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Another Leah, inspired by her namesake, comes forward with a harrowing Scientology escape

 
As we explained on Sunday, there will not be an additional special episode of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath tonight after all. Last week’s second Reddit AMA special episode, which featured Lawrence Wright, Ray Jeffrey, and Steve Hassan, was the final episode of the season. We also haven’t received any definitive word yet that a second season is in the works.

However, we’re definitely still feeling the effects of Leah Remini’s breakout hit for the A&E network. Many people who had been holding back with their Scientology experiences have been showing up on social media, hungering to tell their stories.

One of those people was Leah Farrow, who gave some of the basics of her story on a Facebook group and then reached out to us. We were anxious to talk to her because her experience intersects with some of our favorite stories from the past — namely, the dramatic tales on the high seas with former Sea Org members Valeska Paris and Ramana Dienes-Browning and Scientology’s cruise ship, the Freewinds.

Since 1988, Scientology has been sailing the Freewinds in the Caribbean, where it offers its highest course of spiritual enlightenment, known as OT 8. (And at first, things didn’t go very well.) The ship is the only place that a wealthy Scientologist can achieve OT 8, but it also hosts many other Scientology seminars and events. The vessel has a dedicated crew of “Sea Org” workers, who sign billion-year contracts and work for pennies an hour, 365 days a year. Both Valeska and Ramana told us dramatic stories about being taken to the ship as teenagers and spending years on it with many hardships.

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Leah Farrow tells us she was only 15 when she first went to the ship. She had grown up in Scientology, and both of her parents were Sea Org workers in Los Angeles when she was born. When she was ten years old, her family moved from L.A. to another major Scientology center — the town of Clearwater, Florida. It was there, at only 10 years old, that Leah began taking Scientology courses at the “Flag Land Base.”

She says that her experiences as a young Scientologist on course at Flag weren’t negative. She enjoyed being with her friends and attending Scientology events. And then, at 15, she went with her friends for a 1994 “Teen Week” event on the Freewinds.

There’s a lot of pressure on young Scientologists to sign up for the Sea Org and dedicate the rest of their lives (and future lives) to working around the clock for the organization. To get them to agree to that, young church members are told that the Sea Org life is not only the most important thing they could do and would actually help save the planet, but they’re also given the idea that it’s a glamorous life along with its rigor.

And in the case of both Ramana and Leah, there were good looking guys showing them a lot of attention. Leah developed a crush on one of the guys on the ship.

“He’s the one who recruited me. He knew I had a crush on him, and he fed into that, and he also promised that I would be able to immediately join the TTC because I had always wanted to become an auditor,” she wrote in her Facebook essay, referring to the Tech Training Corps, which would allow her to spend her time learning how to audit other Scientologists. “I signed the contract with the intention of taking a few months to prepare to leave my family. My parents and little brother and sister were all Scientologists at the time, as well as two aunts and uncles and two other cousins. When I got home from the ship, I was heavily pressured to leave right away and two weeks later, I started the EPF.”

The Estates Project Force is the Sea Org’s boot camp, and it’s grueling, lasting about a month. “I immediately regretted my decision. I cried every night for a week. After my EPF I immediately went to the ship and of course wasn’t put on the TTC. I was put in the Call-In Unit…I was in that unit for about 2 years I think. My grandmother died in that time and left me about $8,000. We never had enough money to make the calls we were supposed to make on post – calls were really expensive to make from the ship – and I was pressured to make it go right, so I used about $6,000 of that inheritance to make calls for my post. I was 15 and 16 during this time and being yelled at almost daily by my senior. She would get in my face and back me into a wall and yell.”

We had to find out more about this, so we got a chat going with Leah on Facebook.

The Bunker: Leah, we know that Sea Org members make little or no money. But you were actually paying money in your job, while you were on the ship, unable to come and go?

