From Prairie Dresses to Earrings: Mother and 6 Daughters Leave Warren Jeffs' FLDS for New Life

Inside Suzette Steed's journey to freedom after banishment by Warren Jeffs.

ByABC News
November 20, 2012, 11:23 AM

Nov. 21, 2012— -- On a cool fall night last November, Carling Steed headed home to his three wives and 38 children. Down in the basement, his third wife, Suzette, was talking to her six daughters.

"He just turned to us and he says, 'I've been given my revelation and I never thought this day would come, but I am no longer your father or your priestly head. So, I'm asked to leave and go far off to repent,'" Suzette Steed told "20/20."

For an update on this story, watch "20/20: I Escaped My Life" Friday at 10 p.m. ET

Her husband had just been cast out by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), acting on orders from the imprisoned Warren Jeffs. The FLDS leader still controlled his followers, who lived in Colorado City, Arizona. The Steeds are one of dozens of families split by Jeffs' purges.

There was no warning for excommunication. After his daughter Suzanne, 17, helped him pack, Carling Steed was gone.

Not long after, church leaders told Suzette Steed that she, too, was banished. But she refused to leave her children behind.

Suzette Steed's son Willie said she was banished because she "was one to ask questions."

"She wanted to know where she was going and where her future was," he said. "And there was no future in that, and she knew it. ... She was a woman that stood up to fight for her kids."

Fearing that the rest of the family -- Carling Steed's other wives and children -- would stop them, Suzette Steed and her six daughters secretly slipped out of the house.

With no money, and no means of support, they turned to a group called Holding Out HELP -- a kind of underground railroad for those leaving polygamy. The organization provides access to housing, food, clothing, counseling, mentoring, job training and education.

The organization found them a temporary home in Salt Lake City.

When Ada, 11, prepared for her first day of public school, she had to get up at dawn so her mother could comb her hair into elaborate braids.

"We like to French braid because it helps their hair thicken up," her mother said.

Women in the FLDS never cut their hair. According to their teachings, they will need their hair in heaven.

"We were trained, your hair is your crown and you need to keep it up on your head," Suzette Steed said. "It's a Bible teaching that women will be asked to wash the men's feet [with their hair] as an anointing. And I want to do that."

Eight weeks after leaving Colorado City, Ada was still caught between two worlds. The prairie dress she once wore was gone, but she still hid her body under high-neck, long-sleeve shirts. Yet her mother was disappointed by how easily all her daughters left their old life behind.

"I keep wanting to say, 'Pull your top up, Darling!' Or when there's this little cleavage showing, I'm like, 'Children!'" Suzette Steed said.

Those old-fashioned dresses are all about faith. FLDS women cover up from neck to ankle, because their bodies are considered sacred temples.

But even in a prairie dress, it was always clear that 15-year-old Gloria was a rebel. For her, freedom now took the shape of ordinary teenage life.

"It's really cool," she said. "It's sort of like, you just dance your best move."

Each step she takes suggests a new revelation about what her future may hold. It wasn't like this before they left.

"I never, ever really thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up," she said. "It never entered my mind."

Back in Colorado City, Gloria knew that motherhood was the only horizon. All women in FLDS shared the same goal: having as many children as possible, and living with "plural" wives.