This is happening in Los Angeles, on Fountain Avenue, in an old hospital building painted blue and topped with huge, lit-up letters that read SCIENTOLOGY.
And this is only weeks ago. In 2014. In the center of one of the largest cities in a country that likes to think of itself as one of the freest on earth.
A woman of 29. Already a veteran of years of working 19-hour days for eight dollars a week. With no access to a telephone. Sleeping in a room with 11 other women on a floor of the old hospital with only a single bathroom. She’s never owned a car. She’s never rented her own apartment. She’s never owned a cell phone. She’s never had a credit card.
Except for helping out her family as a child, she’s only ever had one employer: She’s worked for Scientology since she first joined staff at 15.
She cannot watch television. She cannot read the news. She lives in the movie capital of the world but the only time she gets to watch a film is when Tom Cruise has a new one out and she and all of her coworkers are taken in buses to see it so Tom will get good movie sales.
But she’s had enough.
She’s had some job assignments that weren’t the best. There was that endless scanning of documents in a bare cement basement of a building on Hollywood Boulevard, for example. That was drudgery. But this latest assignment was the worst. In order to save money so more of it could be sent “uplines” to Scientology leader David Miscavige, the “Sea Org” had created a construction crew so it wouldn’t have to pay outside contractors.
The woman has never worked construction before. But now, she finds herself stripping fiberglass insulation without protective clothing at one job site. At another, she’s helping repair a ceiling, backbreaking work, at a former hotel on Hollywood Boulevard that has served as dingy ‘berthing’ for Sea Org workers for years.
And that’s where Jillian Schlesinger begins to plan her escape.
One day, on her way to work, Jillian smuggles an empty duffle bag in a Trader Joe’s grocery sack to her workplace and finds a place to hide it. The next day, she carries a couple of articles of clothing. She does the same the next day. And the next, always being careful to hide what she’s doing as she rides in the Scientology bus with the other Sea Org workers.
After a week, she’s filled the duffel bag with her clothes. She sneaks into the building’s ‘galley’ — where there’s a phone — and calls her father. She asks him to drive over and see her, and she gives him the duffel.
In a week, she tells him, meet me at the same place, at the same time.
And over the next seven days, each time she goes to work, she carries a few more personal items from her room at the old hospital and hides them at her construction site at the old inn.
She sees her father again and gives him her personal items. But she admits to him, she’s not ready to leave yet.
In fact, she hasn’t even made up her mind if she’s really going to do it.
He tells her he understands. She has to make up her own mind, he tells her. He can’t force her to make a decision.
So a few more days go by.
And then, on a Wednesday, as she’s heading home with a roommate, she learns that it’s her last day working at the inn. Tomorrow, her work unit will switch to a construction project somewhere at the old hospital complex, where she lives.
She knows instantly that there’s going to be a unique opportunity to make a run for it in the morning. And if she doesn’t take it, she might not have another opportunity for who knows how long.
The next morning, she heads for the bus stop. She knows that no one at the old hospital realizes yet that her job location has changed. They won’t miss her, thinking that she’s still working at the old Inn. But when she arrives there, she knows no one there is expecting her.
So she walks right past it.
She walks to the metro stop, which is nearby. She goes down and buys a ticket — she’s been saving up some money, even on her meager earnings — and takes the subway to Union Station. Then she buys a ticket for an Amtrak train to Orange County. No one stops her.
When she arrives at the station in Santa Ana, she asks to borrow a telephone from the employees there. She doesn’t have one of her own. She calls her father, and he doesn’t answer.
She doesn’t panic. She knows he works nearby. So she takes a cab.
When he sees her, he’s taken by surprise. And he beams. She’s made her own decision. She has left Scientology’s Sea Org. And now both of them, they know, will have to leave the church itself.
They’ve had only a few weeks since then to get used to the idea.
Jillian Schlesinger tells me she began taking Scientology courses at only about 12 years of age. Her parents, John and Paula, had both been Sea Org workers before she was born, but had left the Sea Org and were still “public” Scientologists — meaning they were still members in good standing, but they didn’t work for the church.
Jillian had been born in Los Angeles, but by the time she started classes she was living in Orange County and went to the “org” in Tustin. Even then, at 12, she began to feel the pressure of joining staff or making the ultimate commitment — joining the Sea Org. After helping out as a volunteer with youth groups, at 15, she decided to join the OC org staff.
She was assigned to work for the org’s “Department of Special Affairs.” The DSA was the local version of the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s notorious intelligence operation and spy wing. Like OSA, the DSA at the org was also responsible for public relations, which is where Jillian worked. She wasn’t allowed to enter the room where the other part of the DSA — the local intelligence hub — did its work.
