Twenty years ago today, at three in the morning, Brenda Hubert woke up in her Orlando hotel room to find her roommate, Lisa McPherson, sitting on her, holding her arms down.
Two days earlier, Brenda and Lisa had traveled together by car from Clearwater to attend a business conference. They were co-workers at AMC Publishing, and the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies annual meeting was the biggest convention of the year for AMC. During the first two days of the conference, Brenda watched as Lisa had acted increasingly strangely. But late on the second day, a Thursday night, Lisa had managed to get through the company’s hosting of a hospitality suite without trouble and she had returned to their room at about midnight. Brenda herself got to the room at about 1 am and saw that Lisa was sleeping soundly.
Now, just a few hours later, in the early hours of Friday, November 17, Lisa appeared to be out of her mind. As she held Brenda down, Lisa urged her to get up and get dressed, saying that they were in terrible danger and that Brenda had to help her save the planet before it was too late.
“I couldn’t get her to calm down. She was ranting. Finally I shoved her off me and screamed at her to come to present time and knock it off,” Brenda wrote in a report about the event two days later. “She was going on and on about needing to be more responsible and that she had fucked up so badly that she couldn’t make amends for it — that she didn’t know how to do what was being asked of her.”
Lisa said the planet needed saving, and now. But as Brenda indicated in her report, Lisa also felt responsible for whatever it was that was threatening the entire world, that it was her fault that things were crumbling around her.
Two decades later, it’s perhaps a little clearer to understand why Lisa felt that way. And it had to do with Scientology.
Two days earlier, before they had left for the conference, Brenda had been told by Lisa’s Scientology “ethics officer,” a woman named Katie Chamberlain, that Lisa was working on a Scientology process, and that she had been having some trouble with it. She asked Brenda to “8-C” Lisa, meaning to take control of her and monitor her closely.
In fact, for weeks Lisa had been writing up a series of confessional notes for Chamberlain. It was the latest Scientology “handling” in Lisa’s roller-coaster career in the church. In June, she’d had a nervous breakdown, and admitted to Brenda that she was having suicidal thoughts. Lisa took a leave of absence from AMC and checked herself into the Fort Harrison Hotel, the hub of Scientology’s “Flag Land Base” in Clearwater. A woman named Susanne Schnurrenberger was assigned to take Lisa through something called the “Introspection Rundown.”
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard came up with the Introspection Rundown while he was running Scientology from the sea on the yacht Apollo. In 1973, a crew member, Bruce Welch, had gone berserk in a psychotic fit. Hubbard had Welch confined to a cabin and gave instructions that Welch should not be spoken to or experience other sensory input, as much as was possible on an ocean-going yacht. Hubbard theorized that the psychotic was someone who had turned inward, and giving them the silent treatment would force them to come out of their introversion to normalcy. Several weeks later, Welch was allowed out, and he did seem to have improved. Hubbard, with characteristic modesty, announced that he’d come up with the solution to all human psychoses with his method. The second person he used it on was his own son, Quentin.
At the end of several weeks at the Fort Harrison Hotel, Lisa McPherson did seem to have improved after her own experience of the rundown. She continued her Scientology counseling, and, as multiple eyewitnesses allege, her case was being watched closely by Scientology’s leader himself, David Miscavige. On September 7, Miscavige, watching Lisa’s auditing from a remote “look-in” room in the Fort Harrison Hotel, determined that Lisa had gone “Clear.” Lisa celebrated this milestone with her friends, relieved to have finally reached what is a landmark event for any Scientologist. But she continued to struggle at her job at AMC. In 1993, Lisa had been the company’s top salesperson, making $136,000 that year. But now she was selling little at a company that was owned by Scientologists and run using Scientology concepts. In October, as she went through another “ethics” action, the lines between AMC and the Church of Scientology were blurred. Lisa began an intense series of Scientology confessionals, trying to understand why she was struggling at her job.
