In the fall of 2012, Mary Jane Sterne couldn’t have been any prouder. Her daughter, Samantha Paige Sterne, was beginning her first semester as a freshman at the University of Oregon. Samantha’s older sister Brittaney — Mary Jane’s daughter from a previous marriage — was on hand, and so was her ex-husband Chuck Sterne, Samantha’s father. It was a celebration, the family setting up “Sami” in her freshman dorm as the young pre-med major began her college experience.
Just a few months later, Sami was out of the University of Oregon, had signed a billion-year contract with the Church of Scientology, and now won’t communicate with her mother or her mother’s other two children.
She’s “disconnected” from them in the Scientology way, and Mary Jane only has a vague notion of where her daughter is and what she’s doing.
Yes, even as Scientology is dwindling and splitting apart, it still has the power to attract young people into its ranks, often resulting in families being torn apart.
Last year we told you about two young women in Los Angeles who signed the Sea Organization’s billion-year contract only weeks after first hearing about Scientology. Even today, with so much information about the controversial church on the Internet, some young people are still susceptible to its call.
Samantha Sterne has been around Scientology much of her life because her parents were members. And no one gets heavier recruitment than the children of Scientologists. But Mary Jane tells us that her daughter had only minimal contact with the church growing up. Then, a little more than a year ago, Sami spent 11 days at one of its headquarters. And in just that time, everything changed.
Mary Jane Barry met Chuck Sterne in California in 1992. Originally from New York, Mary Jane was divorced and had two children, Brittaney and Colton, when she met Chuck, who had been a Scientologist since the 1970s. (We left a message with Chuck Sterne, but haven’t received a reply.)
Chuck also had two children, daughters from a previous marriage. Mary Jane and Chuck married in 1993 and then had Sami in 1994. A couple of years later, Mary Jane says her own involvement in her husband’s church began to pick up. When the marriage struggled, Mary Jane was encouraged to go through Scientology marriage counseling, which resulted in her making some trips to Scientology’s spiritual headquarters — the Flag Land Base (or “Flag”) in Clearwater, Florida. Things continued to deteriorate, however, and by 2004 their divorce was final.
Mary Jane says that her involvement in Scientology lessened after her divorce, and her own children were never interested in it. And as time passed, she began to be even more disillusioned with it. Like many other longtime church members, she was shocked by what former Scientology executive Debbie Cook revealed in her 2012 New Year’s Eve e-mail and Cook’s subsequent testimony when she was sued by the church.
Later that year, Sami began her freshman year at Oregon. At Thanksgiving, she came home and posted a photograph of herself with her mother on Instagram…
And then she came home for Christmas and had another normal family celebration.
Samantha had very little involvement in Scientology growing up — she had been exposed to some “Study Tech,” Mary Jane says. And in December, at Christmas, she told her mother that she was convinced Scientology “doesn’t work.”
But then, two days after Christmas 2012, Sami took a trip to Flag with her father.
“She was going to do an allergy rundown. I knew she was there, and I was a little concerned about it. She was a complete rookie,” Mary Jane says. Eleven days later, on January 7, Sami returned to California, and Mary Jane says everything had changed.
“When she came home, I could tell immediately that she was very odd. She was sitting on the arm of the couch, avoiding contact,” Mary Jane says. Then came the surprise.
“Mom, I want you to know I signed a Sea Org contract.”
Mary Jane couldn’t believe it.
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard ran Scientology from sea during the years 1967 to 1975, sailing three ships with a small force of dedicated young followers who came to be known as the “Sea Organization.” To this day, Scientology is run by the Sea Org, men and women who wear quasi-naval uniforms, have naval ranks, and sign contracts for a billion years of service. The children of Scientologists are under intense pressure to join the elite corps, and we’ve talked to people who were pressured to sign contracts as young as seven years old. Sea Org workers toil for about 110 hours a week, and for pennies an hour, and never have days off. They live in dormitory conditions, and can spend years separated from their families. Much of the work they do is menial. Mary Jane knew all of that, and realized that her daughter must have been under constant pressure during her stay in Florida to sign up and give up her college dreams and any plans for spending time with her family.
“No way you’re quitting college,” Mary Jane told her daughter.
She tells us that she tried to think of a way to get her daughter to pay attention to the information that was coming out about Scientology. She knew that the publication of a memoir by Jenna Miscavige Hill — niece to the church leader, David Miscavige — was just days from being published. She knew it was going to kick up a lot of negative publicity about the church in the press. Could she get Samantha to pay attention to it?
“I was going to make sure she didn’t go into the Sea Org,” she says. But she had an emergency to take care of in Los Angeles — an ailing aunt — and Samantha used the opportunity to go back to Flag for her “EPF.”
The Estates Project Force is a kind of “boot camp” for Sea Org members. But during Sami’s EPF, Mary Jane was still in contact with her daughter, and kept trying to get her to pay attention to what Debbie Cook and Jenna Miscavige Hill had said about Scientology’s abuses.
