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Elizabeth Smart Says Kidnapper Was A 'Master At Manipulation'
Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 1:08 pm
Elizabeth Smart has the kind of fame no one would want: In the summer of 2002, at the age of 14, she became one of the nation's most famous kidnap victims when she was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, where she lived with her devout Mormon family.
Her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, saw himself as a religious prophet and took her to be his second wife in a polygamous marriage. With a knife at her throat, Mitchell forced her to go with him to his remote camp on a mountain near Salt Lake, where they lived during the first stage of her nine-month captivity.
Smart tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that Mitchell "knew exactly how to get what he wanted. He was a master at manipulation," she says. Smart was raped by him nearly every day, sometimes several times a day. The only other person in their camp was Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, who treated Smart like her slave. Eight years after the police found Smart and freed her, Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years after reaching a plea deal. (Click here to see a timeline of the abduction and its aftermath.)
As for Smart, she's now married and finishing work on her degree at Brigham Young University. She's the head of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which helps prevent crimes against children and educate children about how to protect themselves if they are mistreated by a stranger. Her memoir My Story has just been published.
On the way her kidnappers used religion to justify their behavior
My parents have raised me to believe in a kind and a loving God, and someone who cares about me, who is always there for me, and who would never wish harm or illness or any kind of tragedy upon me. And then here this man and this woman are telling me that actually God has ordained them to do this, and that they have been called to kidnap young girls and that I should be grateful, I should be thankful for what's happening to me.
On the remote camp where Mitchell brought her
It's not far from my home, but it is not an easy climb. ... It is extremely difficult to get there; there are so many trees and close-growing bushes, and you are climbing up a very, very steep incline. ... It's not a walk in the park. ...
I wasn't so much afraid of the mountains ... but I was afraid of him, and I felt the further I got away from my home and my family, the less chance I would have of escaping, the less chance I would have of getting away. Although it may seem for those people who have never been there, [it] may not seem like it's that far away, to me, it felt like an eternity just because it was such a long hike. ... And this man, he seemed to have planned for everything. When I got to the camp, I didn't come to just a tent thrown up in the middle of the woods. No, it was very well laid out; it was very well-stocked; it was very well-prepared. He had cables running from one end of the camp to the other, which he chained me up to.
On Wanda Barzee's relationships with Smart and with Mitchell
She felt jealous [of me]; I mean, that's what all of their fights were about, and they fought all the time. But at the same time, that's what she wanted. These weren't just his choices — they were her choices, too. I mean, she knew [that] what she was doing was wrong, but she was still OK with it. So, yes, she was mistreated, but she didn't have to be; that was her choice. For her to sit by and watch what happened to me and not do anything, not say anything, she had passed the point of feeling sympathy or feeling anything for anyone else but herself.
On how people avoided them because of their dirty physical appearance — they dressed in dirty robes and veils
That was right after 9/11 had happened. ... It was at a time when, even more so than now, that religion was a very hot topic, and there were so many people from different religions that were being mistreated because of how they looked or because some extremist group did something terrible. It was a hard time. And by looking a certain way, Mitchell found that people were a bit more standoffish, that they didn't want to get too close. It was really just another way of manipulating people around him, getting them to stay away, getting them to want to avoid us. It was not uncommon for us to walk down a street and there'd be people walking towards us, then they'd stop, cross the street, walk around us, and then cross the street again and come back to the same side they were on, because they didn't want to pass us that close on the street.
On the best advice her mother gave her
The morning after I was rescued my mom gave me the best advice I've ever been given. ... My mom said to me, "Elizabeth, what this man has done to you, it's terrible, there aren't words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is. He has stolen nine months of your life from you that you will never get back. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy, is to move forward with your life and to do exactly what you want to do. ... The best thing you can do is move forward because by feeling sorry for yourself and holding on to what's happened, that's only allowing him more power and more control over your life, and he doesn't deserve another second. So be happy." ... I'm not perfect at following her advice ... but I do try to follow it every day.
