The closed and hidden world of Scientology is a confusing mystery to Never Ins.
With its own language, intentionally convoluted organizational structure and ever present shroud of secrecy, those who have no experience with this cult are hard pressed to truly understand it.
What life within the confines of Scientology’s control may actually entail can only be imperfectly imagined, extrapolated from the bits and pieces of information gleaned from former members.
Fortunately, a brave but cautious ex member has shared with us her unique perspective as a public member who joined staff.
This person I will call Sarah faces the same issues of Disconnection and the potential for Fair Game as many, if not most, of those who have left the cult. Because of this her identity is being protected out of a necessary abundance of caution.
The 1990s found Sarah searching, like so many do, for that Something to provide her life with meaning, purpose and direction.
A chance reunion with a friend she hadn’t seen for awhile led her to accept an invitation to take a free personality test, Scientology’s first recruitment step.
COS’s initial face is one of warmth, friendliness and inclusion. Newcomers are “lovebombed”, made to feel like they are coming home, are important and about to embark upon the most dynamic journey of their lives. With them, the novice is told, one will find not only the answers to a new and improved YOU, but as a Scientologist one will be remaking the planet into a better, safer, happier place for all.
Sarah was promised much if she but commit herself to the cause.
A wonderful life awaited her.
Here was her chance to do good for Mankind.
Although somewhat skeptical, she continued her interest in Scientology, slowly began backing away from other groups and friends and only hanging out with other members. Impressed, excited and feeling like she’d finally found her niche, Sarah not only joined COS, but she signed a five year contract to be on staff.
Little did she know then that her rosy future so filled with promise would dissolve into a reality of lies and heartache.
Sarah describes that time, “After a couple of months doing basic staff training courses and doing some simple production actions (to prove I could produce), I was on my way to Flag. I was excited as I drove there and arrived in record time. I was going to become a FLAG trained Class IV auditor, then do a Class IV internship. The possibility of staying longer to train up to being a Grad V auditor was the carrot I was chasing.”
Leaving her home she headed to Clearwater, Florida bound for Scientology’s Mecca in the United States, Flag. Staff members like Sarah from missions and Orgs are sent to Flag for training to make the tech standard throughout the world.
Here she would begin training courses to become an auditor. She did the Student Hat, PTS/SP course and then the Pro TRs (Professional Training Routines).
The first hint that all might not be as it appeared came almost immediately upon her arrival in Clearwater.
“Before I even routed into Flag I decided to get a haircut near the Hacienda apartments where my berthing was going to be set up later that day. The man cutting my hair asked me what I was doing in town and I told him. He said that none of the local Scientologists come into his salon, he said they didn’t make much money at all. He said he saw them coming and going on those buses all day and most of the people he knew thought they were like robots that were hypnotized. He asked me if I was there to be hypnotized. I laughed it off, but it was very upsetting to me as my first impression of Flag. On top of that, he gave me a terrible hair cut that left me traumatized!”
Sarah found herself living in a small three bedroom, one bath apartment normally used as berthing for Sea Org members where she shared a bunk bed.
The mattresses were thin, old and ratty, her “dresser” was a cheap cardboard thing with a couple drawers because there was nothing else to hold her clothes.
Recalling her first night as she settled into her new life Sarah remembers,
“It was a 3-bedroom apartment. One room had a bunkbed, one room had a full-sized bed and was fixed up nice (even had her own phone which I believe she paid for or her Org paid for). The 3rd room had a full-size bed (and another private phone) and a twin bed. The living room had 2 bunk beds and a twin-size bed. I was told to sleep in the bottom bunk in the living room because the person who slept there was away for the weekend. I settled into her bed, with her sheets, blanket and pillow that had a musty smell to it. Just as I was finally falling asleep, she came in and asked what I was doing in her bed. I told her what I was told. She was pissed, but not at me. She said I could sleep there for the night, but in the morning would have to get my own bed. I don’t remember her name, but I recall she was from Paris. She was an odd one, we never did get along, but never really crossed paths too often after that anyway.
