I got in my car and just sat for a moment. I was parked on Vine Street, just north of Hollywood Boulevard, in a car crammed with my belongings. I was 58 years old, and at that moment, homeless. I had a modest bank account, and a check for $500 in my pocket.
I didn’t want to pay another $100 for the room, so looked into other motels. I found one a block down the street willing to charge me $55 a night for five nights – through Thursday. The motel was run by a nice guy named Chris, who gave me some advice on apartment hunting.
One of the books I was reading, What Color is Your Parachute, talked about the importance of envisioning your ideal career. That choice drives everything – how you write your resume, where you look for jobs, how you act during interviews. I decided that what I really wanted, more than anything else, was to pursue a career in graphic design. It was what I was trained in and what I most enjoyed doing. One of my main disappointments in the Sea Org had been not being able to do design work. Sure, I could just desperately take any job – driving a fork lift at Costco or "flipping burgers at McDonalds" as Miscavige liked to say. But why? I had some time; I wasn’t destitute yet. I would find a job in graphic arts.
I secured the Victoria Street apartment on Wednesday, picking up the key and paying the deposit and first month’s rent. Then I called U-Haul and arranged for a truck on Thursday. It was a long, long drive back out to Beaumont, 180 miles, filling up repeatedly on diesel fuel and agonizing over every dollar. I paid the storage fees, then loaded everything – single handed – into the back of the U-Haul and drove back to the Victoria Street Apartment. A couple of young guys who lived next door helped me unload. It was another long day and an exhausting one.
Friday and Saturday I devoted to setting up the apartment. I unpacked everything, then went to Sears and got everything I needed – bedding, pillows, shower curtain, iron, trash can. Then I went furniture shopping and found a cheap bed frame, a chair for the desk and some shelving from Home Depot. I set up the apartment, putting framed family pictures all over the walls. At least I would be surrounded by family in picture form. I had one picture of Cathy I’d managed to smuggle out by hiding it under another picture. I framed it and put it on the wall as well.
Then – food. I hadn’t cooked my own meals in 35 years, and had no idea where to start. I found myself in Vons, meticulously inspecting prices and package labels. I just sort of got what I felt like eating and seemed easy to prepare. And I got what I thought I’d need for the kitchen – pots, pans, knives, silverware, dishes.
I remembered that Mom had mentioned once that my Dad’s old business partner, Merv Corning, lived somewhere in the area. I looked him up and called him out of the blue. He lived in Solvang, about half an hour north of Santa Barbara. Sunday I went out and saw him and his wife Tula. We hadn’t seen each other since I was about 12, but we spent a lovely afternoon together and he told me some very funny stories about my Dad. Merv was a very talented painter and he showed me his studio. It was nice – it was some kind of connection to family.
With the apartment handled, I concentrated on finding a job. I got my phone connected, and got a DSL line hooked up. I still had my laptop computer, the one I’d ordered when I was at the PAC Ranch. They’d erased all of my photos, but it still worked well. I got that hooked up and running so I could do internet job hunting. I ordered a printer/fax/scanner from Dell, and got a two-drawer file cabinet. I also got a big presentation binder for my "portfolio." I went through everything I had managed to take out with me – old Advance Magazines, promotion, books – and found enough of my old design, illustration and cartoon work to use. Surprisingly, it didn’t look too dated. I got it all copied at Kinkos and inserted into the binder.
I wrote a resume using a format that emphasized skills rather than work history. My Idiots book informed me that it was an acceptable format. I disguised my Scientology history as best I could, putting things like Bridge Publications and new Era Publications. Then I got the resume and some business cards printed at Kinkos.
I went through all of the online job sites I could find and posted my resume, and searched the sites for any graphic design jobs. I applied to every one I found, either by e-mail or regular mail. I created a file of every ad agency, newspaper, and magazine in the area, and started cranking out letters.
In my resume, I put that I was proficient in InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. And I did have some familiarity, but not nearly enough. I invested in the Adobe Creative Suite and installed it on my computer. Then every night I would read manuals and drill on the programs. After a few weeks of this, I was pretty much up to speed.