On the RAD (Resist Aggression Defensively) Kids program, which is supported by the Elizabeth Smart Foundation
RADKids is based on three simple principles ... The first principle is that you're special and nobody has the right to hurt you. The second principle is because you're special, you don't have the right to hurt anybody else unless — and I say this with a big unless, unless someone is hurting you, and then you can do whatever it takes to get away, whatever it takes to be safe, to escape from whatever situation you're in. Then, by all means, do whatever it takes — bite, scream, kick, yell, whatever. The third principle, which is most important, in my opinion, is that if something happens, it's not your fault and that you can tell ... not only you can but you should tell.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Elizabeth Smart, has the kind of fame no one would want. She was one of the most famous kidnapping victims of our time. On June 5th, 2002, at the age of 14, Smart was abducted from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, where she lived with her devout Mormon family. Her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, saw himself as a religious prophet and took her to be his second wife in a polygamous marriage.
With a knife at her throat, Mitchell forced her to go with him to his remote camp on a mountain near Salt Lake, where they lived during the first stage of her nine-month captivity. She was raped by him nearly every day, sometimes several times a day. The only other person in their camp was Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, who treated Smart like her slave.
It took nine months for the police to find Smart and rescue her. Mitchell was eventually sentenced to life in prison; Barzee was sentenced to 15 years after reaching a plea deal. As for Smart, she's now married and finishing work on her degree at Brigham Young University. She's the head of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which tries to prevent predatory crimes against children.
Her new memoir, "My Story," has just been published. For parents listening, this is a disturbing story that may be especially disturbing for children to hear. Elizabeth Smart, welcome to FRESH AIR. I'd like you to start by reading an excerpt of your memoir.
ELIZABETH SMART: OK: It's funny some of the things that I remember, many of the details forever burned in my mind. It's as if I can still smell the air, hear the mountain leaves rustle above me, feel the fabric of the veil that Brian David Mitchell stretched across my face. I can picture every detail of my surroundings: a tent; the washbasin; the oppressive dugout full of spiders and mice. I can feel the cut of the steel cable wrapped so tightly around my ankle, the scorch of the summer heat lifting off the side of the hill, the swaying of the Greyhound bus as we fled to California.
I can still see the people who were around me, their blank expressions, their fear of how we were dressed, my veil and the dirty robes, the looks of confusion in their eyes. I remember so many overwhelming feelings and emotions: terror that is utterly indescribable even to this day; embarrassment and shame so deep I felt as if my very worth had been tossed upon the ground; despair; starving hunger; fatigue and thirst and a nakedness that bares one to the bones; intruding hands; pain and burning; the leering of his dark eyes; a deep longing for my family; a heartbreaking yearning to go home.
GROSS: That's Elizabeth Smart, reading from her new memoir "My Story." Elizabeth, thank you for reading that. You know, I'm just so glad that instead of withdrawing from the world, as I think you might have done after such a horrible experience, you've become an activist in trying to prevent other children from being victimized in the way that you were.
And I was wondering if the opposite was ever a possibility for you, the withdrawing from the world completely, if that was ever a possibility for you?
SMART: That would have been very easy to do. That would have been very, very easy to do, to withdraw, to not push forward, to use my experience as a crutch throughout the rest of my life. But the morning after I was rescued, my mom gave me the best advice I've ever given, and it's the only advice that I can share with other people.
My mom said to me: Elizabeth, what this man has done to you, it's terrible. There aren't words strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is. He has stolen nine months of your life from you that you will never get back. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy, is to move forward with your life and to do exactly what you want to do because, yes, this will probably go to the courts, and some kind of sentencing will be made, but you may never feel like justice is served.
You may never feel like restitution has really been made. But at the end of the day, God is our ultimate judge, and everything that you've lost will be made up to you. And for those who don't receive justice here, they certainly will there. So the best thing you can do is to move forward because by feeling sorry for yourself and holding on to what's happened, that's only allowing him more power and more control over your life, and he doesn't deserve another second. So be happy and move forward.
And I'm not perfect at following her advice, but what daughter is perfectly following their mother's advice? But I do try to follow it every day.
GROSS: One of the telling details in your memoir is right before Brian Mitchell kidnapped you, he realized you were the one, that you were the person who he was - who was chosen to be his second wife. And then he starts kind of scoping out your family, figuring out how to break in. But that first time, when he's sizing you up and realizing you're the one, he's also I think panhandling, and he looks - like your mother thinks he looks like a man down on his luck.
And she gives him $5. So, you know, that's just so remarkable that, like, your mother tried to help him, gave him $5, and then he kidnaps you and tortures you.
SMART: It is, but that's also the kind of person he was. He knew exactly how to get what he wanted. He was a master at manipulation, and that's what he did.
