Project Runaway: Willy Steed's Life After FLDS Church

The 18-year-old escaped hard labor in a walled-off world to a world of Facebook, fun and fashion.
7:40 | 07/19/13

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Transcript for Project Runaway: Willy Steed's Life After FLDS Church
Over the up isser most teenagers are out having a good time with their friend, three whole months of freedom but for the teenager you're about to meet, that kind of freedom was very rare so how did he make a daring great escape to a world of facebook and tv shows? For over a year our amy robach has been following a story and is back with a very modern makeover. Let's go get the keg. Reporter: This may look like an ordinary teenage rite of passage. Drinking and flirting by the light of a summer bonfire. But these teens are members of a radical religious sect. And attending this secret party is their only escape from the strict rules of their church. There's a reason the young boys go out at night and the young girls go to those parties. It's because they can drink. They can be themselves, and they can put away all that stress. The more beer they drink, the further away the stress goes. Reporter: To attend this party is to become what's called a "son of perdition." Son of perdition means you are satan's property and that you will burn in hell when you leave this life for what you have done. I love you guys. Reporter: For these teenagers, this is only a temporary refuge. But 18-year-old willy steed was determined to escape from the home he says was more like a prison. I realized that I was in the wrong spot and the wrong place and that I needed to get out and be who I was and not who everyone wanted me to be. Reporter: His journey to becoming the confident young man he is today is a remarkable and dramatic transformation. This story of courage begins in a secretive world few outsiders have entered a tiny desert town in arizona called colorado city. It's a hidden world within modern america. To live here is to turn back t clock 100 years. No internet. No television. No contact with the outside world. Willy was once part of a radical splinter group of the mainstream mormon church that practices polygamy. It's called the fundamentalist latter day saints or "flds." On the surface, life seems almost normal. Boys roughhousing along a dusty trail, children cooling off on a hot summer day. A father coaching his children on the finer points of an all american sport. But behind this facade of normalcy is something you can't see. Every aspect of this family's life, what they wear, what they eat, even who they marry is controlled by the man they call their prophet, warren jeffs. Obey the prophet when he speaks, and you'll be blessed. Disobey him, it is death. Reporter: Even after being imprisoned for life for the sexual abuse of young girls, a "20/20" investigation revealed that jeffs still controls every aspect of his people's lives from behind prison walls. It started when he ordered his followers to destroy all their children's toys. At home you couldn't have any toys. You couldn't ride bikes either. I didn't even get a chance to ride mine before I gave it away. Reporter: Over the past two years, he's issued hundreds of increasingly bizarre edicts to his followers. Now it is down that you cannot eat corn. No sex between husband and wife. Reporter: He selected 15 men to father all the children in the community. If a woman wants to have a baby or whatever, she has to go to 1 of those 15 men. But then she has to have two other men with the one of the 15 men in the room to witness. Reporter: Willy agreed to be our guide through the strange and clandestine world that was once his home. Everywhere around us there was stony silence. Is warren jeffs in charge even children are taught to distrust outsiders. No one would answer any questions. Just a simple question. Just trying to find out what are you doing? Excuse me, excuse me. Hello. Willy knew there was no way for him except the flds way, no way out except to run away. It's like -- it's like you're under a wall that's just toppling on top of you but you can't hold it. And just and the church and everything is just feeding that wall with weight. Reporter: He escaped with the help of a group called "holding out help" a kind of underground railroad for those leaving from polygamist groups. They find him a home with pam and ron jenson. The very first thing we start with. Reporter: While helping him write his first resume, pam discovers something shocking. Do you want me to write it down? I'll write it down. Reporter: Willy can't read. Like most boys in the flds, he was pulled out of grade school to work. Did you realize how little you knew? Yes, I did. Being in that religion I knew that I was I was going nowhere. I wasn't growing in life. I couldn't change, because for instance I didn't know how to change. Reporter: But change doesn't come easy. When he starts his first reading lesson, the going is tough. "D." Dodge? Close. Dog? No, no. No, that's right dog and then. Dogs. Good. Reporter: Willy's reading level is that of a 6-year-old child. I should have learned this when I was in first grade. This is good speed, you're doing good. Reporter: Despite that frustration, it's been a year of so many firsts. Whoo! Reporter: The thrill of his first ride on a roller coaster. The triumph of balancing on a wakeboard. The brave new world of facebook. And he's made some new friends who've opened new doors of possibility. Just last month, a photographer spotted his potential and brought him in for a photo shoot. ♪ I'm sexy and I know it ♪ Reporter: Now for the first time he dances to the pop songs that were once forbidden by the flds. Is there a new career on his horizon? Someone saw me for who I was and singled me out and picked me because of that. I all my life never believed in myself. It's so easy for me to get lost in the crowd of family, but out here it's so easy to be seen in a crowd and not get lost. Presents for the birthday boy. Reporter: As he celebrates his 19th birthday, he knows he's come so far. Okay, so you have to read that. Okay, happy birthday soon. Son. Son. Reporter: What have you learned about yourself since leaving the flds? I've learned that I have the guts to stand up for myself, and I learned that I can walk away from life, and I can leave everything behind. if you would like to help boys like willy and other families fleeing the oppression of the flds, go to our web page at summer...

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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