In the fall of 2015, Anna LeBaron (author THE POLYGAMIST’S DAUGHTER) sent a Tweet via Twitter to a new author she wanted to support. Unbeknownst to her, the author, Ruth Wariner, was her cousin. She is the daughter of Joel LeBaron, who was killed by his brother Ervil LeBaron’s followers in 1972. Anna LeBaron accidentally broke a decades’ old silence between their families with a simple Tweet. But after a tenuous introduction through social media, the cousins bridged the gap between their families and Anna offered to help Ruth promote her book, New York Times Bestseller, THE SOUND OF GRAVEL.
Mentioned on this episode:
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner
The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir by Anna LeBaron
(This is an approximate transcript.)
I’m on the line with authors, cousins, and polygamous cult escape’s; Anna LeBaron and Ruth Wariner. I really knew that I wanted to interview both of these authors for this podcast because I’ve witnessed the emergence of their own voices into the world as an advanced reader for each of their books.
And because of that, I’m also aware of the difficulties that they faced as young girls and women trying to find their voice, while in similar environments but in unique circumstances. In fact, Anna and Ruth didn’t even know each other until recently. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
So I knew that I wanted to interview each of them. But a month ago, it occurred to me that it would be really fascinating to do a joint interview, and they agreed. And so that’s why we are here today.
Now, I’m breaking this interview up into two different episodes. But don’t worry; you won’t have to wait long. If you’re listening right away to part 1, part 2 will be out later this week. Now, let’s get to it with Anna and Ruth.
Andrea: Anna and Ruth, welcome to the Voice of Influence Podcast.
Ruth: Hi, thank you for having us. This is exciting.
Anna: Hi Andrea this is a long time coming.
Andrea: Hi! Yes, it really is. It’s actually amazing when I think that to a couple of years ago when you and I met online to how this has come and this is just a full circle in the sense. So I’m so honored to have you here and excited that we’re getting to do this together. So thank you!
Anna: I’m excited to talk to you and I’m excited to get to meet you in person in a few days basically.
Andrea: Yes, like after we air this interview, the full interview very next week that Monday, you’re going to be at my house and I’m so excited. And Ruth someday, we’re going to meet too.
Ruth: Oh yes, we are.
Andrea: There’s no doubt about it.
Ruth: I keep making it a habit to meet people online and then become real life friends with them.
Andrea: That’s a very good habit to have. Okay, so I want to introduce you guys to the Influencers that are listening with us today. I’m going to read your bio just to start out with.
Anna LeBaron is one of more than fifty children of infamous, and polygamist cult leader, Ervil LeBaron. Anna LeBaron endured abandonment, horrific living conditions, child labor, and sexual grooming. At age thirteen, she escaped the violent cult, gave her life to Christ, and sought healing. A gifted communicator and personal growth activist. She’s passionate about helping others walk in freedom. Anna lives in the DFW Metroplex and loves being Mom to five grown children.
RUTH WARINER is an internationally renowned speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling memoir THE SOUND OF GRAVEL. At the age of fifteen, Ruth escaped Colonia LeBaron, the polygamist Mormon colony where she grew up, and moved to California. She raised her three youngest sisters in California and Oregon. After earning her GED, she put herself through college and graduate school, eventually becoming a high school Spanish teacher. She remains close to her siblings and is happily married. The Sound of Gravel is her first book.
So it is significant that you guys are cousins but you didn’t meet until just recently. So Anna, since you kind of got the ball rolling on that, why don’t you tell us how you met?
Anna: Oh my gosh, that’s a fun story! I love telling it if it wasn’t so…it was very emotional. Here’s how we meet, let me just start from the beginning because you have to start there. I was on Twitter one day and Ruth’s publicist (that I was following because of another author) posted a tweet saying “Here’s this new memoir coming out in January. It’s a must read.” And there was nothing on there that would have alerted me that Ruth was my cousin.