GROSS: So he was searching for the one, the chosen one to be his second wife, and his criteria seemed to be that she had to be young, check; beautiful, check; and Mormon, check. Why did his second wife have to be Mormon when what he was doing was perverting his religion and the Old Testament, just perverting everything that any religious - sane religious person would hold dear? Why do you think it was important to him that his second wife be Mormon?
SMART: He had a lot of reasons for everything he did. He always had some kind of justification or excuse as to why it should be a certain way. And he had felt that Mormon girls - I mean, we don't drink, we don't smoke, we don't do drugs, and he just felt like we were a more vulnerable target. And by eventually forcing us to all of these different things, he would gain more control and more power over us because that was against everything that we had been taught.
GROSS: He saw himself as this great, like, prophet. What are some of the things he borrowed from religions and from the Bible, and what are some of the things he just, like, made up?
SMART: Well, that's true to everything he did. I mean, any time he wanted me to do something that I didn't want to do, he would always say, oh, well, you know, Christ descended below everything, and then he rose above all things. I mean, he went among the sinners, and he ate with the sinners, and he rose above all that. Well, we're certainly no better - you're certainly no better than Christ, so it's important for you to experience these things, as well.
GROSS: Were you able to think while he was perverting all these religions and preaching them, were you able to think analytically about how totally crazy, how he was taking things out of context and manipulating them in ways to just torture and subjugate you?
SMART: Oh yeah, definitely. My parents, I mean, they've raised me to believe in a kind and a loving God and someone who cares about me and who's always there for me and would never wish harm or illness or any kind of tragedy upon me. And then here this man and this woman are telling me that actually God has ordained them to do this, and they have been called to kidnap young girls and that this is - that I should be grateful, I should be thankful for what's happening to me.
GROSS: Right. He broke into your home, cut a hole in the screen, awakened you with a knife at your throat telling you that if you screamed or said a word that he would murder you, and then he would murder your family. Did you have any doubt that he meant it?
SMART: No, I didn't have any doubts whatsoever. My bedroom is like my ultimate safe spot. I'm surrounded by my family, I'm in my home, that is the safest place in the world to me. And here was this strange man who had penetrated my safe haven and had gotten all the way into my bedroom and was standing over me with a knife at my neck. No, I had absolutely no doubts that he would kill my family or me.
GROSS: So you didn't resist not only to protect yourself but to protect your family.
SMART: Yes, I was so terrified when I woke up. At first I couldn't believe it was real, but then when I did realize it was real, and he was leading me out of my house, and he was telling me that if I made a sound, or if I did anything that he'd kill my family, he'd have no problem killing anyone who came after me, that was pretty petrifying.
And it's easy to think of it now as an adult, I mean, it's easy to think well, would he really have done that. I mean, what are the chances? Wouldn't somebody have stopped him before he got that far? But I wasn't 25. I wasn't an adult at that time. I was only 14 years old. And my 14-year-old mind, that threat was very real. It was a reality. It wasn't even a threat.
GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Smart. She's written a memoir called "My Story." We'll talk more about her kidnapping after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Elizabeth Smart, who sadly became a famous kidnap victim in 2002 when she was kidnapped by Brian Mitchell, who took her from her bed at home when she was 14, put a knife to her throat and told her he'd kill her and her family if she screamed or said a word. He took her to his mountain camp, made her his, quote, "second wife" and then proceed to rape once or several times a day until she was finally discovered by the police nine months later.
His camp was on a mountain not far from your home, and so you had to climb all night to get there in your pajamas. Would you describe where he took you and what it looked like?
SMART: You're right, it's not far from my home, but it is not an easy climb. It is not an easy hike. It is extremely difficult to get there. There are so many trees and close-growing bushes, and you are climbing up a very, very steep incline. I mean, it's not a walk in the park.
GROSS: So were you afraid of the climb as well as him?
SMART: I wasn't so much afraid of the climb, I wasn't so much afraid of the mountains where I was at, but I was afraid of him, and I felt the further I got away from my home and my family the less chance I would have of escaping, the less chance I would have of getting away. So although it may seem for those people who have never been there, may not seem like it's that far away, to me it felt like an eternity away just because it was such a long hike, and it was so far back.
