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Scientology’s toxic policy of ‘disconnection’ — we check in with the people who endure it

[Bernie Headley and his son Marc, and Marc’s sister Stephanie]

More than a year ago, in January 2017, we wrote a story about Bernie Headley that got us pretty worked up. Here was a man who was fighting cancer and was being prevented from seeing his own daughter, Stephanie, by the Church of Scientology.

We’ve written about Scientology’s toxic policy of “disconnection” for many years — it’s Scientology’s horrific form of extortion that is central to the way it rules its membership through fear. Specifically, the fear of being separated from loved ones. Because Bernie is attached to his son, Marc Headley, a former Scientologist and member of the Sea Org who is an outspoken critic of the church, he can never again see his daughter, who remains in the church.

After that story was published, on February 4 last year, we started a new feature which now appears at the end of every story we do here at the Underground Bunker. We made a list of people we’ve written stories about who are being kept from loved ones by Scientology’s policy of disconnection, and we keep track of how many days it has been since they saw their son or daughter or mother or father that has been taken away from them.

For our readers, it’s a constant reminder of what this organization does to families as it maintains its ruthless control of members. But for the people in it, it’s a daily nightmare that never goes away.

We thought we’d ask them how they manage to cope with that ever-increasing number of days since they were separated from people they love.


Bernie Headley: I’m coping, but it isn’t easy. I do have Stephanie’s Clearwater street address, and I sent a birthday card and gift, a Christmas card and a Thanksgiving invitation, but got no responses. I will never give up hope – that is what keeps me going!


[Carol Nyburg and her son Jeff, who defied disconnection]

Carol Nyburg: The disconnection is certainly on my mind daily. Sometimes I wonder if my daughter thinks of me or misses me. I start believing that she does not, but how could she not? I have gotten good at being cavalier and coming across like it does not bother me, but If I really stop for even 30 seconds like I just did now, I am in tears – like I am right now. She now has four children. I have only met two. The third one I found out about on Facebook in 2012. The fourth one I learned about while filming the A&E series that never aired. I never found out when the fourth one was born or if it was a boy or girl. It it too difficult for me confront her Facebook page fully, so I just don’t go there. She grew up in the Sea Org Cadet Org. Scientology is pretty much all she knows, so it is hard for me to believe that she will “see the light” and get out. I pray about it. If anyone has ideas of a plan, I would love it hear it. It’s been ten years out for me this year and wow, what an experience assimilating back into society. So many changes. At first I really felt like I came out of a time warp not seeing TV or newspapers for so long. I said somethings and asked what somethings were and literally got stares from some people – like where in the world have you been that you do not know what Jello Shots are and that I did not know what Bling was. It is those little things. Funny to me now but then not so much.


[Lori Hodgson and her mother, Dee]

Lori Hodgson: It’s been eight sad years that I’ve been disconnected from my only two children. From the beginning I started writing all the heartbreaking events that occurred and just recently published my book A Mother’s Heartbreak: How Scientology Destroyed My Family. What helps me cope with this loss is I visualize daily my kids back in my life free of mind control and all of us being a happy family again.


[Phil and Willie Jones with their children, Mike and Emily, who have disconnected]

Phil Jones: It’s really nice of you to check in with us. Unfortunately, we’re still shut out by Scientology from seeing or speaking to our kids. And it doesn’t get any easier to deal with. Both Willie and I often mention to each other that we’ve had dreams of the kids and in them we’re always trying to get them out and failing. Very frustrating and very sad. We do see photos of Emily now and then that get posted online. Nothing about son Michael from Celebrity Center at all though. We’ve been back in Florida for a few months now. I haven’t been as active lately due to some health issues and a few hospital stays. Still currently dealing with things along those lines. We haven’t given up on our kids. We never will. I do feel some hope that Scientology is struggling but also know it isn’t on the verge of collapse or anything like that. Hopefully, though things will get bad enough there that the kids will decide to leave on their own. If they do, we’ll accept them back with open arms.