The next day they told me I’d be sleeping in a top bunk in the bedroom. My roommate was from an Org and she was also in auditor training. She was on the pilot Pro TR’s course along with a batch of other OOT (outer org trainees) and they were all taking soooo long to get through. It was supposed to be a few weeks at most, but she had been on it for 3 months.”
The two rooms without bunks were for Senior Case Supervisors on the Saint Hill Special Briefing Course (SHSBC) called “the BC” for short.
Additional roommates slept in two more bunk beds in the living room while all shared the single bathroom and small kitchen space.
Sarah’s description of her living conditions are similar to those described in Jenna Miscavige Hill’s book Beyond Belief My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape. In chapter 3 Hill recounts; “We shared our apartment with Mike and Cathy Rinder, old friends of my parents who were also dedicated Sea Org members. Mom and Dad occupied one bedroom, and Cathy and Mike had the other. Justin and I shared the living room on bunk beds and couches with Mike and Cathy’s daughter, Taryn, and their son Benjamin James, B. J. for short.”
Sarah’s Mission paid a small weekly stipend (she thinks it was $60) that was to cover her room and board. Starting out, she would take her meals in the Mess Hall which was later replaced by the new Super Power building. The food was so horrible she started using her own money to eat elsewhere or drove back to the apartment to make a quick sandwich. The Mission stopped paying for the board part of her room and board sending her some cash from time to time instead.
Sarah’s course work began at 9:00 am and ran until 10:00 pm that night six days a week with two 1 hour breaks for meals and a few short breaks in between.
Sunday’s classes began at around 1:00 pm with the morning hours called “free time”.
Here, too reality belied what she’d been led to believe as her free time was expected to be used to clean the apartment in preparation for White Glove Inspections. Often the cleaning would be done after her course ended Saturday night so that she could then use Sunday morning to do laundry and what small shopping she might need and could afford.
Laundry time was cut throat. One had to stand guard over the washing machine lest someone else find the cycle ended and remove the wet clothes leaving them piled wherever so they could get their own clothes done.
In Scientology’s usual way nothing is ever free and the washers, as few as they were, were coin operated.
During these early days Sarah’s memories are bittersweet. Testament to her innate desire to be fair she shares her remembrances both good as well as bad. Perhaps this balance is important for all Never Ins to keep in mind. Scientology is, in it’s leaders and policies a dark and abusive cult, but it is also made up of good hearted, well intentioned people.
“At the time, they were finally graduating some of the first students from the Pro TR’s pilot program. The course Sups (Supervisors) were Dusty Rhodes and Art Web. I really liked Dusty because he seemed willing to bend the rules and he joked around with her and her ‘twin’. Art was all business, but really seemed to care about doing a good job and making sure his students had ‘wins’. He was only there a few weeks while Sarah was there. One time there was someone who came into the course room who had been stung by a nest of bees. The MLO (Medical Liaison’s Office) had wrapped her foot in a garlic gauze wrap. The smell was overwhelming in that the Practical room (where the drills were done). They tried to open windows to the recently opened Coachman building, but they were too hard to open more than a crack. The Sups were joking that it was the ultimate bull bait, but after about an hour, even they couldn’t take it anymore and they finally had the garlic girl leave. It took over a month to finish the course with added clay table auditing (both ways, giving and receiving).”
Sarah also recalls however an event that has stuck with and still haunts her.
“There was an elderly woman, a Sea Org member, who lived in the same apartments. She’d lived there for years. Suddenly in the middle of the night people showed up without warning, ordering everyone to pack up and move out. We had no idea what was going on or why.”
As she speaks, Sarah’s voice goes quieter, sadder for a moment. In the midst of the bedlam as everyone is being urged to keep moving and people are racing to find and pack their belongings, grab clothing, find their shoes, there is a stillness in front of one window.
