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Karen Pressley on the madness of Sea Org life: ‘I no longer belonged to my dreams’

[Karen Pressley in her ‘Aftermath’ appearance]

Hey, this is becoming a cool series. We recently asked Marc Headley and Jefferson Hawkins for excerpts from their books about their experiences in the Sea Org, and today we have an outtake from Karen Pressley’s book, Escaping Scientology: My Journey with the Cult of Celebrity Spirituality, Greed & Power.

Like Headley and Hawkins, Pressley wants us to understand the Orwellian world of Int Base, and what it was like to live at the whims of a madman like Scientology leader David Miscavige. We think she did a bang-up job.


David Miscavige micromanaged the work of Gold crew, down to watching the daily rushes of Cine’s film shoots, and even sat in the editing bay to tell Gary Weise how to edit the shots. In his early Sea Org days as a teen, Miscavige had worked in Hubbard’s film crew, so he considered himself the expert on filmmaking. I noted that the Cine crew were re-making all earlier films produced by Hubbard’s team because they were unprofessional quality, an embarrassment to watch. Nevertheless, Cine crew were subject to Miscavige’s criticisms about how bad we were at our jobs, subject to his verbal abuses and harsh discipline through deprivation of sleep.

One day, Miscavige abruptly took all Cine crew off posts. He levied this punishment because he was tired of Cine not shooting good films, and not earning our keep. Berated in front of the entire Int base staff for not being able to ever do anything right, our Cine crew of 50 was assigned to full-time physical labor to rebuild the entire mess hall. This would not be the first time that Miscavige hijacked groups of staff to use as a resource pool to complete some of his pet or urgent projects. This particular nightmare included night after night of no sleep after physical labor all day, while we were treated like scum by the rest of the Int base staff. Miscavige craftily diminished our reputation to justify his use of Cine crew as slave labor.


One night, I came down with flu symptoms including fever, chills, body ache, not to mention exhaustion. Being weak with fever made it nearly impossible to do physical labor. That night about 9:00 p.m., I walked myself to the isolation room on the north side of the property at the Old Gilman House. OGH held a few bedrooms on the ground floor where staff were required to go when sick. Laying in one of the rickety wooden bunk beds in the women’s dorm felt like a place of refuge and luxury at that moment. I had fever chills and terrible body ache, and could barely turn my body over, but at least fell asleep. No Medical Officer was around to help.

Around 11:00 pm, a security guard came into ISO and ordered me to get back to work. I told him I had a fever and could barely stand up. He couldn’t care less. CO CMO INT, then Bitty Miscavige (David’s sister-in-law), had been told that I abandoned my task in the mess hall, and that I better knock off my counter-intention to COB. She was pissed that I had “abandoned my team.” The guard stood outside my room until I got up and moved.

On the way from OGH down to the south side toward Massacre Canyon Inn (MCI), where the mess hall was, I took the back road behind one of the audio buildings where I knew Peter usually parked our car. I headed there to find our car as a place of refuge in hopes of stealing a few moments of privacy to rest inside. I wanted to feel like I belonged to the real world by connecting with something I owned, versus only being part of the Int base madness. I found our car, slipped into the passenger’s seat, and closed my eyes.

Within moments, another security guard patrolling the grounds blazed a flashlight beam into my car, blinding my eyes, and asked me what I was doing. I lied and told him I was looking for a flashlight so I could walk back to MCI. He told me to find it quickly and get back to work. I dutifully said “Yes, sir,” so he would walk away and go find someone else to harass. My vision started to crackle, and spots swirled before my eyes like shooting stars in the blackness of the night. Either I was starting to crack up, or my fever had escalated. I felt my consciousness slipping. I blacked out. I came to with my head leaning on the dashboard. It took a few seconds to orient myself. Where in hell was I? OK, on the north side of the property. This is my car. I had no choice but to carry on and act like everything was fine. I found a flashlight in my glove box and rejoined the workers. I shouldn’t have expected or even hoped that anyone would ask me if I was feeling any better. Instead, I was berated for abandoning my group.

After two months or so, we completed most of the renovations of MCI. The Int base staff were able to move out of the temporary dining hall tents, and into a beautiful new mess hall. Cine crew returned to our posts.


The Cine division was put on a revised schedule and not allowed to have any study time until we finished a film. Ted Horner, a Cine supervisor, issued this order from CMO Gold. His order violated LRH policy, scripture in my Sea Org member eyes, that guaranteed all staff daily study time. This privilege was sacred to me and a significant reason why I joined the Sea Org. With that basic right granted by Hubbard but taken away by leadership, I disagreed. I had been told that there was an LRH Advice for the Int base that said Cine crew might benefit from going to study in between films. Int base execs used LRH Advices as if they were senior to published LRH policy. I refused to ignore the injustice. I exercised what I felt was my right, and
wrote a Knowledge Report about Horner’s off-policy order. I sent the report by Merc (Mercury, our intranet) to the ethics division.

