Monday, April 14, 2008

Chapter One: Going Home

I woke up in the dark, the grim reality of my life seeping into my consciousness like a poison. Around me, I could sense the forms huddled on rough-hewn makeshift bunk beds, softly breathing. I could feel the mass of them around me, vaguely see their clothes and towels hanging from the bunks, smell the unwashed bodies.

I couldn’t sit up, as I would hit my head on the bunk close above me, so I slid silently out of bed. The others had their own work schedule, getting up an hour after I did and returning after I was asleep. That was fine with me ­- I had developed a taste for solitude.

There were six of us sleeping in the tiny room. No closets, just one chair, a desk, and a broken down dresser. I found my jeans and a clean T-shirt where I had left them, neatly folded on top of the dresser, ready for morning. I pulled on thick socks and my big workboots, and found my heavy hooded coat under the bunk bed, where I’d stashed it. I shook it out to dislodge any spiders - what we lacked in storage space we seemed to make up for in insects. I dressed quietly in the dark and went out into the hall and down the creaking staircase. The old house was dark and quiet, except for the squish of my steps as I went down the stairs, still damp from last night’s rainfall. The stairs were cluttered with every bucket and pan I had been able to find, each now full of water, with the ceiling still sporadically dripping.

It was March in the high desert, and the nights were still bitterly cold. Outside, a feeble light was starting to break through the cloud cover. I could see the black tangled silhouettes of trees against the grey dawn, and the long, matted dry grass that surrounded the house. Somewhere, I could hear a few birds starting to wake up.

The house was called Old Gilman House, or “OGH” - a big two-story ramshackle house built in the 1920’s. Decrepit beyond repair, it now served as a detention center for those of us beyond redemption, the “non-persons” slated for “offload” from the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization. The three or four acre compound surrounding the house was completely surrounded by a razor wire fence, with lights and motion sensors every few feet. Aside from the five buildings on the property, there were several storage trailers. Security cameras and round-the clock guards kept an eye on us to make sure we didn’t try to escape.

The OGH compound was at the northeastern corner of a 200-acre property in San Jacinto, California, known to the locals as “Golden Era Productions,” but known by its staff as the “Int Base” – the international headquarters of the Church of Scientology, where I had worked for the past fifteen years. And now it was my prison.

Karsten, the night Security Guard, was on the porch. He gave me a nod as I came out. A hawk-faced German with short, close-cropped blond hair, Karsten kept watch during the night and handed out the work orders in the morning.

“I found these in your room yesterday,” he said, reaching into a box and producing two magazines, a Newsweek and an Entertainment Weekly, several months old. “Why do you read such trash” he asked me, in his thick German accent. “So you can masturbate to the pictures?” He indicated the photograph of a pretty actress on the cover.

“I like to know what’s going on in the world,” I replied. The outside world I’ll soon be a part of.

“I don’t need to know what’s going on,” he replied. “All I need to know is that it’s bad out there in the wog world and Scientology has the solutions. That’s what L. Ron Hubbard says and that’s all I need to know. People laugh at me because I don’t know who the President of the United States is,” he added. “I don’t need to know that.” He threw the magazines back in the box. “You don’t need this garbage.”

Karsten was in many ways the “ideal” Sea Org worker. He lived in a small room on the OGH compound with a single cot and no visible possessions. He wore the same faded brown Security uniform every day, which he would carefully wash in a broken-down washing machine in a back room of the Gilman House. Every time the machine went on its spin cycle it would shake the old building like a passing freight train. Karsten wasn’t married and seemingly had no interest in women. The only thing I ever saw him read was a folded piece of paper he carried in his pocket with the Scientology Axioms printed on it, which he would pore over for hours, his lips moving slightly as he struggled to memorize them.

Karsten gave me the work order for the day, clearing brush around the perimeter fence, and I left the porch. Around the Old Gilman House were a group of run-down, one-story buildings that served as staff housing. Most of the Base staff lived in Hemet, at an apartment complex rented by the Church. But some senior staff were not allowed to live in town so were required to live on the Base in these houses. Behind one of these was a lean-to shack, crammed with staff luggage and belongings, and, in the back, an old refrigerator, where I found some granola and yogurt, which I ate out of a Styrofoam cup. I washed out the cup and put it back on top of the refrigerator for future use.

Picking up a shovel and rake from the tool shed, I headed for the perimeter fence. I liked to be out and working well before any of the “regular staff” got up. I was, after all, a criminal, an “untouchable.” Weeks ago, early in my incarceration, I had made the mistake of taking a shower in the morning in one of the staff houses, the only house with a shower or bath, and, coming out, ran into a woman who then screamed at me and ordered me to clean the bathroom from top to bottom with alcohol before she would deign to use it. “You are filth!” she screamed in my face.