Leah: Our job was to call people who had services already fully or partially paid for and book them to come to the ship and get the services. A mission from Int [Scientology’s “Int Base,” in California] was on the ship establishing it. There was me, my senior Rose, and another woman, Justa in it. Justa was from South Africa and she was probably in her late 70’s

The Bunker: And so your job was sit in a cabin or something and make calls to people where, back in the US? Europe?

Leah: In an office-type room with phones. Yes, mostly the US but sometimes to Europe or Latin America.

The Bunker: And they were the ship’s phones, weren’t they? Why would your money be involved?

Leah: We were given an allocated amount of money each week for phone calls but it was never enough. It was kind of like a prepaid phone system. If you ran out of your allocation, you couldn’t call. I had a code I had to type in before I could call out

The Bunker: And they expected you to use your own money if the allocated amount ran out?

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Leah: When I ran out I started putting my money on the code. I was getting yelled at to make it go right. Yeah. Our week would end Thursday at 2 pm. Sometimes I’d run out of my phone allocation by Monday. Calls were so expensive from the ship.

Then, after two years of working as a sort of at-sea telemarketer, Leah got into trouble. And when you get in trouble on the Freewinds, it can mean that you’re going to be doing some brutal manual labor as punishment.

We asked her if she could remember what she did that got her into hot water.

Leah: All my calls where being recorded for my job and I was recorded joking around with a parishioner that I was trying to convince to come get services. I called him a “cheapo” in response to him joking about how he was stingy.

The Bunker: Sounds like good use of the Tone Scale to me.

Leah: Haha!

(We’d explain that joke, but it would take a long time and so you’ll just have to trust us that it was hilarious.)

The Bunker: And so what was that first punishment?

Leah: I had to work in the engine room cleaning things and also sometimes on the decks washing the deck, painting, etc. No one was allowed to talk to me except the Ethics officer and people telling me what to do. It lasted about 3 weeks. I got 10 minutes for meals. I worked my way up the conditions and then was a cabin cleaner for maybe a year.

Teenagers worked like prisoners so wealthy Scientologists can have their big spiritual moment on the high seas. What a “church.”

Leah describes more of what she endured after cleaning cabins for a year…

After that, I was promoted to HCO as the switchboard operator. On that post, I was occasionally picked to be the ship courier — we had someone fly back and forth to Clearwater every week to deliver mail. Luckily my parents lived in Clearwater and I’d often stay with them overnight if I was sent as the courier. This allowed me to keep some sense of connection with them, and I think ultimately gave me the strength to eventually leave. I was promoted again after doing well as switchboard operator, this time to the ship’s Sea Org Recruitment Officer. This is when things got really bad. I would pull all-nighters frequently. I was face-ripped constantly, often by the HAS who was a 6-foot-2 dutch woman who would also get in my face and back me up against the wall. She raised her hand as to hit me on more than one occasion but never followed through. I was also frequently face-ripped by the CO FSSO, Sharron Weber [the Commanding Officer of the Scientology entity that ran the ship]. She would stop me in the hall and lay into me. I was constantly being sent to the decks and then back on post and then back to the decks again, depending on whether my stats were up or down for that week. I was encouraged to recruit children, people with children over the age of 10 (I was told the kids would go to the cadet org). I was encouraged to recruit people who weren’t even Scientologists, like workers on the ship during dry dock for example. I was frequently given E-meter checks and the results were used to take away any libs [liberties] or CSP [Clean Ship Program, which was personal time]. We often weren’t paid at all on the ship — there were times I didn’t have money to buy tampons. I remember my aunt came to the ship as public once and she bought me tampons and clothes.

The Bunker: When did Valeska Paris arrive? What do you first remember about her?

Leah: I think maybe in 1998 or 1999? [Turns out it was 1996.] We were immediately good friends. She and I were both second generation Scientologists and both always getting into trouble. I brought her ice cream one time when she was sick. She was working as a waitress.

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The Bunker: And what did you understand was the reason she was on the ship?