The consequence of that report unfolds a new chapter in my Sea Org career.

My self-defense using LRH policy to report an off-policy action backfired. I thought Ted Horner had arbitrarily decided that we would only study after we finished a film. I later learned this was Miscavige’s ruling that came out in Ted Horner’s name, and even later learned that Tom Cruise gave Miscavige this idea.

My report went viral. The anger of the gods descended on Cine and me when at least four four-striped captains raged on motorcycles down to my office. A swarm of RTC investigators filled the rooms, slamming clipboards on desks, questioning staff about why the Cine Division fostered unethical and unproductive behavior in general. My senior, Jennifer the Art Director, was questioned for being blind to my criminal acts and not “putting in my ethics” that would have prevented me from writing this KR. Jennifer didn’t tell anyone that just an hour before that, she had proofread the report I wrote on our office computer and encouraged me to send it. She felt I was applying Keeping Scientology Working (KSW), the key policy keeping Scientology “pure” that we all followed. I was so terrified by the amount of force applied by execs that I flipped into this theetie-weetie “I’m innocent” mode, hoping I would not be drawn and quartered.

A few hours later, they summoned an emergency muster of all Gold crew, about 400 staff. We fell into formation of at least 20 rows of 20 staff, dutifully standing at military attention, feet together, arms hanging rigid down our sides, heads facing forward. Flanked by Miscavige’s army of RTC supporters, COB wielded his verbal sledgehammer that had the power to electrify us as his audience. Profanities spewed from his mouth like I had never before heard, even from my Dad who had talked soldier trash after the war. DM’s chest swelled while his reddened face quivered with rage, as though he was facing an assault of counter-intention from the 400 of us. Meanwhile, we stood motionless, like rows of chess pieces, waiting to be knocked over.


Miscavige seemed to be blowing off years of pent-up rage and frustration that felt more like contempt. You NEVER do anything right the first time! You can’t shoot films! Your hats are all over my plate! You DON’T support command intention and you cause nothing but PROBLEMS on my lines! Worthless idiots, in other words. I wondered how other Cine or Gold staff felt about dedicating their lives to the Sea Org where nothing was ever done well enough for COB. That we cut ourselves off from the outside world, and stayed up without sleep for nights on end to try to make Miscavige happy, just wasn’t enough to compensate for our flawed nature and general failure. I wondered how long many of us would stand there and absorb the verbal abuse and generalities, as if we truly deserved them. I wondered why I had the nerve to take up oxygen that could have been better used by David Miscavige.

COB ranted his nullifications until he seemed to reach a moment of gratification, when so many of us must have appeared to be transforming into objects of his desire: some of us stood stiff as stone; some looked numb and vacant; others looked crumpled in spirit, heads hung in shame. Some of us looked wide-eyed electrified. I was one of those. What would happen next? A hush fell over the group as Miscavige’s rant stopped, and he stormed away, shadowed by half his entourage.

Indignant do-gooders from other divisions who were not being singled out used the moment to tongue-lash those of us who had been named, as if hoping to gain favor in the eyes of the RTC army for supporting command intention. I wondered if they felt obliged to act the part of brown nosing, sucking up generally, or was it just impossible for them to avoid joining in on the vindictive frenzy of the moment, propelled by the power of COB’s voice that seemed capable of pulverizing our very essence of being.

I thought, Wow, Miscavige dramatizes a lot of case on post. This man can’t seem to control his emotions. Does he get away with this kind of dramatization a lot? (“Case on post” is a bad thing—it’s letting your mental mis-emotion spill out on other people while you’re working.) I would later learn that whenever Miscavige got angry, everybody jumped, went into a frenzy, or ran around like chickens without heads to try to resolve the problem so David Miscavige wasn’t affected by other people’s screw-ups. I would also learn that DM’s entourage of communicators and guards would tolerate any emotion he dramatized. Most staff treated him like the sole guardian of righteousness; it was everyone else who had not yet achieved his godlike perfection.

To the truly low-toned person, emergencies are more important than constructive planning. We were constantly faced with “drop what you are doing” on our post to go and handle some situation that Miscavige said was more important. For the nullifier, compliance is commanded and lack of compliance draws punishment or destruction. In a culture ruled by this type of leader, we see indigence in the population to make it easier to control, with most of the constructive people removed. Hmmm. That probably explains why so many great people had been busted off higher posts and thrown into the dredges. Domination by nullification fit David Miscavige like the right size glove.

Security guards dutifully moved to their targets for handlings. I was led to the nearby Building 36 for interrogation in the Master at Arms’ office. How could I engage in such counter-thoughts to command intention by writing that Knowledge Report? I groveled for an hour before Kevin Caetano, the Security Chief, and proclaimed that I had seen the light to my out-ethics. I accepted the treason assignment, and agreed to work my way back up into good standing with the crew. Surprisingly, he allowed me to go home that night instead of keeping me behind the locked fences for the night, as I had often seen happen to other staff.