[Mary Kahn, in her ‘Aftermath’ appearance]

Mary Kahn: Sometimes I don’t cope well at all. When I found out last November my son moved in with the Kaplans (same zip code) I pretty much lost it. There must have been a problem with his job and living in Virginia and he turned to Anita Kaplan for help, succor, advice — at least this is where my mind went with that piece of info. It makes me so sad that I can’t be there for him as a mother, that I’m missing out on his growth into manhood, that I cannot anticipate little moments with him (showing up at the house, the hugs, telling me some joke, or what he bought at the grocery store). It’s not just Thanksgivings, Christmases and birthdays. Missing out on the news or the event of his wedding or the birth of his child(ren) is something I can’t even contemplate much less live through. Then I get space from it. I recently had a communication from someone in. When I walked away from it, I was so repulsed by the mindset that it gave me the distance and perspective I needed to stop suffering about Sammy — at least for the moment. He’s in a world I want nothing to do with. I really do hate Scientology and its stupid little rituals that it does to determine someone’s degree of goodness or their humanity. I really do hate how cruel it actually is. Not only has his family lost him but he has lost his whole family because he’s holding out for some promise made by the church of Scientology. I hope I can be there for him when it all comes tumbling down. Needless to say, I am so sorry I ever introduced him to it.


[Ramana Dienes-Browning and her daughter Iyana]

Ramana Dienes-Browning: The way I have been coping is to accept that there may never be a reunion. This time last year I sent a Mother’s Day gift and a letter telling her I loved her and that I hope one day we can put our religious differences aside and be mother and daughter again. I feel like I have done everything I can to let her know I am here for her when she is ready. The sadness and loss comes and goes in waves, my friends and family have been very supportive and I guess I lean on my older sister as a bit of a mother figure to help cope.


[Lois Riesdorf, in her ‘Aftermath’ appearance]

Lois Reisdorf: I wake every morning and think of Craig, and your site is the first one I go to every morning and I note the number of days. It has been very hard, but at the same time I have to go on. I have involved myself into the lives of my two sons and their families, and of course my amazing grandchildren, which has happened since Craig disconnected from us. They are a blessing for me and I am enjoying being a mother and grandmother. The worst part is just not knowing anything about him, where he lives, is he happy, how is life treating him. He was so much part of our life before, that is the hard part. I also tell myself that he is an adult and he is the one who made this decision. I feel that he got the worst end of this as he is the one who lost everyone in his immediate family, whereas I have so much. I also realize that family is everything and I appreciate so much for what I do have because when you lose one part of it, it hits home, and you really realize even more how important family is. I also feel relieved that I do not have this “thing” hanging around me that was causing so much angst before. I just wish I had the Craig back, but the one before he got involved in Scientology. Come home Craig, we love you. I actually feel blessed compared to some people who have lost all of their kids, or their parents. To me that is way worse than what I have……my heart goes out to them because that would be way more devastating to me.


[Skip Young with the daughters who have disconnected from him]

Skip Young: I manage my life from day to day, having “walled off” the pain of the loss of my daughters. While working, my mind is on productive things and I don’t focus on the past difficulties. But at night, especially during periods of semi-sleep, all I think about is what I could have done or should have done differently. I confided in church personnel but failed to realize that the current Sea Org members who enforce policy have long since had their “humanity” and “reasonableness” trained out of them. As members of an organization whose primary mission is to help people achieve personal (and spiritual) freedom, those Sea Org members have no personal freedom whatsoever. They even extinguish errant personal thoughts for fear of having them “disclosed” in their next metered interrogation. My daughters are trapped and I seem powerless to rescue them. I’m not happy.


[Where is Samantha Sterne?]

Mary Jane Sterne: I guess the best way to describe my way of coping is I have to move it aside. I can’t carry it in my heart daily. I am broken no doubt, as I was extremely close to Samantha, but at the this point, she “wants” to be there. She has no idea she is part of the biggest con of the 21st century. I know how intelligent she is and I pray she will wake up like so many in the Sea Org did. I did a few radio shows and helped Mike Rinder get some contacts in the FBI, but I can’t live, eat and breath this everyday, it would kill me. Knowing she is in a jail, so to speak, makes me sick to my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I think about her every day, I have her pictures in the wall and the past five years have been hell. Fortunately, I have two other amazing children who are very productive, loving adults. On top of that I have reunited with a high school classmate; he is the love of my life, and I moved back to New York to be with him. He has been my anchor and has helped me feel hope and happiness outside of this.