The encounter left me stinging with shame and humiliation. In the eyes of the other staff I was a degraded criminal. Hubbard said that people only want to leave the Sea Organization because they have crimes, so it was important to prove me a criminal and prove Hubbard right. In my daily Security Checks, I would sit for hours, holding on to the “cans” of the e-meter, while an auditor asked me over and over about what crimes I had, what were my evil acts. It went on and on. I just wanted it to be over, so I confessed to anything – treasonous thoughts, hidden vices, secret hatreds. And all of it was then announced publicly at staff “musters” – more and more proof of my criminality and my unworthiness to be a part of the “elite” Sea Organization.

Once, I would have burned with righteous anger. I would have challenged every accusation, demanded to be heard, demanded justice. But no more. I was done, finished. I felt hollow, emptied out. I had reached the end of the line. After 35 years working for the Church of Scientology, I had become an untouchable, a non-person, a Suppressive Person scheduled for “offload.” You are filth.

So I avoided other staff; lived in my own world, a sort of hurricane’s eye, my calm refuge in the midst of the chaos around me. Now I showered at dinnertime, when no one was around. Mornings, it was straight to work. There, clearing brush, clearing away dead trees, carting away rubbish, I could just be alone, and think.

It wasn’t being kicked out of Scientology into the outside world that frightened me, even though I had no idea where I would go, or what I would do. My greatest fear, my greatest nightmare, was being suddenly called back to duty. It had happened three times before. I had been banished, “offloaded” to a distant work camp, never to return, only to be mysteriously and inexplicably brought back, seemingly because they could not find anyone else to do the work I was skilled at. Three times. Back from exile to the hell of life at the Int Base – the sleepless nights, the threats, the intimidation, the bullying, the beatings, the degradation. The stuff of nightmares.

No more. I wasn’t going back. Not ever.

Late one night, about three in the morning, I had been rousted out of my narrow bunk bed by one of the Security Guards, Matt, who was acting as my “handler.” He took me to a room in the old house for an interview. It was lit by a bare bulb and reeking of mildewed carpet from the leaks in the roof. There were no chairs, so we stood.

“So, how are you doing?” he asked me, in a casual tone that belied his true intent. “Have you made any progress on your Conditions?” The “Conditions” were Hubbard’s coded, rote formulas for dealing with situations in life. During the evenings, I was supposed to be “working on my conditions,” applying the formulas for “Treason” and “Enemy” so I could work back into the group’s good graces. I knew he hadn’t woken me up in the middle of the night to make small talk. I’d been through this before – the inquiries about one’s “progress” meant only one thing - he had been sent by some executive to find out if I was “ready to go back on post.” I think he expected me to be remorseful, chastened, propitiative, ready to go back and serve the cause again.

“I’m not doing any conditions,” I replied.

I might as well have slapped him. He was silent for a moment, absorbing my treasonous statement. “If I was you,” he warned me, “I’d be begging on my knees to be sent to the RPF.”

I’d never been sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force, but I’d worked with them daily during one of my forced exiles from the Base. It was a group of probably 150 to 200 people, all working in the lower reaches of the “Big Blue Building” in Los Angeles, and all dressed in identical grey T-shirts and black jeans. Out of sight of the public Scientologists, they lived and worked in the basement corridors, sleeping in squalid dormitories, packed 20 or 30 to a room. They worked in the wood shop every day, making furniture for the “orgs” – the Scientology Organizations. They received a few dollars a week pocket money, if that, and were not allowed to speak to anyone outside the group. No phone calls, no radios, no magazines, no internet, no contact with the outside world. They never left the building. Some of them, like my friend Caroline, had been there for three years or more. It was a virtual slave colony.

“I’m not going to the RPF,” I told Matt “And I’m not going back on post.”

“Then you’ll be offloaded out of the Sea Organization,” he told me. “Out of Scientology. You’ll be declared Suppressive.”

“Fine,” I told him. “Then do it.”

Now, as I methodically cleared the brush around the perimeter fence, I had plenty of time to think about the future. The brush was thick, and I tore it out by the handfuls, piling it up and carting it off to a compost pile. It was important to clear a wide swath next to the fence so the Security Guards on motorcycles - the “Rovers” - would have good visibility and could race along the perimeter to intercept any breach in the fence – in or out. I had to be careful not to set off the motion sensors. Once I had inadvertently touched the fence with a tree branch and soon heard the roar of a motorcycle as the “Rover” came to see what was up.