Claire Headley, a former Sea Org worker who was so technically advanced she oversaw the auditing of Tom Cruise before she left the church in 2005, explains that when a Scientologist’s “statistics” are down, they are often asked to do something called “Overt/Withhold” write-ups. (In Scientology lingo, an overt is a venal act, particularly against the organization, and a withhold is information that someone is holding back, a secret, which occurs after an overt.)
“In my time in Scientology I think I easily did hundreds of O/W write-ups,” she says.
When Scientologists aren’t performing well (as in, for example, bringing money into the organization), they are asked to write confessions about what it is they have done that is not in Scientology’s best interests, or other withheld secrets about their personal lives.
In Scientology, if you aren’t doing well, it’s always your own fault, and generally, it’s because you’re harboring secret animosity for Scientology itself.
Claire explains that O/W write-ups have a particular form, and they are checked by an auditor using an e-meter, to make sure that the subject has revealed everything and isn’t holding back more withholds. The results are stored in a subject’s folders and the information is “actionable” — it can be used against the subject in the future.
“It’s all about making yourself out as the bad guy, until, at the end, you are supposed to feel a big relief. It’s just one example of the many mindfucks in Scientology,” Claire says. “It’s very easy to get to the point where you can feel, if not exactly suicidal, like an end would be better than grueling through it anymore.”
Looking at Lisa McPherson’s O/W write-ups for early November 1995, Claire says that they would be familiar to any Scientologist, if more intense than usual.
“They were putting some serious pressure on this woman,” she says. “And it is not uncommon in Scientology for people to ‘crack’ while under heavy ethics handling, and then need the Introspection Rundown, suicide watches, or other such extreme measures. So yes, in that regard, while the O/W write-up itself is not out of the ordinary, the length and depth of it is.”
We asked another former Sea Org member, Sunny Pereira, to look at the O/W write-ups that Lisa wrote between October 31 and November 12, just a few days before her trip to Orlando.
“She is clearly blaming herself for everything around her in the company,” Sunny says as she went through the 43 pages of confessional notes that Lisa wrote. “Wow, she is really beating herself up for every little thing.”
Sunny noted that the write-ups weren’t correctly formatted, something Scientology is usually very specific about. But whether Lisa was writing them correctly or not, the message was crystal clear: Lisa was sure that she was the source of all her own problems. “She talks about her stats crashing for good in February 1995,” Sunny said. “She is spun in about everything being her fault.”
In several of the write-ups, Lisa shares intimate details from her sexual experiences, starting as a child. And even in these, she finds ways to blame herself that make a reader wince. “She’s saying that she ruined a guy’s life because she decided that she didn’t want a relationship with him anymore. Poor girl. She is so worried about everyone else rather than taking care of herself,” Sunny said.
“She sucked her thumb when she was three years old — and she wrote about it as an overt. Wow.”
On November 3, Lisa wrote that a couple of years earlier, in October 1993, she met a guy in a Dallas country-dancing bar. She knew that in a couple of months she’d be moving to Florida, and so it made no sense to start dating someone new. But she had an instant attraction to the guy, and asked him to dance. She let him walk her to her car afterward, and saw what he was driving — a heap, another reason, she reasoned to herself, that she shouldn’t get involved with him. He called her several days later, apologizing for not calling sooner because he’d been in jail. The guy was a disaster, and everything about him told her he was not boyfriend material. Still, she was attracted to him, and they later went out dancing and then decided, after much discussion, to sleep together until she left town, practicing safe sex by using condoms.
And although this was, in 1993, a 34-year-old single woman who had every right to decide to have a responsible, short-lived fling with a wayward Texas cowboy, her write-up about the incident is entirely about her feelings of guilt — guilt, that is, over how much her actions inconvenienced her friend and employer, Bennetta Slaughter.
While Lisa was seeing the man, her work at AMC Publishing had taken a nosedive — her stats, as a saleswoman, had crashed. And this was Scientology, so Lisa assumed that her “overts” in her second dynamic (her bad behavior in sexual matters, her “2D”) were directly responsible for her sales plummeting. (A connection she offers no evidence to prove.) And so, by her reckoning, Lisa had harmed her friend Bennetta twice, by not telling her about her “2D” adventures, and by hurting Bennetta’s business over it.
