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Leah Remini’s ex-Scientology friends rock TLC — and our interview with one of them

Leah_Remini2

Last year, when Leah Remini’s reality show began, we criticized her for dealing with her defection from Scientology at a bare minimum — it was referred to only for a few minutes in the first episode and never mentioned again.

Last night, in the first episode of the show’s second season, Remini made up for that in a big way. The episode’s main storyline was about how Leah and her family are continuing to come to grips with leaving Scientology, and there were several moments — some which might have not been obvious to the viewer — which were a big middle finger to the church and its leader, David Miscavige.

It won’t escape the attention of other former Scientologists, for example, that the theme of the show was about Leah getting therapy and then the entire family sitting for a group therapy session. That’s a direct hit on Scientology’s rabid hatred for psychotherapy of any kind (other than its own, which is a bastardized form of psychoanalysis).

During the group therapy session, Leah admits that she’s carrying a lot of guilt for pulling the entire family out of Scientology when she decided to leave in 2013 (a story we broke here at the Underground Bunker). She explains that she knew the church would otherwise try to turn family members against each other through the use of its “disconnection” policy if they didn’t all leave as a group. But her brother-in-law, William, tells Leah that she’s wrong. The rest of them, he says, all left Scientology for their own reasons, and not simply because Leah defected.

It was the emotional highpoint of a show that had several times illustrated the devastating effects of disconnection.

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But we were even more interested in a short segment that occurred earlier in the show and which was teased earlier in the day at People.com. It showed Leah gathering with three of her girlfriends, all of whom had grown up in Scientology together and then had left it at separate times.

 
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Readers of the Underground Bunker might have recognized the women. Two of them, Trisha Conley and Sherry Ollins, were featured in a previous story about Remini hanging out with her former Scientology friends in defiance of church leader David Miscavige.

Trisha’s parents, Jim and Kaye Conley, are prominent, longtime church members and former Sea Org workers, and Kaye’s sister Cherie is the mother of Kate Ceberano, a singer who is Australia’s most famous Scientologist.

Trisha is from Melbourne, and joined the Sea Org at only nine, leaving at 14. In her 20s, she rose to OT 4 in Scientology’s scheme of courses, but then she became disillusioned, in particular over the intense pressure members were under in 2007 to pay for an overpriced set of books most of them already had in earlier editions.

A good friend left the church in 2009, and when Trisha refused to disconnect from her, Trisha’s parents cut off ties to their daughter.

 
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[Trisha Conley]

 
Sherry Ollins (also known as Sherry Lewis), meanwhile, is the sister of Stefan Castle, whose dramatic tale of escaping from Scientology and reuniting with his wife was told in Janet Reitman’s 2011 book, Inside Scientology, and then by KABC Channel 7 in Los Angeles.

As we said last year…

Sherry Lewis’s brother, in other words, foiled David Miscavige’s plans to wreck a marriage. And by posing with her in a photograph, Leah Remini must have known she was sending Miscavige a powerful message. On her other side was a woman whose family is among the most important for Scientology in Australia, and who recently experienced disconnection.

 
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[Sherry Ollins]

 
The fourth person at the table was Chantal Dodson, who talked to us about filming the segment, and about her decision to go public even though she knows it could cause her to lose all contact with her parents.

“It’s hard to explain our experiences to other people. We grew up together in Scientology. Then we went our separate ways in our 20s. Leah was acting, Sherry left the church,” Chantal told us by telephone yesterday. “Then about two years ago, when Leah left the church, we became very close and very supportive of each other. We don’t expect other people to understand what we’ve been through.”

Chantal explained that she left the church many years ago, but like Leah, she grew up in it and joined the Sea Org at a young age, signing its billion-year contract when she was only 7 years old.

“My parents joined the Sea Org when I was seven, and so did I,” she explains. “I left it at 15, went back — which was a mistake — and then left it again at 23.”

And what did she do in the Sea Org?

“I was in CMO. I was the LRH Comm AOLA for five years,” she says, and we have to pause and unpack the acronyms. As a member of the Commodore’s Messenger Organization, she worked at the Advanced Org Los Angeles as a representative of L. Ron Hubbard.

“I was delivering OT levels. My duties were to create LRH’s presence in the organization. It would take me a long time to explain how that’s done,” she says, and we take her word for it.

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Before she did that work, she had spent her early years in the “cadet org,” and then, at 15, had spent six months on the RPF — the Rehabilitation Project Force, the Sea Org’s prison program. The entire experience taught her survival skills, she says, but none of them got an education.