While she was on staff, she continued to attend school, and she had some thought about becoming a teacher. But like any second-generation Scientologist in her teens, she was under increasing pressure by recruiters to join the Sea Organization.
“They start recruiting you when you’re pretty young. I was asked to be in the Sea Org when I was 13, and throughout the time I was on staff,” she says. “They come to you every day. They write you letters. They come to your house and stay for hours, trying to talk to you into it. It’s very intense.”
Eventually, she caved. She was 18 when she signed the Sea Org’s billion-year contract and then was recruited to one of the Sea Org’s most exclusive divisions, the Commodore’s Messenger Organization. At that time, she says, one of the CMO’s divisions handled the financial network of the orgs. So for a few years, she was sent to Scientology churches around the state of California, checking on their financial health.
She went to the San Diego org, for example, where the local staff was being paid $20 a week. So while she was there, she made the same.
Her parents, she says, were divorced by then, and they told her they just wanted her to be happy. But her father was concerned about Jillian being recruited to the CMO. It suggested that she was being groomed for some of the most sensitive postings in the organization.
“He didn’t want me to go to Int,” she says — he still had bad memories of Scientology’s International Base near Hemet, where only a few hundred of the most trusted Sea Org members worked. Jillian says her father had “blown from Int” — escaped — and he didn’t want her to go there.
But for now, she was still shuttling between orgs in California, inspecting their finances.
It was 2003, and already, Jillian was beginning to realize that something was wrong.
“We were supposed to do all these campaigns that would bring in all the public,” she says. “Every event was a big new thing we were supposed to do. But it never really did that much.”
Then, after a few more years, Jillian was summoned to Flag.
Scientology’s spiritual headquarters are in Clearwater, Florida and are known as the “Flag Land Base,” or Flag. Jillian spent the next six years there, and, just as her father feared, she was being groomed to end up at Int Base, back in California, and work directly with David Miscavige himself.
But she never got there. Instead, in 2012, she got a completely different, and somewhat baffling, new assignment.
She was sent back to Los Angeles, but to Scientology’s major publishing arm, Bridge Publications.
While at Flag, Jillian had trained to be an auditor — qualified to give Scientology’s particular brand of counseling — and she was told that the workers at Bridge Publications needed the guidance of someone like her. If Bridge was going to raise its stats, its workers needed an auditor who could whip them into shape.
But there was one major problem. When she got there, she was told that Bridge was not technically part of the church but was its own, independent corporate organization. And no auditing could occur there.
“It was very weird,” she says.
“I didn’t have a very good experience there,” she adds. “People have long hours. The staff will go for months without study time. They work very late hours, and it is dangerous when you have the heavy equipment that they run.”
She looked for opportunities to talk with the workers — she couldn’t audit them in the building, but some of them would come to her berthing for the service. At other times she helped out in the making of books, particularly when there was an “all hands” call and a job was being pushed through at fast speed.
When the Golden Age of Technology Phase II was being prepared by Miscavige last year, work at the plant became frantic. There were months of people staying up really late. “It was all people were doing for months and months.”
Then, suddenly, in September last year, she was moved again. This time to the Hollywood Guaranty Building on Hollywood Boulevard at Ivar Ave. The HGB is one of the most important buildings in the Scientology world. On the ground floor is the entrance to the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition, where the Scientology founder is celebrated. But on the upper floors, what tourists don’t see are the offices of some of Scientology’s most powerful executives. It was also the HGB where Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of leader David Miscavige, contemplated throwing herself from a window, one of the more gripping scenes from her recent memoir, Beyond Belief.
But Jillian didn’t get to work in the offices on the upper floors, or in the Life Exhibition. She worked in the basement, scanning documents from files piled in hundreds of milk crates. They were files on thousands of people — “Everyone who had ever done a course. The essays they wrote, for example,” she says.
“It was really boring. We were in this huge basement that had nothing — it was just cement. But sometimes it was better than doing the construction jobs. Some of the girls would rather do the scanning,” she says.
I asked Jillian why she hadn’t married by this point. Sea Org members are known for marrying very young, in part because as singles they get no privacy, sharing same-sex dormitory rooms and sharing bathrooms. A married couple might get their own bedroom in an apartment with several other couples. Because of that, many Sea Org members marry by 17 or 18.
“I had different reasons,” she says. “If you’re going up lines, it was important that you had no relationships. After that, I think because there was a lot of stuff I saw, and I was already having doubts. There wasn’t anyone I could find who was similarly minded.”
By the time she was back in Los Angeles and in her late 20s, she was having serious doubts.
