The Peacock docuseries Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run With Warren Jeffs details the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs, who to this day is still the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). He's also their prophet. This is surprising given the fact that on Aug. 9, 2011, Jeffs was convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child and sentenced to life in prison.
Much of the information about Jeffs in the series is provided by his "favorite wife," Naomi Jessop, who was his scribe. She kept a careful log of everything he did and said, which eventually helped authorities once he was arrested.
This story is also about the thousands of people whose lives were impacted by Jeffs, including one of his other wives (he had several) Vicki Thompson and her two children: Sarah Jeffs and Wendell Jeffs (now Jeffson). Distractify was able to speak with Wendell about his time in the church, his relationship with his father, and where he is now.
Where is Wendell Jeffs now?
Growing up in the FLDS, Wendell had a happy childhood. He was surrounded by other children, a large family who loved him, and a community of people who held the same beliefs that he was brought up with. However, beneath this joy there existed an undercurrent of darkness that was fueled by his father, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
Wendell's mother, Vicki Thompson, was Jeffs's eighth wife, and there was nothing she wanted more than to be with her children. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for Jeffs to begin marrying girls who were younger and younger, one even as young as 12.
Members of the church were inexplicably cast out, while some children (like Wendell) were permanently separated from their families and sent to other church locations. Soon, Jeffs would relocate some of the FLDS members from Utah to a new location in Texas he called the Yearning for Zion ranch.
What no one knew then, and what would become clear later, is the fact that Texas was chosen due to its age of consent laws. What Jeffs was doing with underage girls eventually caught up with him, and he was arrested while on the run with "favorite wife" Naomi.
The chaos, confusion, brainwashing, and abandonment Wendell felt as a child is something he's able to speak about now with a fresh perspective. Of course, he had to leave the church first, which wasn't easy.
"To be honest with you, for the first few years my mental health wasn't great, and I think the biggest problem was that I was too proud to really admit that I wasn't in a great space, mentally," Wendell said about getting away from the FLDS with his mother and sister. Something that he strived to do first was really find himself, and try to figure out who he was separate from the church.
"You don't know what to believe. You don't know what your values are. You don't know what is right or wrong," he explained. "You want to take everything that you have had in the past, and you've been taught in the past, and just cast it out, put it in a box. You have to redefine your values."
Of course, in trying to deprogram himself from some of the more toxic teachings, Wendell also opened himself up to some good things as well, such as music. "I really like Imagine Dragons," he said excitedly.
Discovering hobbies and interests is new for Wendell, as is working on his mental health, which he's committed to on a daily basis. All things considered, it was shocking hearing how grounded he is.
"I'm always learning as far as my mental health," he told us. "I'm proud to say I feel like I am doing great now. It took three years to get to where I have that confidence to really build myself to where I can become the person that I have now become."
And who is that person? Well, that person is in love. He's currently engaged to a woman he admits has brought many things into his life, one of which is better fashion choices. They live together and are building the kind of life that Wendell could not possibly have imagined while still with the church. You see, his fiancée is Black, and something Warren Jeffs drilled into Wendell and the FLDS members was the belief that Black people are evil.
Wendell was very frank about working to discard those thoughts and very much enjoys learning about how "amazing the Black community really is." Making the choice to do the right thing is never easy. Wendell has certainly struggled to undo all the damage inflicted upon him by his father's teachings, but it's impressive to witness how one person really can change.
Does Wendell forgive Warren Jeffs?
"I do not agree with anything that he has done, at all. I better not ever agree with it," he said, rightfully angry.
Wendell needs more time to possibly forgive Warren Jeffs, but he also doesn't blame him. "I feel like I'm a stronger and a better person because of those experiences because I haven't allowed myself to be victimized from it," he said.
This is also made clear by the fact that, at some point, Wendell would love to start an organization that helps other FLDS members leave the church. "I want to, in the future, create some outreach resources to help people," he revealed.
Ideally, this endeavor would help former members establish a life outside of the church by doing things like paying college tuition for anyone as long as they maintain good grades. What he really wants them to understand is that they do not need Warren Jeffs to survive. "Warren Jeffs has absolutely no control over them, and they don't need to ask him before they make any life decisions whatsoever," Wendell said. "That's their life."
Wendell can now show them just how good life can be. He's in school and is engaged to a woman he loves. Wendell's heart is full and his mind is open to whatever comes his way. Perhaps he can best be described using the lyrics of Imagine Dragons' "Believer": "Don't you tell me what you think that I could be. I'm the one at the sail. I'm the master of my sea."
Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run With Warren Jeffs is currently available to stream on Peacock.