“None of us went to high school. Sherry did after leaving — GED and college, but the rest of us, I don’t think any of us got even a GED.”

 
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[Chantal Dodson]

 
Chantal’s parents served decades in the Sea Org, and then left it in 2004. They’re now in their 70s and remain members of the church. “We took them in when they left the Sea Org,” Chantal says. “My husband, not being a Scientologist, never had any understanding of it. But he was very open to them about the whole situation.”

Chantal told us she knows that choosing to appear on the show could result in her being “declared” a “suppressive person” by the church, and that there would then be pressure on her parents to disconnect from her.

“I’m hoping that they’d be given the courtesy just to live the rest of their lives as they are. I think they would be heartbroken if they were made to choose between their church and their family. I don’t think that would be fair after they dedicated 40 years to the church. I feel like the price has been paid,” she says.

We asked her if she knew about Sylvia DeWall. She said she didn’t. We pointed out to her that Sylvia was recently “declared” by the church for merely watching Leah Remini on television. Did she really think the church wouldn’t declare her for appearing with Leah on her show?

“I don’t care. The church has such an amazing control factor over people, but when you finally decide not to care, you’re free from that. I have a husband and three adult children, and none of them are Scientologists.”

Chantal pointed out that Leah repeatedly asked her if she was aware of the consequences of appearing on the show, and did she really want to go through with it.

“Leah was very concerned. Very supportive. She asked me over and over, area you sure? I told her I was sure. I don’t believe they should have any effect over how I live my life,” she says. And she laughs, remembering Leah’s concern and the way she remained loyal to her friend.

“I know her as that 15-year-old girl I used to live with. She’s exactly the same way.”

It’s a shame that TLC couldn’t get into more detail about the real-world risks these women have taken just appearing on the show. But it was still powerful television. And the church’s response? A classic in the art of exactly how not to talk publicly: “It comes as no surprise that someone as self-absorbed as Leah Remini with an insatiable craving for attention would exploit her former religion as a publicity stunt in a pathetic attempt to get ratings for her cable show and seem relevant again. She is rewriting history and omits that she was participating in a program to remain a Scientologist by her own choice, as she was on the verge of being expelled for her and her husband’s ethical lapses.”

 
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Going Clear gets seven Emmy nominations

Hey, Alex. Do the cast members get invited to the party?

 

 
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Scientology never forgets

There’s a fun story at the Daily Mail today about Scientology in Sydney tracking down someone who did a stress test eleven years ago and bought a book, sending him a handwritten note and asking him to get back in touch with the org.

We were reminded of a similar story we wrote back in our Village Voice days. Except that instead of eleven years, Scientology had tracked down someone who had left forty years before. It’s just what they do.

 
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Bonus photos from our tipsters

Ooh, looks like a Scientology newspaper has taken a swing at Paulette Cooper and our book about her. Can someone find us a scan of the story? No wait, we think this might be in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel…

 
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The brain trust! Bob Duggan and Grant Cardone think big thoughts and plot the future of Scientology….

 
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Portland’s newest lifetime member!

 
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In London, handwritten certs are now ensuring eternity!

 
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Also in London, keep those staff on course as long as no public are coming in!

 
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BOOK NOTES
3D-Unbreakable
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 upcoming appearances (and check out the interactive map to our ongoing tour)…

 
July 17: Denver, The Secular Hub, 7 pm (with Chris Shelton)

July 20: Dallas, Times Ten Cellars, 7 pm (with Robert Wilonsky)

July 22: Houston, Fox and Hound, 11470 Westheimer Road, sponsored by Humanists of Houston

July 24: San Antonio, Folc Restaurant/Park Social, 6 pm

July 25: Austin, Cafe Express, 3 pm, Center for Inquiry

July 29: Paris, Le Bistrot Landais, 19:00 (with Jonny Jacobsen)

August 4: London, Conway Hall, (with John Sweeney)

August 24: Boston, Boston Skeptics in the Pub, 7 pm (with Gregg Housh)

Sept 15: Arizona State University

Sept 23: Cleveland

Sept 24: Minneapolis

Sept 27: Portland

Sept 28: Seattle

Sept 29: Vancouver, BC

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on July 16, 2015 at 07:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB 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 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

 
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NOTE TO EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS

We’ve temporarily suspended our email notices on new stories as we look for a better email solution.

 

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