So I tweeted the author of the book. And one of the things that I enjoyed doing is promoting new book. And so I tweeted the author and said “Ruth, I can’t wait to read your book. Do you already have a launch team,” thinking that that would already be a work on progress and I could join in and read and promote the book because I love memoir.
So a little bit later that day, I’m reading a Goodreads review on the book and I haven’t think I told you this, Ruth. When I was reading the Goodreads review because I thought “Well, shoot. I’ve already offered to promote book, I should see if it’s any good.”
So I’m reading the review and the review was amazing but there’s still wasn’t any clue that there was any connection between myself and the author. Then in the comments of the Goodreads review, someone says “I’ve read a lot of books about polygamy and this is one of the great ones.” And I went “Whatttttttttt?”
So in my mind, I’m thinking “There’s a lot of polygamous communities and I wonder which ones she’s part of.” So I went back to her Twitter feeds, found her website, started scrolling through her history tab, and long before I see a picture of her father, my Uncle Joel. And my blood kind of ran cold at that minute and I went “Oh no!” Then I kept scrolling and I’ve seen my father’s mug shot from when he was arrested.
And there’s a long story behind, that whole sentence that I just said. I sat there and went “Oh my gosh what have I done? I’ve tweeted the author publicly and she’s part of my family that we haven’t spoken to of more than four decades because of the events that transpired more than four decades ago that separated our family.”
So I felt horrible at that moment in time and didn’t want to go and delete the tweet because that would even make it more awkward if Ruth had already seen it. And so there was a little bit of awkwardness there while I decided what to do.
Andrea: Now, would she have known who you were based on your Twitter handle? Did it say Anna LeBaron, would she have recognized that?
Ruth: It did say Anna LeBaron. When she tweeted me the first day, I was in New York City, which is why my publicist was tweeting about me because I was doing a media event and I was also recording my audio book. It was in October of 2015, and I was stuck in the studio for three days and she had reached out to me literally on the first day that I was in the studio.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I saw that the Twitter handle, and I was like “Who the heck is Anna LeBaron?” Because I didn’t know, and so at that point literally, I was in the studio for 10 hours that day. And when I got back to my hotel room, I Facebook messaged one of our aunts and I just asked her if she knew who Anna was and what her story was.
So she responded almost immediately, Irene Spencer was her name, and she said that Anne was a really positive person and had nothing but wonderful things to write about her. And that point I don’t think I even realize then that it was Ervil’s daughter. I knew she was my cousin but not that it was Ervil’s daughter.
And then the next day, I still hadn’t responded to Anna, and she tweeted me back and totally apologizing for reaching out to me so casually and not understanding that I was her cousin, which I totally understood. So I private messaged her at that point.
You know, my initial thought when I found out that she was Ervil’s daughter, because she tweeted me that she was at that point, so I private messaged her and I said “Hey, if you want to talk, if you want to connect, and if you want to help promote my book, I’d love that.”
But I wanted her to read a copy first, you know, before we decided to meet or to talk on the phone or to do anything just so that she knows who I was. And I wanted people to believe in the story and to love the story because that really – it’s the springboard for making things happen.
Andrea: It’s also very, you know, the story itself is an intimate story, so if they don’t understand that and yeah…
Ruth: Yeah, and it was an opportunity for her to get to know who I wasn’t and for her to know if she wanted to meet me and to help me with my book. So we set up a time to call. I had sent her the book to her home in Dallas in the meantime right when I got home back to Portland, Oregon. And we set up a time to call within a week and a half, within the first two weeks of the initial tweet. She had finished my book at that point she received it. She finished it.
Andrea: I’m sure!
Ruth: And it meant for a very emotional conversation, obviously. I mean, both of our stories are so intense and emotional and so profound and powerful that the phone conversation…I heard her voice when we called each other for the first time and it was like “Oh my gosh, she totally sounds like LeBaron.”
Ruth: It felt like family right away totally and so interesting because even though our families broke apart so many years literally – I was born in 1972, and the brothers and the churches had already split at that point. And so, I had never in my life thought about my Uncle Ervil and his children or what they might be doing in life.