I started noticing a change in my health. I was sleeping all night every night – eight and even nine hours. I was eating well. And I was finding time to relax. I started feeling a lot better and a lot healthier. And with that, I felt some sanity returning.
I found my old friend Jerry, from the Canyon days. He had his own video production company in Burbank, and I went down one Sunday and spent the day with him. He was glad to hear I was finally out of the Sea Org. Jerry himself had been out of Scientology for 30 years. He had nothing good to say about it. Despite everything I had been through, I still considered myself a Scientologist, and as almost a knee-jerk reaction, I defended Scientology and tried to get him to see it in a positive light.
I didn’t consider myself done with Scientology. I fully planned to do my "A to E" steps and get the SP declare lifted so I could once again talk to my brother. I was going to pay my "Freeloader Debt" – the bill that you get when you leave the Sea Org for all of the services you obtained while a Sea Org Member. I fully intended to do all this and remain a Scientologist. My priority now was finding a job – then I’d worry about getting back into Scientology’s good graces.
The weeks were going by, and still no job. I was phoning prospective employers every day, sending out e-mails, mailing resumes, and rushing out to interviews. I was in a quasi-panic about it – money was running out and none coming in. As I was rushing to an interview, I’d pass these homeless guys on State Street asking me for money. I came to resent them. I don’t have a job either, I’d think, but I’m hustling while you sit there in the sun! Later, when I had steady work, I was more charitable.
In May, I interviewed at a local weekly magazine called Casa. They needed a Production Manager – someone to lay the mag out and get it to press. We talked and they were impressed with my skills. They said they’d get back to me.
Gradually, gradually, I felt myself recovering. I’d get out and take a walk every day, longer ones on weekends. I got into hiking in the hills above Santa Barbara, eventually tackling La Cumbre Peak, the highest mountain in the county.
The view from La Cumbre Peak
The city was beautiful and calming. I’d take long walks on the beach and just relax. I felt like I was slowly gathering up the pieces of my life and getting back some pride and confidence and self-respect.
I still missed Kim and wished I could talk with him. I wondered if they had told him I was declared like the promised to. Probably not. I also wondered where Gwennie was. I tried Googling her name but came up with nothing.
Almost every night I had nightmares. I would be back at the Base, in a meeting with Miscavige, or waiting for a meeting. Or I would be at a Gold Muster, or roaming a strange nightmare version of Building 36. I came to expect the dreams. But every morning I’d wake in my own little apartment and smell the sea air and I’d know everything was all right.
At the end of May I got a call from Mark Whitehurst, the Publisher of Casa Magazine. He wanted to hire me – on a freelance basis at first. He wanted to pay me $16 an hour. I negotiated him up to $20. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but it seemed like I could survive on that when I did the numbers. I started down at Casa Magazine that week – five weeks after my job search had begun.
I got an e-mail from Jimmy Yeoh. He had been in Malaysia visiting family and had just arrived back in the US, in San Diego. He gave me Carrie Cook’s e-mail and I contacted her. She was in Vermont with her husband Peter, who had also left the Sea Org. She was working as a designer for a local magazine there.
On June 5, I began working at Casa full time, on the payroll. For the first time since being out, my income exceeded my expenses. It was a red-letter day, and I vowed that from then on, my income would always be greater than my expenses. I had some catching up to do.
Casa Magazine was a small office, half a dozen people. It was run by Mark Whitehurst and his wife Kerry, a pleasant couple about my age. The magazine was about 60 pages every week, and had to be printed every Thursday night and out on the stands Friday morning. A lot of the ads carried over from the previous week, but there were always new ads to be designed and laid out, and editorial content to be put together. I told them I was interested in art and so became the de facto Art Editor, interviewing artists and gallery owners and putting articles together. They had other freelance writers doing poetry, theater, movies, wine and so on. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays we’d be putting the whole thing together to get to the printer.
