This morning we listened to two hours of harrowing testimony from a 29 year-old man, Truman Oler, the son of Dalmon and Memory Oler of Bountiful. Tall, bespectacled and shy, he spoke as follows:-
“My Dad had six wives and my mother had 15 children. I have 46 siblings, and I cannot put names to all of them – there were too many of them. Winston Blackmore is my uncle. We lived close to Bountiful, and had the biggest house at the time for most of the wives and children. Other wives and children would move into and out of the house from time to time, but we stayed put. My mother was always very remote and unapproachable.
The Priests talked a lot about how we could get to God – how blessed we were to be living there – how well off we were. Children were trained in church doctrine day in and day out, every minute of every day – give your heart and soul to the Prophet. Men looked up to the Prophet (Rulon Jeffs at the time) and the Bishop (Winston Blackmore). You had to check in with the Bishop about everything – he was the #1 man in polygamy in Canada.
A girl was taught that it was a woman's job to get married, have kids, do whatever a man told her to do, and she was taught to want to have children and to look after a man in every way. She was taught to want to get married because she needed it to get into heaven. A man needed at least three wives in order to be able to get into heaven, though he had no choice in who his wives would be. Each was assigned to him. Both church and school taught us these things all the time, and we had to obey. If we didn't live this way, we would be damned to hell forever.
If you gave a lot of money to the church, and behaved yourself otherwise, you had a good chance for a wife. It happened at about 18 or 20, and you had to take anyone assigned to you. If you refused you were kicked out. Obedience was the most important thing.
Our commands came down from God to the Prophet and then to the Bishop who delivered them to everyone else. Looking back now I realize that Winston Blackmore had a lot to do with this but I don't know how he made the choices. We were to stay away from all outsiders. We were the only people on the face of the earth who were going to be raised up to heaven at the end of the world.
There was quite a lot of travel between Bountiful and Colorado City. There was a conference each April in Colorado City and other meetings in the U.S. Girls were sent from Bountiful to the U.S. for marriage and girls come to Bountiful for the same reason. Family members could travel to meet up with others in their family. Colorado City kids also came to Bountiful for a reform mission, if they were troublemakers down south. They needed a strong person to watch over and guide them constantly.
In Colorado City I was sitting on the fence about religion trying to figure out which way I wanted to go. I attended all the meetings, stayed on the straight and narrow path. I even had a talk with Warren Jeffs. To get away, I told them I was needed for a logging crew in Bountiful. I was 18 years old. I came home shortly after.
While I was growing up, I don't remember spending time with my Mother, because she was a schoolteacher and that took up all her time. I don't remember any hugs with anyone. I did work with my Dad around the farm, and I do remember a couple of birthday celebrations, but things like that were usually not special. I do remember Dad's wives quarreling and bitching a lot. Wives treated the children of other wives differently from their own.
I went to school until Grade 9. It being a religious school we didn't get any practical education. I was never told what I would need to get into college, nor to think about a career. The mentality of most boys was 'what do we need school for?' At school we had classes on religion every day. Young boys and girls were taught in the same classroom, but when they got older boys and girls had to sit on opposite sides of the room. We were told never to be alone in a room with a girl. Brothers and sisters were never to be alone in the same room.
After Grade 9 I went to work for Winston Blackmore. Girls went on to Grade 10 and then were assigned to marry a man chosen for them. Winston Blackmore had businesses making posts and poles, and logging, farming, hay production, dairy, and for a little while a grocery store. I worked full-time outdoors and in the mechanics shop. But at 16 or 17 I wanted to be with people my own age. I asked permission to join the hockey team, but that was denied. After that I didn't want to stay around Bountiful. I went to a community in Sundrie, Alberta, to some other Oler boys. I was told that my mechanical skills were too good to be used on making fence posts so I worked as a mechanic for 3 or 4 years. I lived in one of the crew houses that were there for all the Bountiful boys.
I was expected to pay tithes, and one time I had to pay half my paycheck to the church for three months for its taxes. I was told “If you can” - but if you didn't pay there were questions asked. Sometimes my Mom would help with payments.
When the schism happened [after the death of Rulon Jeffs], there was terrible upheaval among the families. Warren Jeffs declared himself the new Prophet, and accused Winston Blackmore of doing something wrong and so demoted him from Bishop. Family members on both sides were not allowed to talk to each other. It was a real upset. Winston Blackmore told his people that they could wear jeans, and he did not follow the same rules as Warren Jeffs.
I asked my brother how I could get a wife and he told me to take that extra step (i.e. become a more worthy member, tithe etc.). And that's when I decided to leave Bountiful. Growing up, you never saw yourself leaving, so it was a huge step for me. I saw other boys having to leave everything behind and I knew I'd have to do that, leave my family behind. Not knowing where to go …... and there's no going back. Grandma said she would always help me. To reject the teachings of the one and only true church – I thought I'd be going straight to hell. At Bountiful it was not common for people to leave.
I am slowly coming out and learning how to deal with the real world and with real people. “Out” has changed me so much. I spend time with my three sons. I can't see why they have so many children [at Bountiful] if they don't care for them This church took away the thing that makes us human – my life. I just don't understand. I give my wife a little break in her day.
I have little contact with the people in Bountiful."
My Comment: - Throughout his testimony Truman was on the edge of control, and many moments became agonizingly prolongued as he struggled to control his emotions. He is 29 years old, and is still terribly fragile emotionally. It was a huge effort for him to give this testimony, and we in the courtroom were willing him to be strong. Several times, as the tears fell, Judge Bauman asked him if he needed a break, but he said no and struggled on.
At the end of his testimony, when he said “Out has changed me so much”, I looked at him long and hard, and I could swear I saw the lost, hurt, five-year-old who still lives within. The tears were falling, his lower lip trembling, his eyes by now red – but he sat straight in his chair looking over to his questioner, as if to show that he would not give in to the terrible hurt he felt.
After he left the witness box he walked towards me, and I reached out and touched his arm. “Thank you for your courage on this day,” I said.