And this man, he seemed to have had planned for everything. I mean, when I got to the camp, I didn't come to just a tent thrown up in the middle of the woods, no. It was very well laid out. It was very well stocked. It was very well prepared. I mean, he had cables running from one end of the camp to the other and which he chained me up to.
He had tents. He had bought or - I don't think bought would be the correct word, but he had...
GROSS: Should we go with stolen?
SMART: Yes, that's a much better word.
SMART: He had stolen lots of food. He had plates. He had dishes. I mean, he just had a very, very well-stocked camp.
GROSS: Awaiting you at the camp was also Wanda Barzee, who was his wife.
SMART: Yes, and she was probably the most terrifying part of that camp.
SMART: I remember first walking into this campsite, and out of the tent walked a woman, but, I mean, she - there just was something so different about her, I mean just the way that she looked, the way that she acted, the feelings I got from her. The first thing she did was she came up to me, and she hugged me.
And you would think that in that kind of situation a hug would be very comforting, would be very much appreciated, but this was anything but that. I mean, if hugs could speak, then this hug was basically telling me that I was nothing, that I was there to serve her and that she had no problem doing whatever she wanted to me. It was not a good hug. It was not a good feeling.
And she had immediately brought me inside of the tent, sat me down on the bucket where she commenced to try to bathe me and change me and get me ready for when Mitchell would come into the tent.
GROSS: She was cleaning you so that he could rape you is...
GROSS: Yeah. And you were hoping initially that maybe they were abducting you so that you could be their surrogate daughter. And then he basically told you that he was going to seal you into marriage and that would be living with him for the duration of your life on Earth and in the afterlife, as well. Did he actually perform a ceremony?
SMART: I was so caught up in worrying about what had happened to me, what was happening to my family, was my family even alive or was my younger sister, who I knew was alive because she had still been alive when Mitchell led me out of the room...
GROSS: She shared a bedroom with you.
SMART: Yeah, she shared a bed with me. I mean, what would happen if she woke up, and she woke up to a house full of dead people? What if he had gone through my entire house already and killed everybody? I mean, I was worried about her. I was worried about what was going to happen to me. I was worried about my family. I mean, if they were alive, did they know I was gone yet? Did they know what was going on? Were they going to save me? How were they going to find me?
I had a million thoughts going through my head at a million miles per hour.
GROSS: You were so young. You were 14. I mean, if you don't mind my bringing this up, you were not only a virgin, you hadn't started menstruating yet. And reading your book, I was wondering, did you know the basics of human sexuality?
SMART: I knew what sex was, but it wasn't something that I was interested in or that I cared to know anything about. I was a young 14-year-old. I wasn't dumb, but I just wasn't interested in that part of life yet. It didn't have any appeal to me at that point.
GROSS: He had told Wanda, his wife, that you were to be her handmaiden, which she basically interpreted as that you were going to be her slave. What were some of the things that she made you do for her?
SMART: She would have me sweep out the tent, sweep off the tarps. Because our plates would be sitting outside, it wouldn't be rare for the middle of the night for mice or rodents to be running across our plates and leave their business on the plates, and so then she would have me wipe off and wash the dishes from rodent feces.
She would have me stitch up robes, which was - I'm not a very good sewer, so I didn't think she was ever too happy with the work I performed there. But she just had me do whatever she wanted me to do.
GROSS: You know, reading your book, I kept thinking, as I'm sure you were thinking, how could she be with this man, and what was wrong with her that enabled her to be with him. And I wonder what conclusions you've reached about her.
SMART: I think really the most shocking part of her is how could she allow someone to do this to a child when she was a mother of six children herself.
GROSS: But she left those children to be with him, right?
SMART: Yeah, she did, she left them. And I've just come to the conclusion that he told her what she wanted to hear, and she didn't want to be alone. She didn't want to be alone, and he told her what she wanted to hear. I mean, he told her how wonderful she was, how she was second only to Christ, how she was just such a spiritual daughter of God that she has such a special calling.
I mean, those are all things that she wanted to hear, how special she was, how - for lack of better words chosen she was. But just how she was above everybody else. Those were all things she wanted to hear. And that's how he got away with it.
GROSS: One of the things he made her do was to perform sex acts with him for you to watch so that you'd know how to do it afterwards. Was she jealous of you because, like, her sexual relationship with him at this point was, like, demonstrations so that you could be his actual sexual partner, you were the one that he desired? I mean, the whole thing is just, like, so, so sick.