So it was such a shock but also such a nice surprise to realize that because I had ran away from the LeBaron when I was so young, I didn’t have that family attachment that I left and I really felt like I’ve missed out on not knowing my sisters and my half sisters from my dad’s side of the family.
So it was a delight. She was a delight and I was so excited that we were able to connect. And it was so interesting to meet too because even though our family had split, there was so many similarities in our stories which I thought was, you know, really speaks to that mentality, the mentality that we were raised with and how that affected our lives.
But as we were talking on the phone, she said, “You know, Ruth, I have sisters in Portland.” And I was like “Are you kidding me?” Like I had no idea that Ervil LeBaron’s children were here in Portland. So at that point, my husband, Alan were like “We really need to meet these women.”
So Anna ended up visiting that December. So it was literally within three months. She was up here. I met two of her sisters that live here and it was an incredible experience. It was amazing and it was enlightening in the sense that it was familiar and I felt connected to family again, to the LeBaron side of my family. And so that part of it was very special for me.
Andrea: Anna, let’s go back to that phone conversation when Ruth sent you her book and you read it. What was it like for you to read The Sound of Gravel?
Anna: Well, it was completely an emotional experience, like overwhelmingly emotional. I cried my way through it, and I had received the book the day before our scheduled conversation phone call. I started at that night, stayed up until probably 2:00. I could not put it down.
It was so riveting. I couldn’t put it down until my eyes just refused to stay open. I woke up at 5:00, made a pot of coffee and kept right ongoing and I finished the minute before our conversation was going to happen.
Andrea: Really? Oh my goodness, I just get goose bumps.
Ruth: So did I.
Anna: I was so grateful to have completed and finished reading the book because my heart was just split right open at that point when the phone rang and I was talking to Ruth. And just experiencing her life through her eyes and through her writing and then getting to talk to her after the history that our family shares, was an honor. It was emotionally impactful and I won’t ever forget that conversation ever, just because of what it meant to both of our families.
Ruth: And there has been a ripple effect, don’t you think?
Ruth: From just our conversation and then meeting in person.
Ruth: So it was early December, right that you’d came?
Ruth: And Alan and I picked her up at the airport and we were supposed to videotape it, but I was pretty emotional and nervous. So I forgot to take pictures of that moment but…
Yeah, I saw her waiting outside the airport and I was just like “Oh my God, she even looks like me.” It was pretty incredible so yeah. The familiarity with her reminded me so much of LeBaron and my childhood.
Andrea: Now, I think it’s pretty important for us to give some context, just a little bit more context about the background at this point, because you’re saying Ruth that when you saw Anna and knowing it was Ervil’s child and everything that you were feeling familiarity. You were not having bad feelings it sounds like about it, but can you tell us why that is so significant?
Ruth: Well, I had never known my father. I was three months when he was killed. And when I was a child, I had always been told that it was Ervil LeBaron that had my father assassinated. And so, you know, later on we found out that definitely it was true and it was a scary childhood because Ervil had been like literally this very real threat and shadowy ghost that haunted our community. There were threats.
He and his church members were threatening our people, as we used to call them, are the ‘LeBaron people.’ So he had always been like that monster in childhood, that terrifying thing that I knew had my father killed. But when I talked to Anna, I realized, the meeting was so important for me and meaningful for me because I had escaped too.
And so once I talked to Anna and she told me her story, I identified so well with that part of it. I identified profoundly with her experience and her need to get away and her need to tell her story. And so there was that connection and I also because I was able to break a way. I knew that it wasn’t, in spite of what had happened with our fathers and me having grown up without a dad as a result.
That was not her responsibility or was not her family’s responsibility. And you know, I think because of our stories in our childhoods, I had a natural compassion for her and her story that really reflected unto me.
I mean, it helped me be more compassionate for myself too, understanding that other people had gone through similar stories. Again, like I never imagined in spite of how scary the idea of Ervil was growing up, I never imagined that he might be inflicting that kind of horror unto his own family in different ways.