When I first started working there, we’d sometimes have to work "late" Thursday night to get an issue out – sometimes until 6, 7 or even, God forbid, 8pm. Mark was careful to check with me and make sure I was OK on that. I almost laughed. Even getting off work at 8pm was like a vacation for me!
"You really work well under stress," Mark told me. To be honest, I hadn’t even noticed any stress.
Mark had to "dial me down" a bit. When I first started working there, I wore a tie every day. He told me that wasn’t really necessary; Santa Barbara was not really a tie place. And he’d notice me working through my break times. "Take a break, take a break," he’d tell me. It took a while to get used to the idea.
With a job secured, my evenings and weekends became my own – a very new experience for me. I remember the first Friday, as I left the office Mark said, "See you on Monday." My immediate thought was "Monday? That’s two days from now!" Then I realized I had two days to do whatever I wanted. I went to the Zoo, the Museum, the library, went to movies, read books, took hikes. Almost everything was within walking distance of my apartment. I started thinking about painting again. When my birthday rolled around in June, I went down to the art store and got myself a set of acrylics, brushes and canvasses.
Out of necessity at first, I stopped using any Scientology terminology. I had to learn to speak without the shorthanded Scientology jargon I’d used for the past 35 years. And to do that, I was forced to rethink concepts. I had to take a Scientology concept and discover how to say it in English. Not surprisingly, I found myself re-evaluating those concepts. Without the Scientology slogan or bromide to fall back on to "explain everything," I had to start really thinking about things. It felt like old, rusted gears in my mind were starting to turn again.
When I first started working at Casa Magazine, I had some vague idea of using Hubbard’s "administrative technology." But as I worked in the office, most of it seemed unnecessary and time-wasting. Sure, I could work out an "org board." Why? It was six people, and everyone knew what to do. I could write a program. Why? It dawned on me that even as disorganized as that office was, it was producing rings around the Marketing area at the Int Base. There, it could take months to produce a single 16-page brochure, doing it over and over and over again. Here, we were getting out a 60-page magazine every week. There were no musters, no inspections, no hordes of executives and program operators swarming down for inspections, no Ethics Officers and Security Guards snooping around, no endless meetings, no recriminations, shame and guilt, no capricious rejects from executives trying to justify their existence. All we did was get out a magazine. And it was easy.
With my evenings and weekends free, I had more time to think about what had happened to me. On a whim, I had picked up 1984 by George Orwell and started to read it. I was struck by the parallels between the thought control systems described in the book and my experiences at the Int Base. In the book Orwell describes "doublethink" – the art of believing two contradictory ideas at the same time. I realized that Scientology was full of those. One was told to "think for yourself," for instance, yet in fact everyone knew that no disagreement with Hubbard was allowed. Scientology teaches that the secret to good communication is high affinity (liking) and high reality (agreement). Yet staff are taught to scream at each other and even physically abuse others. Scientology champions "human rights" yet runs an abusive RPF prison system. I had always known these things, but I had justified them, explained them to myself – in other words, I had become adept at doublethink. With that realization, the sense of hypocrisy, the gap between what is preached and what is actually practiced by Scientology, began to grow in my mind.
I had considered that the Int Base was an anomaly, an unfortunate deviation from the true nature of Scientology. But what if that atmosphere, that culture, was actually the culmination of the unrestrained application of Scientology? I had worked for 35 years to bring about a "Scientology World." Suppose that Int Base was a microcosm of what a Scientology World would be like in reality – an authoritarian regime where "downstats" are abused and any real human emotion is mocked and repressed. I would want nothing to do with such a group.
The tipping point came as I was trying to plan my finances. I knew that I was way behind. I had nothing for retirement, and I was already 58. I calculated out my monthly income and tried to itemize all of my expenses. One of the expenses was my Freeloader Debt. Even at $500 a month, it would take years to pay off. I felt frustrated.
Then an odd thing happened. I got mad. Why, I asked myself, should I pay them any money at all? I had worked for the Church of Scientology for 35 years, seven days a week, often 16 and 18 hour days, for next to no pay. I had no savings. How, in the name of all that is fair, do I owe them anything? I decided, there and then, that I would never, never, pay them a cent on any "Freeloader Debt." And, as that was the second step on the "A to E" steps to get the Suppressive Person declare lifted, that I would never, never do my A to E steps. Never. I owed them nothing. So they labeled me an SP? So what?