But you'd think that she'd be felling jealousy, at least, if not sympathy.
SMART: She felt jealous. I mean, that's what all their fights were about, and they fought all the time. But at the same time, that's what she wanted. I mean, these weren't just his choices; they were her choices, too. I mean, she knew what she was doing was wrong, and yet she was still OK with it. So yes, she was mistreated, but she didn't have to be. That was her choice.
And for her to sit by and watch what happened to me and not do anything, not say anything, she had passed the point of feeling sympathy or feeling anything for anyone else but herself.
GROSS: Elizabeth Smart will be back in the second half of the show. Her new memoir about her kidnapping is called "My Story." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Elizabeth Smart, who was one of the most famous kidnapping victims of our time. She's written a new memoir about that hellish nine month period of her life. It's called "My Story."
Smart was 14 years old in 2002, when Brian David Mitchell broke into her bedroom and forced her at knife point to go with him to his remote camp on a mountain. That mountain was near Salt Lake City where Smart lived with her devout Mormon family.
She was chained for the first few weeks of her captivity, raped almost daily during her captivity and used as a slave by Mitchell's wife, Wanda Barzee, who was also at the camp. Mitchell constantly threatened to kill Smart and her family if she betrayed him. At the same time, she had to endure his constant sermonizing about how he was a religious prophet and she was chosen to be his wife, and she should feel blessed to be close to him.
You were in upside down world where everything was like opposite. You know, like you're told that this is heaven. You're told that he's like the prophet and savior, that, you know, you're the chosen one. And you know that you're in hell. You know that he's crazy and evil and there's no one to share that with, like the only two people you have contact with or that you're allowed to speak with. Even when you're taken outside of the camp and you're in a place with other people, you know that you'll be killed. He's told you you'll be killed if you have any communication with any of them. So there's nobody to share the total crazy oppositeness of everything that's being done.
SMART: I really like the way you describe it as a completely upside down world. And that's exactly what it was. And it was hard not having someone there. It was hard thinking about it to myself and not, not being able to talk about it or confide in someone or vent to someone. That was hard. But I had something that I knew would never change: that was my family. I knew that I would never lose them, that their love for me would never fade or disappear and because of that I was able to keep going.
I made that decision when I made that first - the first realization that they had always loved me, the first morning I had been taken, I made the decision to do whatever I had to to survive. It didn't matter what it was, I would do whatever I had to. And that's how I based every decision after that. Am I going to survive? If I do this, will he kill me? If I don't do this, will he kill me? What is going to help me survive? And I basically had to set aside all of my, my feelings because I wouldn't have been able to make it had I dwelt on my emotions.
GROSS: Then he gave you and her and himself new names. Tell us about the names.
SMART: Well, he went through a progression of name changes and it was when he would have some kind of new direction from God, he'd come up with a new name. And eventually, when he came out and said that he was a servant of God, that he came out with his final name which was Immanuel, which was I, as he told me, meant God is with us. And then so that was his final name. And then his wife, Barzee, she went through a progression of names as well along - I mean her progression followed the same as Mitchell's did. And her ending name ended with Hepsiba. And she told me that her name meant: my delight is in thee. And then they gave me a new name because everything had to be changed. My complete identity had to be stripped and taken away from me. I couldn't have any connection to my family or my former life. And so the name they gave me is Shear-jashub, which was I want to say the second son, of Isaiah in the Bible. And they would tell me that that name meant a remnant will return because one day I would return to my family. I would return to the world but I wouldn't return alone. I would return with Mitchell and Barzee and I would stand alongside him and protect him and we would all come out together and cry repentance to the world.
GROSS: Wow. And, of course, I'm sure you were thrilled to have, you know, in addition to being stripped of your identity and given this new name - it's a male name, it's not even a female name.
SMART: Oh, I was overjoyed. I mean seriously, why would I want to go from Elizabeth to Shear-jashub?
GROSS: I don't mean to be flip about this, but like when you say to yourself what could possibly be worse than being a 14-year-old who is raped every day, the only thing I could think of is if you're raped every day by this guy who won't shut up. All he does is talk about himself, you know?
GROSS: And it's like honestly, like I don't mean to be flip but I thought like oh God, that's like then you're subjected to him talking about himself like all the time. And he's such a narcissist that he thinks that all of this like empty talk about himself and his like fake visions is actually meaningful.