And you know, after reading Anna’s book, it was incredibly eye-opening and so heartbreaking too. But yeah, for me, it was meaningful to reconnect that part of the family because I had shut the door on them in a lot of different ways. And so it was that opportunity to heal even a little more and a little deeper.
Andrea: So Anna were you nervous? I mean, it sounded like you were nervous when you realized who Ruth was. Were you nervous to break that ice? Were you nervous about what she would think of you?
Anna: Yes. I was absolutely nervous about that because there’s always been a stigma attached to being Ervil LeBaron’s child and because of the atrocities that he was responsible for and that he had ordered and committed against people that we love and care about.
So wearing that stigma and that shame has been a part of my life, of my entire life. And knowing that we were not welcome in that community where Ruth and I were born into and raised in – I was born there too but we left when I was 9 months old. And our whole family had left in the part of that community.
We knew that with Joel’s family and the impact that our father had on that entire community of people that cared and loved and respected and even revered Joel, my father’s brother, and so we knew that there was this Chinese wall, this big huge chasm between the two families.
Ruth: Definitely that was my feeling about. That was definitely me growing up in LeBaron and Joel’s as my father – he was also the prophet of our community and the prophet of our church. And that’s definitely what my mom believed and what our family believed. And they still in Colonia LeBaron believe that my dad was indeed a prophet.
He was 49 when he was killed. He had 42 children and seven wives at that time, and you can imagine the whole in our community and how that affected so many of us. And for me, my dad was more like that mythical Christ-like figure in my life. He was one of the founders of our church and a spokesperson for God, I mean that was I was always taught.
And so, I think there still is, even today, there is a fear. And I don’t know if it’s a fear or a judgment, and I don’t know what the word would be exactly to describe what the LeBaron’s feel – the Joelites which I hadn’t realized. We always called Anna’s family the Ervilites and the Joelites, but I didn’t know that until I met Anna. So now, we distinguished our families between the Joelites and the Ervilites. But yeah, it’s been a wound to that community that has not yet healed, I would say definitely.
Anna: So when I tweeted her not knowing who she was…and here’s the thing, if I had known who she was, I would never have sent the tweets. We would have never met.
Ruth: That’s right.
Anna: Because I wasn’t familiar with the name Ruth Wariner…
Ruth: Yeah, I took my mother’s maiden name. I have never had the legal name LeBaron even though my dad was Joel LeBaron. And lots of different reasons behind that but all of my mom’s children were named after her. Her name was Wariner, and so people have always been that confused, right? And I knew Anna was a LeBaron. I knew she was my relative when I saw her name but there was really no way that you would know that name.
Anna: If I had known who she was and who’s daughter she was, I would have known my place, and my place would be no contact, don’t reach out, or don’t reach that. It’s not my place to bridge that gap.
Ruth: Right and you would have no idea either that I escaped too.
Ruth: She wouldn’t have known my story was what it was and that we have similarities in that way.
Anna: So it was a memoir and I love memoir so…
Ruth: Yeah, nonfiction.
Anna: So I just randomly and off the cuff just tweeted the author and…
Ruth: And Anna had worked on books before. So you had already been interested and she had been working on social media – she’s very good at it by the way. But yeah, so she had a history in promoting books. So it was kind of a natural fit. I mean, interestingly enough about how it all came together. But you’re right about that, I hadn’t thought about that myself that you wouldn’t have reached out to me had you known that I was a LeBaron. That’s interesting.
Anna: Right. So I’m grateful that I didn’t know that she was and that I had the audacity to tweet one of Joel’s daughters and then make this connection that has just become part of our story.
Ruth: It has been.
Anna: And I say that you’re part of my half away ever after.
Ruth: I think so too and in fact, I’m going to write about this in my next book when I get to meet you. It would be awesome.
Anna: And I should write about it in mine too.
Ruth: Yeah, when I’m writing that getting published and reading my audio book. It’s going to be so exciting.