[Brian Sheen and his daughter Spring]

Brian Sheen: Thanks for asking. Learning to live without connection to my beloved daughter has been a great challenge, especially as her birthday is soon here, May 25. For me there are a few things that have kept me sane during this time. I continue to share my story and all I have learned in my whiteboard videos that share the facts of how Scientology really is behind the fraudulent front and fake PR they disseminate as regards to their “technology” and “social betterment” activities. I have been pleased to have received communications from so many people thanking me for helping them avoid this entrapment. It is my hope that my videos somehow reach the awareness of my daughter who is then magically awakened from her Hubbard hypnosis to find a way to lead her husband, child and mother back to sanity and not be caught in the emotional extortion she has been subject to. Yes, I will continue to speak out to shine light upon this darkness but my intention is that best spoken by Abraham Lincoln, “I defeat my enemies by turning them into friends.” I have spent over a year trying to build a bridge of communication through a Rabbi who was working with Scientology, who tried to open this door and help me connect. Sadly this didn’t work but I will never close the door to this possibility. If apartheid and the Berlin wall can be shattered, why not Scientology’s disconnection policies and their fraudulent representations?


[Derek Bloch, at last year’s HowdyCon in Denver]

Derek Bloch: My grandmother Elsie passed away on Monday. She was my mother’s stepmom and my grandad’s second wife. I share this because this has been an emotional week for me. I bought a ticket last Friday and flew to Texas on Saturday afternoon to make sure I could spend a precious few minutes with her before she passed. It all happened quite suddenly and took us all by surprise. It was very sad, but it was also heartening to see so many of my relatives in her hospital room. I spent Saturday night sleeping on the hospital floor with a few of my cousins. My grandad had the couch and my aunts were there as well. At one point, there must have been ten people crammed into that little hospital room. It was getting rowdy as we all shared memories and reminisced together. I’m not sure if she was aware of the commotion, but I know that Elsie would have loved it. My mom did not call or visit. She didn’t even text her father to show that she cared. I can’t know for sure that she knew what was going on, but I know that my aunt texted her at her last known number. I also know that they somehow seem to know everything that goes on even if no one tells them about it. My default is to assume that she must have known that Elsie was passing, but decided it wasn’t important enough to call. The last time my grandad heard from her was a few years ago. He mentioned my name, she changed the subject and quickly ended the call. It’s been over six years now since I’ve seen my dad, sister, and brother. My emotions about my estranged family are not nearly as prominent as they were. The life that I led with them feels so far away now — it’s almost like a dream sometimes. In fact, I regularly have dreams about them and that exceedingly long chapter of my life. I usually wake up from them in tears, feeling nostalgic or afraid. Sometimes I wonder if they are still dedicated Scientologists. Then I remember things like my sister making a visit to Texas to try and turn our family against me. My mom sent nasty messages about me to all of them for weeks after my original coming out story. They are still very much in the fold. I’ve stopped using Scientology to justify their behavior — something that way too many of us exes do. I think we do that because it makes us feel better. Darren and Theresa should be ashamed of themselves for the way they have acted and for what they did to me when they gave me away to their cult. For the most part, I have moved on. I’ve shed enough tears over being rejected. I’ve learned that it is possible for people to love me, even though my own parents don’t. I’m starting my own family with my fiance. We’ll probably adopt a dog or two and a cat to complete it. There is still a part of me that hopes I will hear from my brother and sister again. I just assume that I’ll probably not hear from my parents before they die. Nothing really helps or ever makes me feel better. Sometimes I get stuck thinking about what I would say to them if I were to see them again. Joking about the situation helps me move on when the topic comes up, but the feelings of frustration and anger are still very much there, even if they are faded. What has really helped me to cope with it all is living my life. The more I discover what is important to me in life, the less I care about my parents and my past. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over the loss of my brother and sister. In the meantime, I have found someone that I love, who deserves my love, and who reciprocates it. That is something that my parents may not ever get to experience since even their love for each other is conditioned on their belief in body thetans and aliens.


[Geoff Levin and his children, Collin and Savannah]

Geoff Levin: Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my kids and I know they will be out someday. I’m overworking so I don’t have to think about it. And I’m going to write a song about it


[Joe Reaiche, interviewed for an Australian news program]

Joe Reaiche: Apart from a father missing his children for 13 years, and now a grandfather of 2 years and not seeing his granddaughter, I have stayed focused and moving on with my life. BIG GAMES AHEAD! Hopefully one day that cult loses its tax status so it can be sued for all the money in the world and its eventual collapse thereafter. I’m healthy focused and unwavering.