Leah: There was a rumor that her family was antagonistic towards Scientology but there wasn’t much said about it. I didn’t know that she had been basically sent there to be hidden from her mother. [Valeska’s mother had threatened to sue Scientology, and Valeska maintains she was kept on the ship for 11 years as a virtual prisoner in order to keep her away from her family. The church denies this, and says Valeska was free to come and go from the ship when she liked, and it produced photographs of Valeska making trips off-ship.] We were just teenage girls being friends. The juxtaposition of the creepy cult stuff and the normal stuff is odd.

The Bunker: And you did get to leave the ship once in a while, right? When the stories about Valeska came out, Scientology claimed that when the ship docked, you guys would get a chance to go on the island and spend some time shopping or whatever. Was that true?

Leah: Sometimes, yes. We had what was called CSP, or Clean Ship Program. It was until noon on Saturdays. If we cleaned our dorm and got an inspection and passed and we passed an E-meter check, we were allowed to go on the island. Technically we were supposed to be able to get a day off every other week if our stats were up, but that very rarely happened. I think I got the day off maybe 10 times in the almost 6 years.

The Bunker: And tell us about recruiting Ramana. The story she told us was a lot like yours — she went as a public, then got a crush on a guy on the ship.

Leah: Well, after switchboard operator I was promoted to the Sea Org recruitment officer or SORO. Ramana liked a guy. I think they got married. He helped me recruit her. I don’t remember it being that difficult. She was similar to me, just had minor concerns. Children are targeted because we don’t have debt or loose ends. We can leave our life behind quickly.

The Bunker: She says her main concern was that she wanted to be a dancer, and that going to ship wasn’t part of her plans. So someone yelled at her about how saving the planet was a hell of a lot more important than her delusional dreams of being a dancer. It sounded harsh.

Leah: Ramana actually ended up being senior to me shortly after joining the Sea Org. There were times that she told me what to do.

The Bunker: Yeah, she did tell us she could be a real hard-ass. Came with the job, apparently.

Leah: Yeah, I remember that. I don’t think I yelled at her. It was probably the CO FSSO Sharron Weber. I was always accused of being too soft basically. I was kind to people in trouble on the decks and I’d get yelled at constantly for it.

The Bunker: Did you get to be a part of any of the fancy events on board? Maiden Voyage? [Held every June or July to commemorate Scientology first offering OT 8 on the ship in the summer of 1988, Maiden Voyage attracts wealthy Scientologists to the ship, where David Miscavige previews new products for the coming Fall.]

Leah: I was made to be a waiter during Maiden Voyage in addition to my regular job. I had to give my bed to a more senior staff member and slept on the floor in the courseroom along with lots of other people. I didn’t sleep much during that week. I met David Miscavige once when I was the SORO. He said I was doing a great job. Ha. The irony is that I had just been in trouble for not recruiting enough.

The Bunker: Who were some of the people you remember seeing during those events? Did you see Ron Miscavige in the band?

Leah: I saw all of the execs. And the celebrities. Jason Beghe yelled at me once.

The Bunker: Tell us about Jason yelling at you.

Leah: I was the switchboard operator then and he was at the reception desk where I was and he was talking to another guy and I tried to help. He yelled, saying not to talk to them and to leave them alone.

The Bunker: Well, his eternity was at stake. You know how it is. Besides all that star-studded glamour, we wanted to hear more about the really grueling punishments you had to go through. Like Valeska, you spent time doing dangerous cleaning duty in the bilges and engine room?

Leah: I was made to clean the scavenger spaces in the engine room. They are small spaces in the engine itself that filters fuel. They get full of heavy fuel oil, so I cleaned it out with diesel because it’s the only thing that works, I was told. The spaces are only big enough to fit your head to your shoulders. You have to climb up a ladder that’s attached to the engine and open a hatch that hangs over the ladder. Then you just put your head in and as much of your body as you can. It’s dark and filled with fumes, and it’s really hot. I’d wear a plastic bag over my hair to try to not get the heavy fuel on my hair, but it’d get all over me. The only way to get it off was diesel sponge baths. I didn’t wear any breathing equipment or anything.