“It was about the conditions. It’s so controlling. It’s frantic. It’s urgent. The stats are never good enough. There’s a feeling that we haven’t worked hard enough or done enough. After a while, you feel like nothing you do is good enough. It’s not a good feeling.
“And they’re into signing a lot more things now. You have to sign a document saying that you don’t have Internet, or gmail, and other things. If you did have email, you had to give them your address and then they cancel it for you,” she says. “And all of your mail gets checked. So if someone sends you a letter or a box, they go through it first. And if they find something in there negative about Scientology, they’ll take it away. That made it hard to talk to my dad.”
But she found a way.
After her escape, it took a few days before anyone at PAC base — the Big Blue headquarters that was the old hospital — figured out that she was missing.
“They called me at my dad’s house, but I missed the call. So I called them. I told them I was willing to come back and sign papers or do some auditing, but I was not willing to stay there. That seemed to throw them off,” she says.
“So a week went by. Then they called and said, read this and that from the ethics book. OK. So I did it. But during that time, I had started to talk to Karen.”
Karen de la Carriere is a former top auditor with the church and a frequent contributor to the Underground Bunker with her videos. She proposed to Jillian that she tell her story on video. Jillian didn’t hesitate.
“The night before the video came out, around midnight, I got an e-mail from the church,” Jillian says. Suddenly, the church sounded more accommodating. It wanted to ship her some things, for example.
I wondered if the church knew she was talking to Karen and filming with her.
“I think it’s possible,” Jillian says.
And since the first video appeared on Sunday, she’s heard nothing further from the church. Not about a “freeloader debt” or a declare order (an excommunication). She assumes all the public attention she’s getting for talking about her defection has spared her the pressuring phone calls and visits from church operatives that often convince other defectors to “route out properly”
If Scientology is leaving her alone, Jililan still has a daunting task in rejoining the modern world.
She’s 30 but she’s never had a driver’s license. She has a bank account, but she rarely had access to it. She has no health insurance. She needs to learn about renting apartments or checking her credit score.
“It’s completely different,” she says. “But the food — it’s way better.”
She’s already getting emotional support not only from her father but other ex-Scientologists, who have been offering their help.
“I think I can hold it together. But I have to say, when I made the videos with Karen I was really nervous,” she says with a laugh.
“There are days when I cry. All of the people you’ve known, your friends you left behind, it’s a big change.”
But she wants to get the word out about what Scientology is going through. That it’s dying, for example.
“I’ve been to orgs all over California, and they’re empty. There are maybe five people there. And some of the fancy course rooms at the Ideal Orgs? They’re being used for storage,” she says.
I asked her what it was like to work in the Sea Org that would surprise people.
“The amount of internal fighting — the yelling. Between seniors and juniors. To me that was just too much. It’s a lot of screaming, a lot of fighting. People aren’t making enough money, they aren’t making enough calls. They’ll pour water on you as punishment,” she says.
“If you go to AOLA [the Advanced Organization of Los Angeles, where wealthy, high-level Scientologists receive special procedures] almost every other week, that org will be in lower conditions — Treason or Liability. People are on shortened meal breaks. Longer schedules.”
I asked about her own case. After being in Scientology so long, how far up “the bridge” was she?
“Not much higher than when I first started,” she says. She did train to be an auditor at Flag, but there was little time for coursework in the Sea Org.
I asked about what had shocked us so much Sunday, her statement in Karen’s video that she had been told that an analysis had been done, and that 2,000 Sea Org workers at Flag were sending $1.5 million a week up lines to David Miscavige. (He was upset that the 2,000 Sea Org workers in the LA area weren’t able to do the same, which motivated the construction unit being created.)
Was this something she was told? Did she get it secondhand, I asked. But she told me that wasn’t the case. She had seen a written order that spelled out the $1.5 million in cash being shipped up to Miscavige.
[Note to the IRS: That was a document in writing spelling out the inurement of Scientology’s leader. No need to thank us for that tip.]
I pointed out to Jillian that it’s really rare for someone to be speaking about their experiences in Scientology so soon. It can take years before a former member has decompressed enough to talk about what they went through.
But here it is, only a few weeks since she took that train to Orange County.
Jillian said kind things about Karen and the other people who have talked to her in recent days. She says the Scientologist in her is shocked to find out that “wogs” (non-Scientologists) are actually so friendly and supportive.
And I had to ask her about L. Ron Hubbard. Many ex-members have quit the church because they’re fed up with Miscavige. But they are still adherents of Hubbard and wish for an earlier time in the church, when they had joined.
“I’m in between,” Jillian says. “I think there are some things I gained in Scientology. I don’t hate it. But I’m just starting all over now,” she said.
“I tell people, I’m between religions.”
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 26, 2014 at 07:00
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UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43