Anna: I’m excited to read that. Can I help you with that one too?
Andrea: I’m in.
Ruth: We’ll take all the help we can get as we know all three of us are authors, we need help from each other for sure.
Anna: That was an experience that I will never forget. I’m grateful that I didn’t know who you were so that this connection could become something what it is now and just so special.
Ruth: It is very special. And Anna is awesome, not only she’s doing tremendous good in the world but are her sisters. They live two neighborhoods away from me. They’re so close, 20-minute drive from my house here in Portland and so that’s been pretty awesome.
Andrea: Wow that connection, a family connection. It sounds like the healing that has come with that has been so significant even beyond… I mean, writing a book about your story, there’s so much healing that can take place with that. But then like you had no idea what would happen when you came together. I mean, you would never been able to orchestrate it. You never would have been able to ask for it. It was such a gift, it sounds like.
Ruth: Oh a tremendous gift, a tremendous blessing for sure.
Anna: For both of us.
Ruth: For both of us and I feel like I’ve been connected in a way to my father in a way that I haven’t been before. And actually, I’ve met a couple of times now with Anna and her family, her siblings my family too. And just hearing their stories and their perspectives about what the stories were about my dad, you know, and what the stories about that side of my family that I didn’t know a lot about. It’s been amazing.
Andrea: Now, Ruth, one of the things that you’ve mentioned was by meeting Anna and hearing her story and having compassion for her, you were able to have more compassion for yourself. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Ruth: Part of my journey with what happened in my life, there’s been a lot of…you know, growing up in fundamentalism that way, I didn’t feel…gosh it was such a big family but not only that, just the beliefs about women and their place. And there was also a lot of abuse in my childhood, and so I was always very hard on myself in my journey. And I separated with a lot of guilt because my mom really wanted her family to be raised in the fundamentalist church that my dad started.
So that guilt and the shame has been, you know, it’s been a lot of suffering and my sufferings has been a teacher in a lot of ways but it’s also been torture in a lot of ways. And just seeing that Anna and her sisters have done so well with their lives outside the church that they grew up in, and to see how far Anna had come, I could see the same in my own life that I was able to do the same thing. Does that make sense?
Andrea: Yeah. It almost sounds like by seeing somebody else experiencing what you experienced in the sense, there was almost like permission.
Ruth: Yeah, to give yourself permission to forgive yourself and forgive the situation.
Andrea: That you’re not the only one and…
Ruth: Yeah that’s right.
Anna: And to know how far you’ve come.
Ruth: Yeah exactly that was part of it too, absolutely!
Anna: They were huge steps.
Ruth: They were huge steps and it was awesome too that it kind of fell in line with the publication of my book. I mean the timing of it that way. I met her in December and it came out in January, and it was time for me to heal and it was time for me to let go a lot of those things, yeah.
Andrea: So, Anna, I can only imagine that there were a number of things that this has brought about healing in you, what for you have you noticed in particular this interaction with Ruth? How does has impacted your healing process?
Anna: Well knowing Ruth, knowing what she has been through and having read her book, knowing our family history, and being able to process that in terms of that I’ve been a part of the healing for both of us. Just knowing that what I’ve done and how I am, just me being myself on social media. And doing the things that I’m gifted at, and just being the person that I’m created to be has helped. It’s just amazing that I can be myself and make an impact in the world and that me being myself is enough.
Ruth: Uh-hmm I love that.
Anna: That has been one of the biggest realizations that has come about in the past two years. Is that I can be myself and engage with the world and make an impact and that is enough.
Ruth: It’s enough and it’s enough to create miracles.
Anna: I know.
Anna: I’m just thinking about it. It still gives me chills. I mean, out of all the billions and billions of people…
Anna: And tweets yeah. All the billions of tweets online and I just happened across the one, that to me is not an accident.
Ruth: I don’t think that’s either. Not at all.
Anna: So I’m eternally grateful.
Ruth: Yeah, I’m too. It’s been awesome. And now, we get a book to do a book reading together.