[Kate Bornstein]

Kate Bornstein: I’ve done all I can think of doing to reach out to her, but after close to 30 years of disconnection, I’ve pretty much come to terms with the idea that I’ll never again be seeing my daughter, Jessica, or her children. Yes, ouch, but life’s biggest lessons are all about ouch, and the bigger the ouch, the deeper the lesson. There were two turning points toward my acceptance of her (albeit forced) decision to disconnect from me: 1) when I wrote my memoir for her and 2) when I heard that she was part of the Sea Org command time taking over LA org. Knowing that my book (“A Queer and Pleasant Danger”) is out there gives me some peace in knowing that my life is literally an open book for her should she or her kids choose to have a look. Seeing a photo of her as part of that command team — well, she belongs there, and she’s totally incapable of welcoming me into her world so long as she does belong. That’s pretty much an unshakable fact. So, I’m OK, thanks for asking, Tony. I read your blog and Mike Rinder’s blog every day. But I no longer engage or contribute to the conversation because that’s just too much for me now. My life’s taken a delightful turn since my 70th birthday this past March: I’ve joined the cast of Second Stage Theater’s production of Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee, and I’ll be making my freakin’ Broadway debut this summer. So all in all, life has been and continues to be worth living. My love and respect to you and all the deeply committed readers and contributors of this blog.


[Clarissa Adams and her husband Ethan]

Clarissa Adams: After speaking out publicly there’s a big sense of freedom because we can be true to ourselves now. It feels great to no longer be censored by the church. Our little business is thriving, we still have great and supportive family members and we have some really great friends, old and new. Some of whom have even stepped in as grandparents to our kids, which reminds us of just how beautiful people can be. Our marriage has never been stronger and we have two kids that are pretty damn great. As for how I manage to not give up hope of a reunion, sometimes I’m not sure I’ll ever see my parents and brother again. They no longer speak to my sister either so I don’t even know what is happening in their lives. I had taken a big break from everything Scientology related while I was processing everything but I couldn’t resist watching Scientology TV to see if I could catch a glimpse of them. I didn’t see my parents but I did see my brother! Surprisingly, I wasn’t affected negatively. I was just very excited to see his face. I took a picture and sent it to my sister and she pointed out that he looked sad. And when I looked closer, I noticed that he did. So I don’t know. Maybe this affects them all more than I can imagine and maybe they will eventually leave. Maybe they miss the kids! It’s little moments like that that help keep hope alive but mostly I’ve decided to focus on who we do have in our lives. Their lives are their own and they’ve made the choices they have, as adults. As time goes by, the anger lessens and the love comes through more. I’m able to talk to the kids about them with fondness. Although so far I’ve managed to avoid any serious discussions about why we no longer see them. Also, I know how entrenched I was in the beliefs of the church and look how far I’ve come! So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they can attain the knowledge that I now have. Or something like that. I forget the verbiage used at the end of completing a Scientology course. Haha.


Bonus items from our tipsters

Our tipster says these arrived at all homes in a posh LA neighborhood. What, isn’t Scientology TV working?



Make your plans now!


Wow, we’re now less than two months out, and Chee Chalker is working hard to make sure things are going to run smoothly at this year’s HowdyCon in Chicago, June 21-23. As in past years, we’re looking forward to meeting readers of the Bunker, culminating in Saturday night’s main event.

The biggest difference this year is that our Saturday night event is separate from that evening’s dinner. Chee is setting up an inexpensive pizza dinner that you don’t need to pay for ahead of time, after which we’ll walk over to the theater where our event, hosted by Chicago Fire star Christian Stolte, will take place. Because it’s a separate event, we’re asking that you pay $10 each to get into the Saturday night event, which will help us recoup what the Bunker paid for the venue. (We have never made a penny on our HowdyCon meetups, we only try to break even.)

Please email your proprietor (tonyo94 AT gmail) in order to reserve your spot for Saturday night’s main event. Seating is limited, and we’re going to have some really interesting people on stage and they may make a few announcements that you don’t want to miss.



Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 5,112 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,715 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 258 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 146 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,321 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,095 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,869 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,215 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,449 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,709 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,749 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,461 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 987 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,076 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,216 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,536 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,511 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 867 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,169 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,275 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,678 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,550 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,132 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,637 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,881 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,990 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on May 12, 2018 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 can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2017 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2017), 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 | 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 non-Scientology stories: Robert Burnham Jr., the man who inscribed the universe | Notorious alt-right inspiration Kevin MacDonald and his theories about Jewish DNA | The selling of the “Phoenix Lights” | Astronomer Harlow Shapley‘s FBI file | Sex, spies, and local TV news


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