All of a sudden, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Thise were things I didn’t have to worry about – Freeloader Debts, SP declares. I didn’t have to worry about those things because…a radical thought formed in my head.
Because I am not a Scientologist.
It felt good to think it, to say it, to scream it. I am not a Scientologist. I am no longer a part of that madhouse called the Int Base. I no longer have to practice doublethink. If something is wrong, I can say so, honestly and openly, without fear. I no longer have to justify abuses – to myself or anyone else.
I took my Scientology books and put them in boxes, then drove them down to recycling and threw them in the bin. It felt great. I am not a Scientologist.
I became determined to find Gwennie. I had last heard from her at the end of the 1990s. She was living in San Francisco with her boyfriend, and had just given birth to a baby girl, Devon. She had sent me pictures. Then, after 2000, nothing. My letters had been returned by the Post Office. I tried one of those net detective services. I gave them her full name and birth date, and a list of past addresses. After a few weeks, they sent me a long, long list of addresses and phone numbers that were somehow connected, they thought, with Gwennie. I despaired of calling all those numbers. Then, in the middle of the list, I saw the name Hare – my first wife’s maiden name. I thought it must be one of Tina’s relatives. I called the number and asked the woman who answered if she knew Gwen Wilson.
"Sure, that’s my Granddaughter," she said.
"Do you know where she lives now?" I asked.
"Yes, she’s right down the street." She gave me the phone number, and I called.
Gwennie was amazed to hear from me, and doubly amazed that I was out of the Sea Org and out of Scientology. She said, "I’m coming down, I’m leaving right now." Six hours later, she was at my door.
Wonderful Gwennie visits me in Santa Barbara
She stayed all weekend, and we spent hours talking. We walked down State Street all the way to the beach, and I told her all about what I had been through at the Int Base. It was the first time I had really unloaded to anyone. Our progress down the street was slow, because every couple of feet she’s stop and look at me and say "No way!" or "That’s nuts!"
It was an amazing experience for me. I had lived at that Base for years. That was "daily life." It was "normal." I was the one who was crazy, criminal, SP. To hear the reaction of someone outside that bubble was priceless. That’s nuts! And I was free to say, yes, yes it is.
I went from laughing to crying to laughing. Gwennie would hug me when I cried, and laugh with me when I laughed, and we somehow made it through the weekend like that. I told her everything, and I felt unburdened, liberated, free.
I vowed to come up and see her, and I did, and still do. Every few months I see her and my wonderful, amazing granddaughter Devon.
Devon with "Grampa Jeffie"
I started searching the internet for information about Scientology, and about Miscavige. I visited all the sites that had been "forbidden" to me while I was a Scientologist, and learned all of the things that had been hidden from us. I was amazed at how much I didn’t know about Scientology’s history, about Hubbard’s life. I was incensed to learn the magnitude of the lies I had been told through the years. In a few weeks on the internet I discovered more about Scientology’s history than I had known in 35 years on the inside. I began to realize how sheltered we had been and how much our information had been controlled.
On one of the sites, I found a name I recognized, and a phone number. It was Chuck Beatty, someone I’d known for years in the Sea Org. I called him and we talked. He connected me up with a Yahoo chat group called XSO. I was amazed to find that there were hundreds of Ex-Sea Org Members who were members! I began to post on the chat group, using my real name. Soon the floodgates opened, and I began to get e-mails from all over the country – and even from other countries – from people I’d known in the Sea Org who had now left. Where I thought I had no friends on the outside, now I found I had hundreds.
I began to travel to see some of my old friends. I drove out to an Ex-Sea Org reunion in Las Vegas, hosted by two wonderful sisters, Terri Gamboa and Janis Grady. There were about 50 Ex-Sea Org there, people I’d known from Copenhagen, from the Apollo, from Clearwater, and from the Base. While I was there, I spent a relaxing afternoon with Bill Dendiu and his new family.