Anna: I know, oh my gosh!
Andrea: Ah you do?
Anna: So by the time this podcast airs, it will be in the past so probably not fair to talk people…
Ruth: Oh yeah sorry, sorry.
Andrea: Maybe if you record it. You could record it and then air it on your social media channels and we can go back.
Anna: It’s going to be on Facebook Live.
Andrea: There you go.
Anna: Well, combine it on there.
Ruth: Yeah that sounds good.
Anna: We’re not just being really cruel.
Ruth: Oh no.
Andrea: So how did you choose what you would each read from your books for this joint book reading?
Ruth: We haven’t done that yet.
Ruth: We’re going to lunch after our interview with you and we’re going to decide that.
Anna: How exciting.
Ruth: I know it is exciting.
Anna: Oh this was like so much fun.
Ruth: Well, it is a lot of fun but it’s also as you know I am Andrea, is it Andrea?
Andrea: Yeah, Andrea uh-hmm.
Ruth: I know that it’s so interesting because as you point it out earlier, I mean, it’s such a sensitive topic like what do we talk about. It’s like “Should I say something about Anna’s father in public and in front of an audience live? You know, those are good questions.
Anna: And then I say, do I say anything about her father and what happened between us?
Andrea: How beautiful is it that you guys get to asked each other that question. You get to have lunch and discuss what you’re comfortable with and it sounds like you’re both pretty comfortable with a lot of things. So you’re not going to have a hard time figuring this out. The healing has taken place in each of you individually and then in the relationship between the two of you seemed to have freed you to be able to offer what other people might need to hear from you. So you don’t have to worry about all that fear and trepidation of what the other person’s is thinking but you’re able to just…
Ruth: Be ourselves like what I was saying earlier. There’s an authenticity on that. I think that’s really important and that will have an impact on people who hear our stories.
Anna: One of the things that I have read about that I love the idea of is holding space for someone. And I think Ruth and I have done that for each other very well. We hold space for each other to kind of navigate.
Ruth: And be ourselves like you said.
Anna: Yeah, it is.
Ruth: And that is so important and that is so impactful on other people because then they see that they can do the same on their own lives.
Anna: So I’m navigating this relationship as tenuous as it started out and keeping in mind that each of our family which they’re very large and many people are impacted. I know from my perspective and from where I’m sitting, me telling my story has upset the applecart for a lot of people.
Ruth: Yeah, I can imagine.
Anna: And so having both of us in a short period of time, you know, relatively speaking and both of us telling our stories and people being able to see the impact of our family history on each of our lives. And then all the people that are impacted by the fact that we’ve decided to tell our stories. So I feel like in a way, I’m holding space for a lot of people to kind of navigate through the feelings that are brought up and bubble up as a result even if they haven’t read the books. Just the fact that the books are out there impacts people’s lives.
Anna: And so there’s that little bit of “Ahhhh!” You know, or you just hope for the best outcome possible.
Ruth: That’s exactly for everybody involved, yeah absolutely. And I think another important part to this is that Anna and I can be a support for each other because of the type of stories that they are, because of the impact it’s having on our families. We have an understanding for that part of our lives and that the choices that we made to tell our stories and I think that’s been important too.
Anna: But it applies to even small families.
Ruth: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Anna: Normal families, you know.
Ruth: Yeah absolutely…normal.
Anna: Normal family where you know people grow up and there’s any type of trauma or abuse…
Ruth: It happens everywhere.
Anna: Anybody that finds their voice and speaks up and tells the story of what happened that the whole family is going to be impacted.
Ruth: Right, I agree.
Andrea: Man, that is a really good place to break for this part of our interview because I’m really looking forward to continuing this interview and digging more into of how you each found your voice and what this means for the future of both of your families and what not. So thank you for what you have offered us in this short first segment and first part of our interview. And I’m really looking forward to finishing this in the next episode.
Ruth: Thank you, Andrea, this has been wonderful.
Anna: Thank you!