We recently received a message from Ramana Dienes-Browning that, sadly, was all too familiar.
“Well, it finally happened,” she said to us over Facebook. “My mum has disconnected from me so she can continue Scientology.”
And it appears that her mother took this step in part because last October, we finally got to meet Ramana in person when she attended our book tour event in Sydney. But let’s back up a bit and remind newer readers who Ramana is.
In 2011, we wrote about Ramana and her incredible ordeal serving as a young Sea Org executive on Scientology’s private cruise ship, the Freewinds. Initially, we interviewed Ramana because she could corroborate some of the points in another Freewinds saga, the story of Valeska Paris, who was held on the ship to keep her away from her mother — for eleven years, from 1996 to 2007.
But then it turned out that Ramana’s own story was just as startling as Valeska’s. She had been lured to the ship by Sea Org recruiters that talked her out of her dream of becoming a dancer. She married very young to another crew member. And then she was humiliated by her superior officers once her young husband admitted in an interrogation session that he’d been masturbating. From our 2011 Village Voice story…
“When you’re stats are down, nothing is private. The subject of sexual aberrations is very fascinating to Scientology auditors, when you’re not producing as much as you’re supposed to be. So when you get investigated you get put on the meter and any kind of sexual activity will be brought up.”
Ramana says when she was brought into the room with half a dozen Sea Org members, the first thing said to her was by her superior, the Commanding Officer of the CMO, a woman named Pilar:
“She said, ‘You little fucking bitch.’ She proceeded to tell me that he was found to be masturbating, and that he was touching me but I wasn’t touching him back, and that I was forcing him to masturbate because I wasn’t doing it for him. That I was evil, and how could I do that to him.”
Her husband was also in the room, she says. “He was just numb. We didn’t talk about it between ourselves. Pilar assigned me to Lower Conditions, and she sent me on my way. I can’t remember if I was sent to the engine room, but I think I was.”
Ramana believes that she was assigned the ethical condition of “Treason,” which is below “Enemy” but above “Confusion” on Hubbard’s scale.
Ramana went on to tell us about the harrowing conditions working in the bowels of the Freewinds engine room, where Sea Org members were sent to be punished with arduous and dangerous work. And she also described her multiple escape attempts to get away from the ship.
When she finally did get out, she reunited with her father, who had never been a Scientologist and was happy to get her back, and with her mother, who was still in the church.
At the time, we asked her how her mother reacted when Ramana told her about what she’d been through. Again, from our Voice story…
“About a year ago I told her everything that had happened in the Sea Org. She was in shock, and the next day we met up again and she burst into tears. She was absolutely distraught. And what hurts me the most at the moment is that even though she’s so distraught, she’s absolutely committed to the organization. She’s convinced I was mistreated because someone misapplied the technology, not that the fundamental policies that run Scientology are creating these actions.”
We have kept in touch with Ramana since we wrote that story, and last October, she came to our appearance at the Giant Dwarf Theater. We got to hang out with her backstage before the show with jounalists Steve Cannane and Bryan Seymour.
“Mum found out that I had been to the talk you gave in Sydney, and it triggered a final showdown of sorts,” she tells us.
Ramana, 36, lives in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney with her daughter, Iyana, who is 11. Her father lives in a town not far away.
“Mum came to visit around June 2015. She didn’t bring up Scientology at first, but she had made me promise I wouldn’t interact with the media or my ex-Scientology Facebook friends while she was in Australia. I thought for the sake of the family I could make this commitment, but after two months my PTSD was so badly triggered I could barely get out of bed and had to take time off university to recover.” (Her mother had been splitting her time between Clearwater, Florida and Nova Scotia, before her return to Australia.)
Then, she says, her mother found out about the talk at the Giant Dwarf, and she confronted Ramana about it.
“During this talk it basically came out that I had officially been declared a suppressive person by the church, and that in order for mum to stay in contact with me and also do Scientology services I would have to contact the Continental Justice Chief and resolve my declare. That means giving over control completely to the church again, ‘making up the damage,’ ‘admitting I was wrong,’ and doing ethics conditions. Mum said that until I do that she is ‘withdrawing.’ Not disconnecting, but ‘withdrawing.’ I can’t believe how much control this organization has over her,” Ramana says. “She feels Scientology will not only save her but all of us. It is a heartbreaking reality to swallow but she truly believes she is doing the right thing.”
Although her mother has been in Scientology for more than 30 years, she has never reached Clear, Ramana says. Now, her mother is under pressure to disconnect from her own daughter in order to continue progress up Scientology’s “Bridge to Total Freedom.”
“She’s getting some auditing. She is 72,” Ramana says.
Ramana tells us her mother’s decision is “heartbreaking” to her, but also, in a counterintuitive way, something of a relief — she knows her mother has been working up to this statement for a long time. But she’s doing her best to deal with the “emotional blackmail” her mother hit her with in their final conversation.
“This cut pretty deep,” she says.
Ramana, for her part, continues to develop her filmmaking career. She directed a short art-film with allusions to her experiences in Scientology which appeared in local festivals. And it’s also being taught at a local high school.
“I just went in and had a chat with the students and told them my story. It feels good to be educating young people,” she says.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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