After I got back, I got an e-mail from Scientology’s "International Justice Chief," taking me to task for "consorting with known SPs." Somehow they had planted an OSA spy at the reunion. I wrote him a scathing e-mail back, taking him to task for spying. I informed him that I was no longer a Scientologist and to never write to me again or presume to tell me who I could or could not associate with. That felt great.
Christmas 2005, Jimmy Yeoh and I went up to Seattle and spent Christmas with another former PDO staff member, Georgianna. George was gracious enough to invite us up to spend the holidays with her family. It was my first real Christmas in many years.
I made frequent trips to LA to see many friends there. Gabrielle Allen, now married and running her own marketing company, invited me down for barbecues and parties. I visited my "hijita," Yael, in Huntington Beach. She's gone back to school, works at a great job and is rebuilding her life.
And always, when we’d get together, we’d talk, tell stories, and laugh a lot. It was amazing to hear people tell their side of a story – things had been so shrouded in mystery and secrecy in the Sea Org that you never quite knew what was going on. To be able to speak openly and find out what really went on behind the scenes was amazing – and salutary. I was able to find out, first hand, from people who had been there, exactly how Miscavige had taken control of the Church. And I found that his physical violence and beatings of staff had started much, much earlier.
I got back in touch with my first wife, Tina, and we began to regularly e-mail back and forth. I also found my second wife, Nancy, now living in Pennsylvania and working for an environmental construction firm. I was happy to hear she was doing well, and we began exchanging regular e-mails. Today I am close friends with both of these ex-wives.
But there was still someone I wanted to talk to more than anyone else – my brother Kim. I had talked to Gwennie about it and she said it was ridiculous that I couldn’t talk to my own brother. She even volunteered to call him for me. I didn’t want to get him in any trouble with the Church, but I did want to let him know that I was out and living in Santa Barbara and doing well. Gwennie tried some numbers I had, but they were all disconnected.
I began searching for Kim, but even the net detective service came up with nothing. Finally, in an internet search, I found a mention of his daughter Slayde. It was an unusual name, so I didn’t think there was more than one Slayde Hawkins. It was on the Reed College website and was her senior thesis. I called Reed, and they put me through to Alumni Services, as she had graduated the previous year. They said they could not give me her e-mail address – school policy. I explained that I was her uncle, and asked if they could relay a message to her. They agreed to do that. A few days later, Slayde called me. I explained to her that I was out of the Sea Org now and in Santa Barbara, but I couldn’t talk to Kim because I was declared. I asked her if she could just call him and tell him I was OK.
Ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was Kim.
"You know, you’re not supposed to talk to me," I said.
"I don’t give a shit about that," he said. "You’re my brother. I know you’re not Suppressive!"
We talked for an hour. He told me they were living in Clearwater now to be close to Flag. His wife Cathy, who had been out of Scientology for 30 years, was now back "on lines" and doing courses. I told him all about my new life in Santa Barbara and what I was doing. I was vague about why I had left, not wanting to get into it with him. I just told him that I had "been through some rough times." He asked me if I was doing anything to get "back on lines," and I said no. I told him I was done with Scientology. "Wow," he said, "I don’t know what you went through, but it must have been rough if that was the result."
After that, we talked every week, every Saturday morning. I never elaborated on my Int Base experiences and he never asked.
About six months later, Kim and Cathy flew out to California for a business trip. I drove down to see them and we spent the weekend together. At one point, Kim and I had some time together to talk.
"OK, spill," he said.
"You don’t want to get into it," I demurred.
"No," he insisted, "I do. Tell me what happened."
Over the next hour, I told him everything. The conditions at the Int Base, the abuse, the beatings, the crippling of Int Management.
"I thought there were checks and balances to prevent this sort of thing," he said. "Isn’t there a Watchdog Committee?"
"Name one person on that Committee," I said. Of course, he couldn’t. No Scientologist could – it’s "confidential."