SMART: It's hard to decide which was worse, the rape or the talking. I'm still debating that myself.
GROSS: How, I mean obviously, you weren't paying careful attention to what he was saying. But were you supposed to be nodding in agreement or acting as if like yes...
SMART: Acting as if what he was saying was the most...
SMART: Yes. The most revelatory words he could be speaking. Yes. I was. Because if I didn't he'd start all over and it just would be never-ending. I mean it already was never-ending, but it's like coming to a broken CD where it just says the same thing over and over again. It's to that point and then it goes back and repeats and repeats and repeats.
SMART: And he'd get mad at me if I didn't listen.
GROSS: Do you mind if I'm asking you if his breath was terrible?
SMART: I don't think I've ever been asked that question before but, yes, yes it was.
GROSS: What kept you having faith in God and not feeling abandoned by the God you believe in when first of all, you're in - you feel abandoned? You know, you're alone with these two crazy people. You're being tortured by them. And also, your chief torturer is acting like he is God's prophet. And, of course, you know that's not true, but you're in this like ugly, evil world and all the talk about God is coming from - as you describe it - you know, like the face of Satan. So what kept you believing?
SMART: Well, from the time I was a little girl, I have always, always believed in a good and kind God. I remember when I was about seven years old, I went horseback riding and my horse escaped from me and it ran off down the mountainside, and I had to go after the horse. And on the way to find this horse, I got lost and I was so scared. I mean I was only seven years old with a big imagination. All I could think of was, oh my goodness, there's going to be bears coming out, there are going to be wolves coming out, I'm going to be eaten, I'm not going to see my mom again. I was thinking all of these terrible things. And my mom and my dad had always told me if you're ever in trouble, if you ever need help, pray. And so I remember praying as that seven-year-old girl. And when I finished praying I felt better and I felt like, like there was a direction I was supposed to take.
And I remember going in that direction and finding the mud tracks of the horse and being able to find my way down the mountain. And so from that very early age I've always felt that God is there for me and that he knows who I am and that he loves me. I mean that was one of my first experiences in life where I really felt like there is a God out there. So when I was kidnapped I still felt that same way and I remember I would pray to him and ask him to protect me, ask him to help me find a way home, help me find a way to get back to my family. And it was hard but I never felt like he abandoned me.
My grandpa, my mom's dad, he had passed away just a few days before I was kidnapped. And while at the time he passed away I couldn't understand why did he pass away? Why did he have to die? But then during my kidnapping I remember I used to feel like he was there with me. I don't know if you've ever experienced that feeling where someone you love or someone you're really close to, they're, you feel like they're in the room and then you turn around and they're not. I mean that's just how I felt. While I was kidnapped I used to feel like he was there and I'd turn around but I didn't see him, but I just felt like he was there with me. And so when I had received feelings like that then I would feel like it was going to be OK. But he had died so that he could be with me during my kidnapping because he could be more comfort to me and more use to me if he were dead and he were able to be with me that if he were alive.
GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Smart. Her new memoir about her kidnapping is called "My Story." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Elizabeth Smart and she's written a new book about her nine month ordeal after she was kidnapped by Brian Mitchell and raped repeatedly, kept away from the world. And he's behind bars now, as is his wife, who was part of this.
For the first six weeks of your captivity you were chained. And then after that, you and your captor - Brian Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee - would occasionally go down the mountain into town, into Salt Lake, and basically shoplift and get some provisions to bring back to the camp in the mountain. And in order to disguise yourselves, you and Wanda Barzee wore veils. And you had a veil that even covered your eyes.
And I mean there's a description, I can't remember if this was when you were in California, where you eventually went or whether you were still in Utah. But like you're in a Walmart wearing these like dirty robes with like a dirty veil over your face and you're not really a part - these clothes are not a part of any religion. It's not like, you know, you're a Muslim wearing a full body veil or anything. This is just these like filthy robes that, you know, she sewed together herself. And no one's saying anything. And the way describe, you know, Brian Mitchell is looking, it just sounds like most people would see the three of you and think something weird is going on here. Did you expect somebody would think that?
