sponge. The smallest things became insurmountable challenges. The only thing that could pick me up was music. I sang while at work, I played piano in the evenings and dreamed of being free. I wanted to bust out of all my cages and be extremely wild, like the most untamable horse in the world. Finally my depart moment arrived. Such a life-saving relief!! I was off to Phoenix to join my siblings in college and began my first semester just as I was about to turn twenty.
This was my first real exposure to the world. The cult was over, and we were all going to college and making friends. Of course, there were moments when some doubted if what we were doing was right, but what was there to do about it? As for me, there was a moment when I had to know exactly what I should do. In my mind, I was still holding out until I got clear direction from god about how to continue building his kingdom. Then one day I had a serious conversation with him, and it changed everything. It went somewhat like this: “Look god, you know that I am ready and willing to do what you tell me to do at any moment, but I don’t know what to do and you haven’t given me any instructions, so, I will do whatever I want to do. The minute you want me to do something else, you can just tell me.” With that I liberated myself to follow my own dreams and passions and there would be no one in the world that could make me do otherwise—not ever again. I began making friends with people from many different countries, learned to dance salsa and got my heart broken by several different guys. One big ‘rebel’ thing I did was to choose music as my major. This was going full-on against all the things my family wanted me to do, and I began to get a lot of flak for it. But music was the greatest love I knew and there was no way on earth I was going to give it up. The world began to be harsh for me again, and again I began to spiral into a deep depression. This one was much deeper than the previous because the ones that I grew up with and whose opinion of me mattered almost more than life itself were now the ones going against me. I remember the moment that I almost had an all-out mental breakdown, just like what happened to my mother the last time I saw her. (Her siblings went against her as well.) I felt something moving in my mind and sensed that I was about to fall into a black hole of unreal reality. In that moment, divine intervention stepped in and told me in clear words to just watch novelas (Mexican soap operas). So I watched novelas every day after work and let everything else fall apart. This saved my sanity. After about six months of this, I decided to leave Phoenix and go to Austin to join my sisters (full sisters) who did not have major opinions on what I did with my life.
Now in Austin, I studied music at the community college, worked in bars and partied like a rock star. I hung out with musicians, practiced singing three hours a day, and of course, found my favorite salsa dancing place. I did this for about two years when I had another major shift. I was at a party, wearing a newsboy cap on backwards (a staple item for me) when someone told me I looked like Che Guevara. “Who is Che Guevara?” The expression on the other person’s face made me feel dark shame enter my body like ink. The next day I committed to myself that I would never again allow this to happen to me and went to the public library to get myself educated on all things Latin America. I check out books in both Spanish and English, as well as dictionaries in both languages and went home to study. As I read, I journaled my thoughts and reactions. As I journaled, new inspiration began to flow through me about social change. After two years of this, I was ready to start my own revolution. Dead serious. Luckily, I didn’t have to because someone else was already doing it – the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. What I did instead was walk out of my life and go live in the jungle with them.
This part was another turning point in my life, because it was there in the jungle, far from everyone and everything I knew that I finally let go of the very last strand of my belief in the cult. I was now twenty-five years old. Once I let go of that strand, my entire reality collapsed in on itself. A couple of months earlier I watched, along with the rest of the world, as the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground. This image would stay in my mind not because I knew or cared about what these towers represented in the real world (I had no idea at the time!), but because of what it represented to me – the collapsing of my own reality.
There is no way to explain this to a person who has not lived it. When what you believe in so intensely and feel great love for, to the point that you will give up your own life, and then you wake up and realize that none of it was real…it was all wrong … what this does to a person is like going crazy, like losing everything you know and the ground you stand on. All things become blank. Total quietness. Total absence of relativity. No grounding point. No truth. When I finally came back to the US, my mind was in a zero-gravity container. Like a person learning to move and speak again after a major brain injury, I was having to re-learn, strand-by-strand, what reality and “truth” was.