The Bunker: Incredible.

Here’s how Leah described how she finally got away from the ship and the Sea Org…

The event that culminated in leaving was a leave of absence that I had had approved, and it was ripped away at the last moment. My family had planned a vacation for all of us for years and finally my parents had saved enough for us to go. I got my leave approved but my leave sec checks [interrogations required before leaving the ship] weren’t started until two days before I was supposed to leave. I had everything paid for. I couldn’t get through my sec check because I was so stressed out about how close my leave was. Then the day before I was supposed to go, I was told my leave was cancelled because my stats were down that week. My parents called extremely upset about it and the LC FSSO [L. Ron Hubbard Communicator of the entity running the ship] told my mom that I had known all along I wasn’t able to go and that I was lying to them about it. My mom yelled at me on the phone — she believed her over me. Something inside of me snapped and I went up to muster and confronted the LC about lying to my mom. Of course I was immediately sent to ethics and put on the decks and assigned a lower condition. I missed the family vacation of course. I was determined, though. I didn’t have my passport so I had to have a plan. I worked my way up the conditions and then I was chosen to go on a courier run. Instead of coming back to the ship, I blew. I bought a plane ticket to Italy (I just always wanted to go there), and went there for ten days. I called my parents from a pay phone in Florence and just told them that I couldn’t tell them where I was but I was OK. My parents were visited by SO members about my whereabouts. On my way back from Italy, I changed my flight at the last minute because I knew that people would be waiting for me at the airport. I made it back to Clearwater and to my parents’ house. I was visited there by Sea Org members who told me that I just needed to come back to the ship and route out the right way so I wouldn’t be declared. I fell for it. From the time I got back to the ship, to the time I was allowed to leave, it was a little more than six months.

The Bunker: How did they convince you to come back?

Leah: At my parents house, I was visited by Sea Org members and they had me call the Sharron Weber. She was really nice on the phone and basically just said that all I needed to do was to come back and route out properly so I wouldn’t be declared. My whole family were Scientologists so I went for it. When I got back to the ship, the tone changed immediately. I was in deep shit and no one was allowed to talk to me or be nice to me and I was immediately put on heavy labor and sec checked to try to convince me to stay. My duties included cleaning scavenger spaces, general cleaning in the engine room, painting decks in the galley, etc. When I was painting decks, that’s when I had to get some paint from the paint locker and I guess someone hadn’t put the lid on tight and when I reached up to get it, it tipped and spilled all over me. Then it started burning my eyes. I ran to the shower.

The Bunker: Sounds awful.

Leah: After I came back to the ship I was put on sec checks and at first I thought I might want to stay, but I kept having doubts and I admitted to it in the sec check. I would say that I wondered who would take care of my parents when they were older, for example. It was innocent – I just worried about things like that. The CO would pull me aside in the hallway and get in my face and yell that I was a liar and a criminal.

The Bunker: And they kept pressing you for sexual details in those interrogations.

Leah: They were convinced I’d had sex in Italy.

Here’s what you wrote earlier about that:

I was a virgin – I had never even kissed a guy, but they kept hounding me about that one point in my sec check. I kid you not, at one point I thought maybe I had had sex and hadn’t known it. I started thinking, what if I was pregnant somehow? Seriously, I thought I was going crazy.

The Bunker: So you were alternating between cleaning greasy engine spaces and being interrogated about your sex life, day after day.

Leah: There was no end in sight. I knew from having worked in personnel that suicide risks are a legal issue for them so in one of my sec check sessions I implied that I wanted to kill myself. That same day, they put me on 24 hour watch. I was taken out of the engine room and put into an office with a camera. About 72 hours later they let me go.

The Bunker: Just like Laura DeCrescenzo and Nora Crest, you had to threaten or attempt suicide to get them to release you.

Leah: When they finally Fitness Boarded me after I threatened to kill myself, they gave me two options — the RPF or be declared.