SMART: I thought somebody would think that, but at the same time I think you need to step back and look at the bigger picture. I mean that was right after 9/11 had happened. It was at a time when even more so than now that religious - I don't know the right word to use, but where religion was a very hot topic. And there were so many people from different religions that were being mistreated because of how they looked or because some extremist group did something terrible. I mean it was a hard time. And by looking a certain way Mitchell found that people were a bit more standoffish, that they didn't want to get too close and that it was really just another way of manipulating people around him - getting them to stay away, getting them to want to avoid us.
I mean it was not uncommon for us to walk down a street and there'd be people walking towards us, then they'd stop, cross the street, walk around us and then cross the street again and come back to the same side they were on just because they didn't want to pass us that close in the street. And so he used these - he used different methods and this was just one of them of getting what he wanted.
GROSS: What stopped you from when you were out in public - on those occasions you were out in public with him from hollering, I'm Elizabeth Smart? Because everybody knew your name. Everybody, I mean it was such a kind of famous kidnapping case.
SMART: I have been chained up with actual chains. But I have also been chained up with words. And I can tell you, words are so much stronger than actual chains. I had been told every single day that if I did anything, if I said anything that I would be killed. If he didn't kill me, he would kill my family. I was 14 years old. That's all I knew. Now - now I might look back at me like, yeah, hmm, there are things that can be done. There are things - there are ways that he wouldn't be able to get to my family.
But I was only 14 years old and I didn't see that at that time. All I saw was a man who had successfully kidnapped me, basically ripped everything I knew and loved away from me, and stripped me down till I was nothing more than really a shell. And then he tried to fill up with whatever he wanted to, although, I might add, he was not successful at it.
GROSS: There's a long back story to how the police finally figured out what was going on and found the three of you. But that's all in the book. It's a kind of complicated story. But you had gone to California, the three of you, and then you convinced him to go back to Utah, which was really smart. But he insisted you had to wear a disguise. And I want you to describe the disguise that Brian Mitchell and Wanda Barzee created for you.
SMART: The disguise was - well, because he knew if we tried to hitchhike back in our robes, hitchhike back in our robes, that nobody would pick us up. We looked too strange. So he had us go to different homeless sites where we had been hiding out and we went through and we found different clothes. So the clothes we found were dirty, smelly, old, gross.
And then he said, well, we need to find some way to disguise your face and your hair. Maybe we should dye it. Maybe we should cut it. That eventually was thrown out and he came to the conclusion that I should wear a wig. Well, he's not the - I wouldn't describe him as a quality kind of guy. He wanted something that was quick and easy.
And so we went to a, I want to say a Dollar Store in California where they were selling wigs and I remember looking at him and just thinking are you kidding me? That's gray hair.
SMART: What's wrong with you? I clearly look like a young girl even if I do have a gray wig on. Nobody's going to think I'm old. But we found a wig that maybe had a, I don't know, two more strands of brown hair than the rest. And he bought the wig and then he picked up a pair of sunglasses. Well, he told me to choose and I remember, I was like these are terrible choices. There's just not a good choice here.
But eventually picking up a pair with his approval - well, that he had definitely had some input on - and I remember putting them on and they were just lopsided, crooked on my face and I was like, oh, great. I am in a nasty gray wig and crooked sunglasses. I look crazy.
GROSS: Which was helpful, right?
SMART: Which probably was helpful, actually.
GROSS: The police - I don't want to get into a long story because it's kind of complicated, but somebody tipped off the police that these two people - that you might be Elizabeth Smart and they might be your captors. And the police came. And so one cop starts questioning you and asking you are you Elizabeth Smart and you're afraid to say that you are. And then, fortunately, one of the cops says you have to take her separately; can't you see she's afraid of this man?
You can't question her in front of him. And that's when you were able to say that you were Elizabeth Smart. And it made me think you had been stopped by the police once before that. I wish they'd thought of it then.
SMART: I did wish that they had thought of it then, but they didn't. But thanks heavens that these policemen saw that and that they did separate me and that they did eventually rescue me and reunite me with my family.
GROSS: They rescued you and the first thing they did was handcuff you and put you in the police car. Were you surprised to be in handcuffs when you were rescued?
SMART: Oh, absolutely. I thought that, I mean, I thought that I was guilty. I thought - well, I thought that they thought that I was guilty and I remember just thinking wait a second. I'm the victim. What are you doing?
GROSS: What went through your mind when you were separated from your tormentor?
