What Life Inside Prison Is Really Like For Warren Jeffs From Peacock's Preaching Evil

In 2011, polygamist religious leader Warren Jeffs was arrested and charged with child abuse, rape, and assault against a number of underage girls he considered to be his brides. Jeffs' group — The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) — was a splinter sect based on the border of Utah and Arizona, unaffiliated with the mainstream Church of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called Mormon. Jeffs was convicted of multiple felonies and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains to this day. If there was any doubt that Jeffs has troubling mental health issues, those doubts should be put to rest by what Jeffs' life is like behind bars, according to CBS News.

A characteristic of the FLDS is their embrace of polygamy or plural marriage. The official LDS church distanced itself from polygamy in the 1890s, and now prohibits it. Jeffs grew up in the FLDS, though, and polygamy was in his family for generations. His father, Rulon, allegedly had 50 wives. By 1986, Rulon was made prophet of the FLDS. As Rulon aged and became unwell, Jeffs positioned himself as his heir apparent. By 2002, Jeffs' father had died and Warren was in charge of the sect, moving his branch into West Texas. Around that same time, accusations of sexual molestation emerged, first from two of Jeffs' own daughters on journalist Lisa Ling's CNN show "This is Life" (via IMDb).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Jeffs kept detailed records on everything

Shortly after Ling's episode, allegations against Jeffs began to compound, as Biography notes. Over time, more emerged in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas, as his FLDS sect moved around to evade the authorities. Some came from young men Jeffs had excommunicated from his compound, while many more came from underage girls whom he took for "brides." Some were biologically related to Jeffs. He was otherwise known to keep strict control over everything, taking girls from their families and kicking out men who might challenge him. It's believed that Jeffs "wed" at least 80 women and girls, whom he called his "spiritual" or "celestial" wives, per The Guardian. None of these marriages were legal.

Jeffs was known cut off his wives, some of them as young as 12, and other members of his FLDS sect from all contact with the outside world, according to Biography. Some abuse is alleged to have started with girls as young as 8. When authorities caught up with Jeffs he was in Las Vegas, using burner cell phones, and with a disguise. He had many thousands of dollars in his possession. Helping prosecutors build their case against the polygamist FLDS leader were his own detailed records, in which he spoke of his guilt on several occasions.

Jeffs' mental health has declined

Once put on trial, Jeffs was convicted in Utah, but that ruling was overturned. Following that, charges were brought against Jeffs in Texas where he acted as his own defense, with an ineffective and incoherent performance, underscoring his instability. Jeffs was convicted in Texas to life in prison, where he remains.  During his time in prison, Jeffs' behavior underscores his mental health issues. As more and more charges are levied, including a suit brought against the FLDS multi-million dollar trust and further rape, molestation, and sex abuse accusations, court rulings have deemed Jeffs unfit to stand trial (via CBS News).

While in jail in Utah, Jeffs tried to commit suicide by hanging himself, and in Arizona he went on a hunger strike during his time spent in prison. Because of this he was force-fed. Once convicted in Texas, Jeffs again tried to starve himself, and as a result, he had to be placed in a medically-induced coma. In 2019, a lawyer involved in the Warren Jeffs case said, via CBS News, "The trust has received reports that Warren Jeffs has suffered a mental breakdown." 

To this day, members of FLDS consider Jeffs to be their prophet and leader. The complete Warren Jeffs story is told in "Preaching Evil: A Wife on the Run with Warren Jeffs," which begins streaming April 26 on Peacock+. The trailer is available on YouTube.