Then, in March, Sami came back to California.
“I didn’t see her for a few days. I knew they were trying to handle me,” she says.
Mary Jane says she knew that if she put up enough of a stink, the Sea Org might not want her daughter. The people at the local “org,” in Sacramento, were visiting her house, trying to convince Mary Jane to let her daughter do what she wanted. “The people from the org were trying to handle me,” she says.
“One evening I got off work, and I got a phone call from my daughter. ‘I’m around the block, can I come see you?’ she said. She came by that night, and we spoke for a short time,” Mary Jane says. “I told her, ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to keep you out of the Sea Org. If you want to go to Sac State, that’s fine with me, but you’re not leaving college’.”
But Mary Jane learned that she was up against a team that was working against her. She obtained the following two e-mails, which show how Samantha was talking to a Sea Org trainer named Torin at Flag, in Florida, who was encouraging her to “handle” her mother as Sami was working through Scientology’s “PTS/SP” course — a course that all Scientologists take to help indoctrinate them against people who speak negatively about the church.
So I thought I would just update you on everything that’s been going on for the past few days. My dad and I flew home from Flag Thursday morning and drove straight to the Sac Org to get this all handled! I haven’t been in comm with my mom since I last spoke to her with you; however, Evelyn has been in comm with her and has been updating me on my aunt’s condition. Apparently my aunt is doing better and my mom is scheduled to come to the org and is requesting that I just come see her at the house, but Jeremy is scheduled to call her on Tuesday evening and get her into the org. So we’ll see how things work out! Hopefully all goes well.
Currently, I am working on the PTS/SP course and reading Self-Analysis at night while I’m home. Yesterday, I memorized and passed the Tone Scale Patter. (WOOT WOOT!) I have a few questions, though, regarding my return. If I wrap this whole cycle up in the next ~6 days with my mom (and she is totally handled), will I still need to complete the PTS/SP course in order to return? And if not, what other requirements are there that I need to accomplish before returning? Thank you so much, sir!
Samantha here sounds determined to return to Flag so she can join the Sea Org — but they don’t want her as long as her mother is saying negative things about Scientology. A critic of Scientology is a “Suppressive Person” (SP), and having a connection to her makes Samantha herself a “Potential Trouble Source” (PTS). As long as Sami is “PTS to an SP,” she isn’t fit to be in the Sea Org. Her mother has to be “handled” — which means that Mary Jane has to be convinced to come down to the org for some mental reconditioning. Torin is impressed that Samantha understands the situation so well…
Wow you are on a roll! Thank you for the update. That is not an easy patter to pass!
Obviously keep rolling on your PTS/SP course. Keep me updated with what is happening, because once your mom makes it into the org, I will need to alert OSA as to what occurred and can propose you coming back. Handled will obviously mean she is “with Scientology” and willing to continue on course and cut with her enemy connections.
So, no PTS/SP is not being mandated as having to be completed before you come back, but obviously that is the full tech of how to get your mother sorted out.
Keep it up as you are doing amazing.
Torin encourages Samantha in thinking that her mother has “enemy connections” and that she needs handling. And once something is done about it, he can contact OSA — the Office of Special Affairs, Scientology’s intelligence bureau.
But Mary Jane wasn’t cooperating. There was no way she was going anywhere near the “org.”
Samantha came by again, shortly after the previous visit. This time, she was carrying a backpack.
“‘Mom, you have to go by the org,’ she told me,” Mary Jane says. “I told her it’s not going to happen. I argued with her about what kind of information to trust about the church.”
That March 2013 visit was the last time Mary Jane saw her daughter.
Knowing that her mother was devastated, Brittany asked Mary Jane to move to Virginia to be closer to her. Samantha has also cut off ties with Brittaney and Colton, her siblings.
In August, Sami sent her mother a letter, apologizing for not handling things better at their last meeting in March. Sami also sent her mother a text on her last birthday. But since then, nothing.
“I didn’t hear anything from her on Thanksgiving. On Christmas. I sent her something on her birthday in April, but I didn’t hear anything,” Mary Jane says.
We asked her if she knew where Samantha is now and what she’s doing. She says Samantha still hasn’t been allowed in the Sea Org because Mary Jane hasn’t been “handled,” so, to the best of her knowledge, her daughter is in Los Angeles, “doing the Bridge” (taking Scientology courses) with money from her father.
“I’ve been so close to my children,” Mary Jane says, sounding distraught. She said she knows that when this article appears, she’ll probably be formally “declared” a “suppressive person,” making it even more likely that Samantha will remain disconnected from her, at least in the short run.
But she isn’t giving up. “I love her with all my heart and will do whatever it takes to make sure she understands the truth,” Mary Jane says.
Scientology needs lawyers!
Another fun skit from Karen de la Carriere and Jeffrey Augustine…
And one more thing. Um, what the hell?
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 6, 2014 at 07:00
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