Born in the fifth generation of a family that practiced polygamy, Irene Spencer spent 28 years in a polygamous marriage.
At the age of 16, she became the second wife of Verlan LeBaron. She eventually shared him with nine other wives and mothered 14 of his 58 children. In her book, “Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife,” published in 2007, Spencer shared her story of living as a polygamist’s wife, as well as her escape from the lifestyle.
She continued the story of her escape in her second book, “Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement,” released in 2009. Now Spencer is releasing her third book, “Shattered Dreams Restored,” which chronicles the years following her escape and tells about her steps to healing, restoring her self-worth and finding a husband to call her own.
At 77, the Woodbridge resident says she finds satisfaction in telling her story, and is hopeful it might help at least one person.
“I feel like I have been a good example and I have spread power and love, and I really feel that is my purpose in life,” she said.
Spencer sat down recently to talk about about her latest book.
How is “Shattered Dreams Restored” different from your other books?
It covers 32 years since my polygamist husband died. It talks about the challenges, heartaches and pain that I endured. People have all these questions, and I just wrote so people know. I have no regrets. It all brought me where I am today. It has given me wisdom, compassion and has given me peace. I hope to have an impact on other people.
What is your favorite part of this book?
Telling how miracles can be made out of messes. I was challenged with a problem that I gave up a love for because it was between love and principle and I stand for principle.
What do you hope people can get out of it?
I hope people will realize when you are raised in a cult how many years it takes to get deprogrammed. (I hope) people who get caught up in it that can get mental health help and not take years (healing) like I did. My heart cries out for people. I hope people will learn they don’t have to go through the same things.
I tell people when it comes between love and principle, principle always wins out. I believe the truth will set us free and I have nothing to hide.
What are some questions people have asked that you answer in the book?
One of them is how I continue to go back to the polygamist colony in Mexico. People know I had become a Christian. I was able to help influence children and grandchildren to take a different road. It felt like I was being used in a good way to influence my children and grandchildren.
What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?
It’s always a challenge when you bare your soul and put it on paper. None of us want to be criticized. I think justice has to be met and I think people have to stand up for the principle and tell the truth in spite of whether or not they are loved.
What would be your advice to someone struggling in a similar lifestyle?
I think the greatest lesson I ever learned was to learn to love yourself. If we truly love ourselves we would not allow anyone to demean us because we would know we have great worth.
Where did you find your courage to leave?
It wasn’t so much courage as it was despair. I wanted to commit suicide. I had all those children, was living in poverty and wasn’t getting the attention I needed. When I turned 30 I wept because I didn’t feel like I had a purpose in life. I don’t care how low you get, all you can go is get up, take one day at a time and live in the present moment. You can’t take failure for an answer. Our purpose should be happiness, and you can’t live in someone else’s shadow.
What does it feel like to be free after all those years in that lifestyle?
It’s nice to be with a guy who cares for you, to have the companionship, someone to hold your hand and carry your purse for you.
When I broke away from it, for the first time in my life I was making my own decisions. When you start thinking for yourself, it gives you freedom and power. There is power in decisions.
I talk to people of different denominations — all have the same trials and struggles. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. We are all human and need to embrace each other with love.
How does it feel to have completed your story?
I feel so satisfied. I feel more satisfaction about this one than the first one. I can empathize with those who want to commit suicide because I’ve been there and done that.
Do you have other books in the works?
I have one that is written, but I need to get it cleaned up. It’s a story about my adopted daughter, who died at age 35. It’s called “The Unexpected Gift.” I have a couple of others that are ready to go as well. One is called “Olive’s Anguish.” It’s about my mother. I hope to have six books. I’ll continue as long as I’ve got breath in me.
Where can people find the book?