The experience pushed me to the edge. While Peter drove us home that night in heavy rain, I was outraged at the injustice that had played out. I began crying hysterically about the impossible circumstances we lived within. I persuaded Peter to go for a short drive so we could talk. Had we gone to our room first and then tried to leave the premises, we wouldn’t have gotten back out of the gates without questioning. We drove out to the Hemet airport, where we could watch the runway lights. We gazed blankly at flashing signals while I poured out my heart through a torrent of tears. Desperate to recover our lives and sanity, I pleaded with Peter to leave the Int base with me, and to leave the Sea Org. He disagreed that we should try to recapture our pre-Sea Org lives or start all over. He pulled that same line on me as he had before — “We are trusted loyal officers of the Sea Org.” We argued, and without resolving the festering trauma, drove home.

I laid awake for hours, wishing I had never left my private life, feeling I no longer belonged to my dreams. I always believed that when you lose hope in life, you lose your future. Coming to the Int base had been a crazy, irreversible mistake. I had only transitioned from freedom to psychological slavery and spiritual abuse and our marriage seemed to be slipping through our fingers. I was driving myself crazy, vacillating between hyperventilating and feeling suffocated. I couldn’t keep living like this; this wasn’t living. This was madness.

My heart pounded through the night, syncopating with imagined scenes of escaping. Escaping would become a matter of courage and survival, not cowardice.

— Karen Pressley


Bonus items from our tipsters

You can experience wins like this!


Yesterday we showed you photos of donors who took home trophies at Scientology’s New Year’s event in Los Angeles. Our tipster who found those photos for us in an Italian edition of Impact magazine also pointed out that photos were included of lesser donors — the Patrons ($50,000), Patrons with Honors ($100,000) and Patrons Meritorious ($250,000) — which doesn’t usually happen. Does it mean something that these lower-level givers are getting a spotlight like this? Here are the photos — recognize anyone?


[Patron Meritorious. L to R: John Doornbos & Shelby Fitzgerald, Frank Trevino, Charles & Judy Arnold, Max, Jacqueline, Steve & Christina Guzzetta, Patrick & Susan Wehner]

[Patron Meritorious. L to R: Jim Woeltjen, Chuck & Wendie Scheuermann]

[Patron Meritorious. L to R: Roger Tran & Justene Doan, Gayle & James Rego, John & Robbie Gelinas, Thomas & Geraldine Malloy, Jacqueline Catala, Beat & Sabine Schumacher, Karen Ramelli & Alexi Dias, Albert, Nicole, Kristina & Connie Moses]

[Patron Meritorious. L to R: Ryan, Lissa, Oliver & Hazel Dale, Christine Sargent, Kellan Denning, Pradipe Yoggi, Arthi Ramalingam, Hamsa & Swedha Yoggi, Harley, Naomi & Noah Orion, Michael & Belia Murphey]

[Patron with Honors. L to R: David, Teo & Genevieve King, Michael Autore, Barbara Russell & Bob Ealy, Jim Northrup, Linda & Daniel Zarrella, Judy Mass, Cyndi & Alan Bennett, Adina Gravit]

[Patron. L to R: Roxy Hakimi, Sohrab Mansourian & Noosheen Hakimi, Thomas Koshinz & Kuanjai Atchittrakul, Kathy Smith, Neva Seely, Steve & Lorie Sola, Jackie & Kara Kelly, Karen Merritt Randall, Emily Wehner, Diana & Kyle Tourje]

[Patron. L to R: Tere & Ken Jones, Harold Deen, Maryori Sosa Romero & Ryan Romero, Jimmy, Jeannifer & Jessica Epley, Andy, Mariana, Skylie & Amari Sly, Andrew Hoosier, Georgina & Cesar Villasenor]

[Patron. L to R: Vickie, Alithea, Michael & Heather Coleman, Lila Stubblefield]


Make your plans now!


Hey, we’re less than a month away from 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 Chalker 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 5,126 days.
Katrina Reyes has not seen her mother Yelena in 1,729 days
Brian Sheen has not seen his grandson Leo in 272 days.
Geoff Levin has not seen his son Collin and daughter Savannah in 160 days.
Clarissa Adams has not seen her parents Walter and Irmin Huber in 1,335 days.
Carol Nyburg has not seen her daughter Nancy in 2,109 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,883 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 2,229 days.
Dylan Gill has not seen his father Russell in 10,795 days.
Mirriam Francis has not seen her brother Ben in 2,463 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,723 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,763 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy and daughter Jessica in 1,475 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 1,001 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 5,090 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 2,230 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,550 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,525 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 881 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin and daughter Taryn in 5,183 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 1,289 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis in 1,692 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,564 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 1,146 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike and daughter Emily in 1,651 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,895 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 13,004 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on May 26, 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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