“The old woman was standing at her window looking at a tree just outside. ‘The birds come here every morning’ she said sadly. Everything she owned was in shoeboxes. I remember that. She’d been there for years and all her stuff packed into shoeboxes. The poor woman didn’t want to move. She was probably in her 70s or 80’s. She must have passed away by now.”
Sarah explained the reason for this untimely move was that “… it was to separate Sea Org (SO) from Outer Org students. Which was actually the case because those 2 Sr C/S’s were not SO, they were from Class V Orgs (highest level of besides a SO Org).”
After completing her initial Course work and in a financial bind, Sarah went to work at a Mission after returning home. Working on staff, she was no longer considered a “public” member but a “Staff Member” and her life and treatment very closely resembled that of those in the Sea Org. In spite of the immense workload she was responsible for while working 12 or more hours a day she was paid between $30.00 and $60.00 a week. “Although there were some really awful experiences, there were also some good ones, which kept me going back, until the awful experiences outweighed the good ones. Someday I’ll tell some of those stories, but for now let’s just say that I can never make up for that lost time with my babies. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have stayed on staff that long.”
After she married, she and her new husband took some time off for a honeymoon. Upon her return she discovered a literal stack of Knowledge Reports had been written up against her for not doing her work. As a staff member, she was expected to keep up her stats and to provide her own replacement in the event of any absences.
Pregnant with her first child Sarah was given no kindness or consideration for her condition. She worked the same grueling hours, hardly saw her husband and in her ninth month as she went into labor she was still at her desk working. While she was not ordered to stay at her post, she felt strongly that she had to wrap up her work before leaving for the hospital. Sarah was on the job, talking to people on the phone and putting them on hold while she rode out the worst of each contraction. Fortunately she made it with six hours to spare.
Nothing had changed with the birth of her second baby. Sarah was still made to work the exhausting hours and produce results.
She was only given a few days off each time for maternity leave. Once back on the job she simultaneously cared for her baby while completing a full workload, often nursing while conducting meetings. Her long hours on the job combined with caring for her baby meant little sleep, little time to eat and no time for the rest of her family.
Sarah became afflicted with terrible headaches, she lost weight and was constantly exhausted. There were many times when she did not get home until two in the morning only to get up a few short hours later to go back and do it all over again. That is time with her babies she will never get back and is one of her biggest regrets.
Enough was finally enough.
She left staff and sought to create a better environment for herself and her family.
Sarah is now no longer practicing Scientology. Like so many other former members, she struggles with the guilt and other emotional damage her time in the cult created.
“When Leah said on her show that sometimes she has to stop and ask herself ‘is this really my thought or is it cult thinking?’ I can relate.” Sarah said “everyone heals in their own way, but I’m fortunate to have a core group of family, friends, ex Scientologists and never-in’s who support me along the way.”
Healing is a process and the memories never seem to fade away though she is also quick to insist that her roughly two decades in COS were not all bad.
This telling is only one small portion of what Sarah endured as a public Scientologist. It gives the rest of us an excellent glimpse into what it might be like to be a working, practicing member of a cult so dedicated to silence and mystery. Through her we get a feel for how women are viewed when they choose to attempt to create a family for themselves. In spite of protests to the contrary, it seems children are still viewed as a liability when measured against the demand for production and staying “up stat”. Choosing to have children, to have a family is a basic human right for every woman. Scientology, however feels otherwise, something clearly illustrated in a comment made to Sarah at one point when a supervisor told her, “‘you know, if you were in the SO you’d have to get a CSW (completed staff work is like a request) approved to have a baby’. To which I said ‘good thing I’m not in the SO’.”
So too the family unit is secondary to one’s use as a tool, a means to an end whatever that end may truly be.
Her treatment and experiences leave one wondering at what a true Sea Org member’s life must be like in light of what Sarah, as a member of staff , was subjected to. SO members are not allowed to have children anymore. They either abort the baby or route out.
It is with the utmost and sincere gratitude that I thank Sarah for sharing her story with all of us. In spite of her need to remain safely anonymous, she still has the courage to share her experiences with the rest of us because knowledge is power against the lies of Scientology.