The Bunker: Your choice was to go on the Sea Org’s prison program, the Rehabilitation Project Force, or to be declared a suppressive person, an enemy of the church, and you’d be cut off by all other Scientologists, even your own family members.

Leah: I broke down crying because my whole family were Scientologists. I refused to go to the RPF. And I’m not totally sure why I wasn’t declared, but I ended up just being offloaded. Maybe it was because one of the people on my Fitness Board was a good friend of mine at the time.

Leah was still only 20 years old when she left the ship in April 2000, and had known nothing but Scientology.

The Bunker: What were those first few months like when you left?

Leah: Weird. I wasn’t used to having so much time! I slept a lot. I learned to drive. It took a while for the lasting damage to really sink in. In fact it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve realized how messed up I was from it. I think I was just so focused on surviving.

The Bunker: Did they hit you with a “freeloader debt”?

Leah: $65,000.

The Bunker: How much of it did you pay?

Leah: I actually got it down to somewhere around $30,000.

The Bunker: Ouch. Bet you would like to have that back now.

Leah: Ha, yeah I would. Along with a few years.

The Bunker: Even though you’d left the Sea Org, you stayed in Scientology for quite a few more years. But then your family started leaving Scientology? Why?

Leah: My dad started reading Marty Rathbun’s blog [which started in 2009]. I think that was the first thing. I initially wasn’t considering leaving Scientology but I slowly got to that point around the same time my dad did. He sort of tested the waters with me and we both were done. Everyone else sort of followed him — my mom, two aunts, an uncle, and my siblings. Except for my sister.

The Bunker: She’s still in? This article might be an issue, then.

Leah: I haven’t publicly spoken out against Scientology until now really, so this could have repercussions.

The Bunker: And what’s your current situation?

Leah: I’m 37 now and I’m still affected by that experience but I haven’t let it define me. I’m married to a wonderful man and have two kids. I just opened my own business in Huntsville, Alabama and I’m a full time tattoo artist.

The Bunker: Leah, we’re really glad you were inspired by your namesake, Leah Remini, to come forward. And we hope it’s not too rough for your sister. Let us know how that goes. And good luck in your new business.

 

 
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Leah Remini and Mike Rinder: Pop culture icons!

Our longtime readers will remember Bert Leahy, the video artist who got mixed up with the “Squirrel Busters” and helped bust them. Well, now he’s back with a very fun tribute to the Scientology and the Aftermath duo. We think you’re going to enjoy it.

 

 
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Marc Headley goes live and local

Now this is a great idea. After seeing Marc Headley on Leah Remini’s series, a local Denver TV station decided to have Marc on for some live questioning. Are you listening, Tampa (Mary Kahn, Aaron Smith-Levin), Los Angeles (Amy Scobee), Seattle (Tom DeVocht), Portland (Jefferson Hawkins), Milwaukee (Ron Miscavige), San Diego (Lois Reisdorf)? Come on, catch up.

 

 
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Hubbard death day, 2017

Last year was the big 30-year anniversary of the death of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and we made a big deal about it. But wow, it sneaked up on us again and we plum forgot about it.

For this 31st anniversary of Hubbard’s death, we’ll just salute in the general direction of Target Two. Sail on, Commodore!

 
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LA Times confirms that Scientologists tend to vote Republican

The LA Times has been doing an interesting series about how individual precincts in the state voted in the presidential election. And in deeply blue Los Angeles itself, it found that in the precinct which includes Scientology’s Fountain Ave. headquarters — PAC Base or “Big Blue” — voters went for Trump.

While we know numerous left-leaning former Scientologists, for the most part Scientologists tend to be on the right side of the spectrum. But it’s nice to have some real information to back up that impression.

 
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ADVISORY: Bunker maintenance early Wednesday

We have been advised that the Underground Bunker will be down for server maintenance issues for 5 to 15 minutes tonight at around 3 am Eastern. That’s 8 am Wednesday morning in London and 7 pm Wednesday evening in Sydney. Please plan accordingly.

 
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HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.

 
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3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on January 24, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. 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.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

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

 

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