Prescott's mother, Lorna Woods, came back to Wrangell for a brief visit in 1969, after leaving to follow The Family of Aurora Dea to Oregon. From left to right are Tracey (Martin), Woods, Damien (Prescott's half-brother, whose father was a cult member), Vivian Prescott, maternal grandmother Ruth Binkley, and, on the far right, Joy Prescott.
Story last updated at 2/26/2014 - 1:30 pm
The first 16 years of Joy Prescott's life ranged widely: from her mother's Wrangell cult to the crochet her ex-mother-in-law taught her. Both have informed her life: It's the crochet that has a daily presence today, but the cult has left a lasting impression as well.
In the 1960s, Joy Prescott's mother, Lorna Woods, was a lieutenant in a Wrangell cult called The Family of Aurora Dea.
Technically, Prescott said, it was a UFO cult. Members believed they were from another planet, had crash-landed on Earth, and one day would return home.
"They built a whole mythology around that," Prescott said. "And the cult leader - she could communicate with the cult's 'father.' She heard voices, so to speak."
That was when Prescott was between the ages of five and eight.
"I remember not liking those people because I thought they were weird," she said. "Stuff they would say and do was just way out there for me, and I didn't like them at all. ... I felt like - there's all this weird stuff going on. I was trying to get the other adults in my life to listen to me. I was trying to protect my siblings, and it was hard because I was so young."
After a few years, word about abusive practices within the cult got around Wrangell. People forced the cult members out of town. Except for her mother, most of the members were from elsewhere.
That's when Prescott's mother tried to take them out of Wrangell.
"She wanted to leave with the cult, and my dad didn't want her to leave," Prescott said.
Woods snuck the children out of the house in the middle of the night, Prescott said. In the morning, she showed up at the Alaska Airlines booth in Wrangell.
Small-town fate intervened. The clerk was a friend of Prescott's paternal grandmother. She refused to sell them a ticket.
"My mom tried to get a pilot to take us out on a small plane," Prescott said. "In the meantime, the clerk had called my dad's mom, and she called my mom's mom. My mom's mom showed up down there. She lied to the pilot and told him there was an injunction against my mom taking the kids. Grandma took us kids, and my mom left."
Woods went to Ketchikan and talked to a lawyer but ultimately ended up flying to Oregon without them. After a brief visit in 1969, they didn't see her for 15 years, until she left The Family of Aurora Dea. Ultimately, Woods ended up writing a book about it. It's called "Caught in a Cult."
Aurora Dea continued for years, until they were charged with kidnapping someone, Prescott said. Joy Prescott's sister, Vivian Prescott, says it may still be around in the Lower 48.
"It got really bad toward the time that my mom finally left the cult," Joy Prescott said. "The things that the cult leader was doing to the kids - both physical and sexual abuse - and the leader was physically abusing the adults, too, or ordering (someone) to do it."
All the kids have some kind of relationship with their mother now, Prescott said.
Her upbringing, however, led to early independence. When Prescott left home at 16, it was her ex-mother-in-law who taught her crochet. "I really just took to it and just loved it," she said. "I taught myself how to read patterns, and started designing patterns because I could make money that way. I've tried other arts and crafts, and none of them interested me as much as crochet."
She's also gotten into "free form" crochet, which changes stitches randomly instead of following a pattern. She also has done fiber arts sculptures and wall hangings.
She's started selling her crochet designs for the Kindle and Nook and is publishing with yarn companies.
She crochets a piece with the stitch and yarn she proposes for the designs. Editors pick which they want, and she writes up instructions, uses photographs, and essentially creates a small ebook about it. She's been publishing them online for a little more than 10 years, and has accrued about 65 self-published patterns online. Those published in magazines and books number in the hundreds, she said. She's been doing that since the 1980s.
She's involved in a lot of other artistic endeavors, as well: along with other treasure-hunters, she hunts for potential jewelry materials - pottery shards, pieces of glass - on Wrangell's Petroglyph Beach, by the old garbage dump.
"You can find all kinds of cool stuff," she said.
She sells the pieces around Wrangell at farmers markets and around Christmas time.
For years, she paid the bills with a more regular job working for the school district in Wrangell, finishing as the fiscal officer.
In 1993, she moved to Durango, Colo., to go to college and get a degree in English. "At that point, I had never driven anywhere where there was a traffic light," she said. "Or used an ATM. Twenty-four hour grocery stores were really wonderful."
In 1996, shortly after graduating, she got her first technical writing job.
It was crochet that helped her do it, as she used her designs to show that she could write instructions. She moved back to Wrangell three years ago, after working for 15 years in the Seattle area.
Now, it's technical writing that "supports my yarn habit," she said. She likes that it lets her use both her technical side and her creative side simultaneously.
For the last five or six years, Prescott has been working on a memoir about those years the Family of Aurora Dea cult affected her life. She also plans to find court records about the cult itself, and to talk to kids that grew up within it.
At the beginning, she said, it's written from a child's point of view. It also, however, delves into what cults are, why people join them, and why they stay in them.
Whatever the case, her experience as a child has helped make her stronger and more independent, she said.