The mindless work was my sanctuary. I relished my solitary hours. After months of sleepless nights and constant abuse, to just be alone in nature, with no one else around, was calming. I became interested in every detail of my little world. Once, after I’d taken down a small tree that was too near the security fence, I was looking at the cross-section of the trunk and saw that the pattern of rings was beautiful. I took my saw and sliced off a thin section of the trunk and kept it. I still have it to this day.

One day I was weeding one of the garden patches and discovered a nest of baby rabbits. They were so amazing, so small. That night in the dormitory I violated my rule of silence and mentioned the baby rabbits I’d seen. One of my fellow inmates, Darius, became incensed.

“Here we are about to be offloaded from the Sea Organization," he wailed, "and all you can talk about is baby rabbits?” Darius was desperate not to be offloaded – his father, Greg Wilhere – was a top exec. He spent his evenings writing petitions to be allowed to stay. But I was in a different place. In my mind I was already gone. And other things were important to me now – the cross-section patterns in a tree, a nest of baby rabbits, the wheel of the stars at night, the way the sun bathes the hills in warm light in the morning.

A line from the Janis Joplin Song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” kept going through my mind. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. It was true. I had nothing left to lose. They had taken it all. So there was nothing more they could threaten me with, hold over my head. They no longer had any power over me, and, in an odd way, I was free of them at last.

I looked out across the valley. The OGH compound was on a slight rise, at the bottom of the foothills that rise north of the Base. I could see all the way to the highway that wound down out of Lamb’s Canyon. In the dawn light I could see headlights, and I thought about being out there, driving up that road, going anywhere, anywhere but here. A thought formed in my mind: I want to go home.

But where was home? I had worked for the Church of Scientology for 35 years, since 1968. I had been all over the world – Edinburgh, Copenhagen, North Africa, the Caribbean, Florida. My mother, who lived in Santa Barbara, had passed away in 1999. I had lost contact with my daughter and didn’t know where she was. My brother was my only living relative. And I wouldn’t be able to talk to him, as he was still in Scientology, a “public Scientologist” receiving Scientology services. According to Scientology’s disconnection policy, as a “Suppressive Person,” I was forbidden to talk to him.

And my wife Cathy? She was lost to me forever. She would remain in the Sea Org. She had stood by me through three previous offloads from the Base, believed in me despite constant pressure to leave me. But this time it was too much. I was being offloaded from Scientology, a Suppressive Person. She gave in to the pressure finally and filed for divorce. Or so I was told. One day the Security Guards showed up with the divorce papers, and made me sign them. Maybe she’s been coerced to sign as well. But what else could she do? The last night we spent together, before I was sent out to the OGH compound, we had held hands in the darkness, knowing what was coming, looking at the emptiness ahead, the loneliness. I hadn’t spoken to her since.

I chopped away at the weeds, blinking back tears.

I want to go home.

27 comments:

Just Bill said...

Have you found "home"? I'm guessing you have and that it's lovely, warm, welcoming, nourishing and more.

Thanks for writing this. It's important.

Cathy

Sally said...

Your writing has touched me deeply. Thank you so much for taking the time & effort to write this.
Sally

Gary said...

Jeff,

I've followed your writings on the various boards and have always enjoyed what you had to say and the perspective you bring from your experiences. This blog is great and very moving. I look forward to reading more.

BTW you probably don't know me but I beleive our paths crossed in the PAC Mill around 2002.

Gary

John said...

Jeff,

this is very well written, congratulations.

I was in the Sea Org for a long time and had similar experiences to yours, so thank you for sharing it and letting people know about the abuses.

Minorage said...

Thanks you so much for sharing this. It's a very moving story.

If you are OK with it, I'd like to copypasta your blog on a Dutch social networking site (of course using full credentials).

It will help for your story to reach more people.

Is this OK with you?

Thanks.

roan said...

Jeff,

Yours is a powerful story and well written. Thank you for telling it. I guess "home" is inside us, isn't it?.

Regards,

Roan

AnonLover said...

wow, this is incredibly powerful. i'll definitely be back to read the rest.

Rambling Will Smile said...

This is wonderful writing Jeff (a class above Elron) and I look forward to reading the rest.
I am crying as I write this, the way you are presenting it is so moving.
I lost my whole family too.
You speak for many...and what you say is important to the futures of many more.
Thank you.
Colin

TheDonzerlyLight said...

Ok, face streamed with tears I need to tell you ... what? Words can't suffice. So I think to myself, "The tears on your face, why are they there, what are they saying?" And my tears (black with wisdom and mascara) told me this:

"A man spoke words, and unexpectedly you awoke with him in the place of his greatest loneliness. And in this dark landscape, you witnessed that he was his own best friend."