After I had told him everything, he was quiet. Then he said, "I’ve known for some time that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. What you’ve told me confirms what I’ve felt."
They went back to Florida. The next weekend he called me – our usual Saturday morning call. He was at Flag, attending an event. He had arrived early and secured a good seat, only to be thrown out of his seat as it was needed for someone "more important." He had left in disgust. We talked for a few minutes and then hung up.
About ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was Cathy, his wife.
"I’m going crazy; I have to talk to someone," she said. "I chose you."
"What’s going on?" I asked.
"I don’t want to be in Scientology any more," she said.
I asked her why, and she gave me a litany of mishandlings – having to get endless repairs on her auditing, at her own expense. Being told to take services she didn’t want. Being pressured constantly for money.
I asked her if Kim had told her any of the things I’d gone over with him in San Diego. She said no. I gave her a rapid summary.
"Gee, my complaints sound like nothing," she exclaimed. "But I don’t know what to do – I can’t talk to Kim about it, he’s such a dedicated Scientologist."
"Try it," I suggested. "I think you’ll find him more open that you think."
The next day my brother called.
"We’re out," he said.
They started researching on the internet, as I had, all the "forbidden" sites. And they started posting on the XSO chat group, using pseudonyms. Before long, they had an OSA staffer on their doorstep, with printouts of their posts. How he obtained posts from a private chat group he never explained. He told Kim that he would have to disconnect from me, or be declared Suppressive.
"You picked the wrong family," Kim told him. He refused to disconnect.
Today, three years after my exit from Scientology, I’ve created a new life for myself, a life of happiness and freedom. I am surrounded by a group of amazing friends and my incredible, loving family. I live in Portland now, a city I love, and run my own very successful freelance graphic design business. My brother and Cathy live in Portland too, and we see each other all the time. Just last year Gwennie gave birth to a son, Eden, and now I have two awesome grandchildren. I get down to see them as often as I can. I have fully reclaimed my life.
Every once in a while, someone new leaves the Int Base, and I hear the latest news. The most recent person to leave told me that things had gotten "much worse." It strains my imagination to even conceive of what that would be like.
A few of my good friends remain inside. Foster still works in the PAC Mill, still operating that same CNC router. He’s been there now for almost six years.
And Cathy still soldiers on at the Int Base, still on the post of Port Captain.
It is for them, and other friends still "inside the bubble" that this narrative is written. I hope someday, somehow, they can read it. If I had only a few moments to reach those inside, I would say to them only, "I am still here, I am still your friend, I will always be your friend."
I write this also for those tempted to follow Scientology’s Yellow Brick Road – so you can see in advance the nature of the man behind the curtain.
This, then, is my story. I am neither hero nor rogue, neither victim nor fanatic. Perhaps a bit of each. Like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every person. We all make choices. Some are good and some bad. Some are wise and some are foolish. And in the light of hindsight, we can often see that yesterday's wisdom was indeed folly, and in yesterday's foolishness there was sometimes wisdom. I am just a man who followed a dream, some might say to the bitter end, and wound up lost in some very dark and strange places.
I do not look back with regret. I look back, I hope, with greater wisdom, greater tolerance, and greater compassion.
One day, about a year after I had left the Int Base, I took a long walk down State Street in Santa Barbara, all the way to the beach. At the end of State Street, Stearn’s Wharf juts out into the Pacific Ocean. It is a long pier, filled with shops and restaurants. I walked all the way to the end, past all the souvenir shops, past the fishermen with their lines dangling into the water. I walked to the very end and looked out over the broad Pacific. It was a bright and sunny day, white clouds on the horizon, and distant sailboats tacking in the wind. I felt the salt breeze in my face, the warm sun.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a heavy gold ring. It was blocky and ugly, a huge square with the number 25 embossed on it, and over that, the Sea Org symbol. It had been presented to me in 1996, for 25 years service in the Sea Org. I felt its weight in my hand.
Then I spun and with all the force I could muster, hurled it in a long curving arc out over the waves. It disappeared without a trace.
I turned and walked back towards town.