SMART: Well, because I was handcuffed at the time I thought I was going to prison. But then I thought, well, wait a second. I mean, compared with where I've been the last nine months, prison doesn't actually sound so bad. And by that point I was brought into a small room inside one of the smaller police stations and there was no windows and I was told I could take off the disguise.
And I took it off and that's when I was reunited with my dad. That's when the door came flying open and my dad came running into the room and just swooped me up in just the biggest hug you could imagine. And in that moment, when he was hugging me, I knew that nobody would ever be able to hurt me again. Nobody would ever be able to make me feel the way that these two people - my two captors - had made me feel.
And how they hurt me the last nine months. I knew that no matter what lay ahead that it would be OK. Because my dad was going to be there; he was going to stand next to me and he'd never, ever abandon me.
GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Smart. Her new memoir about her kidnapping is called "My Story." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: My guest is Elizabeth Smart. Her new memoir about being kidnapped in 2002 is called "My Story." Smart now heads the Elizabeth Smart Foundation which tries to stop predatory crimes against children and, through the program known as Rad Kids, teach children to resist predators.
You write that you'd always been very bashful about your body and your body had been exposed to just, like, the worst horrors because you were raped so many times by your kidnapper. How hard was it to learn to be comfortable with your body again and also to grow into sexuality? I mean, you were 14 when you were kidnapped and this is an era where you're slowly - or maybe for some people not so slowly - becoming sexualized.
SMART: Well, when I came back the thought of ever entering into a relationship with a man - I wasn't ready for that. But at the same time, I mean, I did want to date. I did want to have boyfriends. I did want to have, you know, a boy come up my stairs and bring me a bouquet of flowers and me have my makeup on and a new outfit. And I did want all those things.
And I'm just happy that little girls don't date middle aged men because I would've had a real problem with that. Because this man was a middle aged man. But there's a difference. I mean, I felt like I'd been denied young boys, teenage - that sounds so bad. OK. I had been denied age appropriate boys for me at that time. So when I came back I was excited to go out with age appropriate boys.
GROSS: And you're married now.
GROSS: To a man you met when you were doing your mission in France.
GROSS: And he's Scottish. And I was wondering, like, did he know about the whole Elizabeth Smart story? It was such a big story in the United States. I have no idea if it made the news headlines in Scotland.
SMART: Well, he's actually two years younger than me, so whether or not it made the news headlines there, I don't know because he didn't pay attention. So when he first saw me and he first met me, he didn't know my history or my background. He just thought, oh, she's pretty. Oh, I'd like to meet her. I mean, we were around many other missionaries that filled him in on who I was and what my background was.
But, I mean, that's always been nice knowing that he wanted to meet me and that he initially liked me for me and not for history or notoriety or anything else.
GROSS: Do you think about, like, if you become a mother if you'll be able to sleep at night with your child in another room? Do you know what I mean? Like, if you'll be so overprotective or worried about your child because of what happened to you.
SMART: Well, one thing I can say for sure is that my children will be going through the Rad Kids program.
SMART: And I probably will be obnoxious at times. I probably will. I can admit that. But at the same time, I mean, I want them to live their lives. I will want them to be happy. I will want them to make their own choices and have their own experiences and experience the consequences that come with their choices. So, yes, I will want to prepare them the very best I can.
I will want to make sure that they know every single day how much I love them, but at the same time I don't want to stop them from living their life.
GROSS: Your mother, as you described, had given you the advice to put this behind you, don't let your kidnapper take more of your life than he's already taken. Live your life, be happy, do the things that you want to do. And you've tried your best to live that advice. It's more difficult to control your dreams when you're sleeping and I'm wondering whether you have any nightmares about that period.
SMART: I guess I'm really lucky because I sleep like a rock. I rarely dream. I mean, I have never had a nightmare about what happened.
GROSS: Wow. You're really lucky, yeah.
SMART: Yeah. I'd just say that's a blessing.
GROSS: Elizabeth Smart, thank you so much for talking with us. And congratulations on having a life. A good life.
SMART: Thank you.
SMART: Thank you for having me.
GROSS: My pleasure. Elizabeth Smart's new memoir is called "My Story." You can read a very emotional excerpt of the book on our website. It's the part where the police finally discover her and her captor but she's initially afraid to reveal her real identity. We also have the audio book version of that passage which she reads. That's at freshair.npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.