And Jeff, I gotta tell you, that just wipes me out. Thank you for holding on to YOU. Thank you for your story.

phil scott said...

Dear Jeff...Wonderfully well written and detailing a situation not well presented before.

you have joined the ranks of those few who by now have done so much for so many. You are healing quickly.

It took many of us a decade, just experiencing the mess as paying public to get half as far.


Phil scott

Formerly Fooled said...

I, who suffered a fraction of the oppression you and other Sea Org members have, cried while reading this 1st chapter. Tears of recognition, of empathy, and tears of joy that your story will reach so many in this quest to expose the terrible treatment of SO members by David Miscavige and his minions. This chapter shows that the end appears to be closer than ever before. Thank you for your courage and your good heart.

Mary McConnell

nefertitiantico$ said...

Since I wrote the Guru's Gulags , the story of an escape from the church of Scientology,1997- I had not read a real moving story from inside so well written and I congratulate you for doing it a bit every day at your pace and I thank you in the name of the people who, like me, were hurt by CO$
nefertiti

Monique said...

Wow. This is such an astonishing story to those of us who have not had anything more to do with Scientology than see their "Dianetics" storefronts on a local street, or have heard stories on the news. The amount of "credibility" (or star power) that the organization has, with the likes of John Travolta and Kelly Preston and Tom Cruise promoting it, gives it the wash of celebrity and lulls all of us into thinking that "it can't be that bad". Your words here have the force of truth and first person narrative behind them. I, for one, have had my eyes opened.

Whatever said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Just Bill said...

"Whatever" is a coward. A very big coward hiding in the Scientology shadows. A very amusing attempt to discredit the facts that are leaking out everywhere.

Sorry, "Whatever", you are a loser. And your tl;dr post is a complete waste of time. Go troll somewhere else.

Kimball said...

Actually this Whatever poster is one very sick puppy.

When you read about very abusive situations, like cults, like concentration camps, you often read about one of the victims who BLAMES THE OTHER VICTIMS for the abuse. They "didn't do anything". They, somehow, caused the abuse.

Sick.

This Whatever post is a good example of the attitude that makes such abusive environments much, much worse.

Dear Whatever, get some help. You need it.

nefertitiantico$ said...

Kimball is right: "whatever" should get some help
nefertiti

Jeff said...

I removed the comment from "Whatever." Let him get his own blog. Interesting that he accuses me of "no balls" when I'm out here with my full name and he's the one hiding. This is the kind of abuse and character assassination that goes on all the time at the Int Base, and even though this person has supposedly left, they carry on the tradition. And, you'll notice (if you had time to read it)not one specific. He obviously observed the same abuses I did - well, where's his story? I have a good idea who this person is, and he was at the bottom of the org board, happy to just stay under the radar and curry favor by sniping and criticizing anyone on Miscavige's shit list - a follower. And still a follower.

vinaire said...

Hello Jeff,

I remember you from Flagship Apollo where I arrived in 1971 and then moved to Fort Harrison when it was set up. Later I left Sea Org in 1983.

I could feel what you were going through from your description in Chapter one. Very well written. Your sincerity comes through clearly.

Vinaire (the Indian swami)

rebelmacaque said...

I hope this is just a kernel of a full fledged book. Beautifully written. Outstanding, poignant and powerful.

Thank you Jeff.
Artoo

Chris said...

We are anonymous. We feel for all who have been wronged by the Church of Scientology and their branches and fronts. I will post links to your story and an abstract with the links. Just remember:

"That which doesn't kill me can only make me stronger" - Marines

Dr. Robert C. Worstell said...

Jeff,

Glad to hear you're out - and continuing to do such great writing like always...

Best of luck.

Robert

Maxim said...

I have read the whole story now posted. If someone asks me about scientology I'll point them to this as it is the story of scientology.

My tenure in the church was from 1968 to 1997 mostly as public. Jeff has illuminated so much. So much I've wondered about has come into sharp focus. It would make a great movie.

Max Zbitnoff

efnef said...

Thank you for writing this. Cynthia Coleman is my sister. This helps me to understand how and why she became a prisoner of Scientology.

seo expert said...

cool post

Thought Provoking said...

You wrote the thoughts that many have had but could not express.

I too prefered MEST work and solitude over being on post. It was the only time I knew for sure that I was not a degraded being. I knew because I could be interested in life and in beauty as I saw it in the MEST work I was doing. Horrible as it was, there was more theta in the MEST than there was inside the Org, on post.

I very much enjoy your writing style.

Andrew said...

Jeff

Thank you, for all that you went through. And the beautiful recovery you make that helps so many. Yours is the journey of the wounded healer. The internet and your book allows the message to be replicated far and wide.