In Lisa’s mind, she had pulled Bennetta into her hellish problems because of her decision to secretly sleep with a man for a few weeks…
I never told Bennetta what it was I had committed her to. What ended up happening is my stats crashed at work and no one knew what I was doing so no real ethics handling could occur. I set a bad example of a Scientologist, my comm line with Bennetta was destroyed with massive withholds, production was lost, our friendship was severely damaged because I am not being a friend, I am dumping all my personal responsibility on her making it impossible to be her friend. Her trust in me is worthless but she does not know that so she is making decisions and trusting me when I have long since betrayed her.
The slightest mishap in her life Lisa now saw as something she had brought on herself, and the reason her life had been harmed.
In her final write-up, written three days before she left for Orlando, she remembered an incident in school that she now saw as a major reason that her life was so screwed up…
The first day of second grade. I sat down in the class on the third row second from the front, I was a good student and did not want to miss anything. The teacher wrote a word on the chalkboard which I did not understand. The word was VOWEL. I was blank on the meaning. She asked the whole class if anyone did not know the definition of this word and no one raised their hand. I did not know and I did not raise my hand. I ruined my education because from there on out I would not clear my words and I instead, would figure out the word from the text as I did that day in the classroom.
The “misunderstood word” is a central tenet in Scientology’s “study tech,” a rubric Scientologists learn early in their careers as part of Scientology indoctrination, that everything good in your life comes from Scientology, and everything bad was your own fault.
And Lisa clearly believed that with utter certainty. For failing to raise her hand in the second grade and admit that she misunderstood the word vowel, her entire education had been ruined, which led to more failures and even risking the future of the planet.
Several months after she’d been suicidal, she was going into another difficult period of mental health. And while that was happening, Scientology had her, day in and day out, finding ways to blame herself for everything negative in her life, making her believe she was a terrible friend, a betrayer, someone who was at fault for everything bad in the world.
Now, on Friday, November 17, Lisa was beginning to lose her grip on reality. The entire world was at risk, and it was all her fault, she told Brenda Hubert in her 3 a.m. freakout.
Brenda managed to calm Lisa down, and got her back to sleep. But later that day, Brenda and the other AMC employees decided that Lisa needed to go home. So she and Brenda left the conference early and drove back to Clearwater that afternoon.
As she helped Lisa take her luggage into her apartment, Brenda thought about what Katie Chamberlain had told her three days earlier, before the trip. Chamberlain, alluding to Lisa’s work doing the O/W write-ups, had said that Lisa was acting oddly, but that Lisa was faking it, and that there was really nothing wrong with her.
Brenda now knew that what was bothering Lisa was quite genuine. She told Lisa to get some sleep and to call Katie in the morning. Then she went home.
She never saw Lisa again.
We didn’t get a chance to include photos in our book, so we’ve posted them at a dedicated page. Reader Sookie put together a complete index and we’re hosting it here on the website. Copies of the paperback version of ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely’ are on sale at Amazon. The Kindle edition is also available, and shipping instantly.
Our book tour is concluded for now. (But you can re-experience it through this nifty interactive map!) We’ll let you know about future appearances. Previous events: Santa Barbara (5/16), Hollywood (5/17), Orange County (5/17), San Diego (5/20), San Francisco (5/22), New York (6/11), Chicago (6/20), Toronto (6/22), Clearwater (6/28), Washington DC (7/12), Hartford (7/14), Denver (7/17), Dallas (7/20), Houston (7/22), San Antonio (7/24), Austin (7/25), Paris (7/29), London (8/4), Boston (8/24), Phoenix (9/15), Cleveland (9/23), Minneapolis (9/24), Portland (9/27), Seattle (9/28), Vancouver BC (9/29), Sydney (10/23), Melbourne (10/25), Adelaide (10/28), Perth (10/30)
Posted by Tony Ortega on November 17, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill
The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield