Thus began Jeffrey's immersion into the tightly wound world of the Sea Org, where he would spend the next seven years of his life. In that time, he would see fewer than ten movies, would rarely listen to music and never had sex. Though theoretically reading newspapers and magazines was allowed — USA Today is sold openly on Gold Base — in practice it was discouraged, along with surfing the Internet and watching TV. Indeed, all contact with the world at large was "entheta." "I never considered myself a Scientologist until I joined the Sea Org," Jeffrey says.
Jeffrey's indoctrination began with a boot camp known as the "Estates Project Force," or EPF. There, he learned to march, salute and perform manual labor. Physical work is a key training technique for new recruits. Jeffrey's sister, for instance, went through the EPF when she was twelve and was forced to crawl through ducts that were roach and rat-infested. Like the TRs, this kind of work, Jeffrey explains, is meant to raise a person's "confront," enabling them to be more in control of their environment.
After the EPF, Jeffrey was given a blue shirt, blue tie and dark-blue trousers, and sent to work as a receptionist at the American Saint Hill Organization for spiritual training, on Scientology's expansive Hollywood campus. He was paid fifty dollars per week and worked an average of fifteen hours per day, including an hour or two of auditing and other training. Home was a large barracks-style room in a building where Jeffrey lived with about twenty other boys and men. In seven years, Jeffrey says, he saw his family just a handful of times. His only free time was the few hours he received on Sunday mornings to do his laundry. Hubbard believed strongly in productivity, which he saw as highly ethical behavior. "We reward production and up-statistics and penalize nonproduction and down-statistics," he wrote in Introduction to Scientology Ethics.
Eventually, Jeffrey found himself on "PTS watch," monitoring Sea Org members who wanted to leave the order. According to church officials, Sea Org members can leave anytime they want. But in practice, the attitude is "the only reason you'd want to leave is because you've done something wrong," says Jeffrey. This would call for a round of "sec checks," which would continue throughout the "route out" process, which can take up to a year. During that time, former Sea Org members have asserted, they are subjected to so much pressure they often decide not to leave after all.
To make sure no one would leave before their route out was complete, Jeffrey would shadow them: "I've been assigned to go and sleep outside somebody's door — all night, for as many nights as it takes — on the floor, against the door, so I could feel if they opened it. If they went to the bathroom, someone would stand right outside. Someone is always there."
Some wayward members have "disappeared" for long periods of time, sent to special Scientology facilities known as the "Rehabilitation Project Force." Created by Hubbard in 1974, the RPF is described by the church as a voluntary rehabilitation program offering a "second chance" to Sea Org members who have become unproductive or have strayed from the church's codes. It involves intensive physical labor (at church facilities) and auditing and study sessions to address the individual's personal problems. The process is given a positive spin in church writings. "Personnel 'burnout' is not new to organizations," a post on Scientology's official Web site reads, in relation to the RPF, "but the concept of complete rehabilitation is."
Former Sea Org members who've been through the program charge that it is a form of re-indoctrination, in which hard physical labor and intense ideological study are used to break a subject's will. Chuck Beatty, a former Sea Org member, spent seven years in the RPF facilities in Southern California, from 1996 to 2003, after expressing a desire to speak out against the church. For this, he was accused of "disloyalty," a condition calling for rehabilitation. "My idea was to go to the RPF for six or eight months and then route out," says Beatty. "I thought that was the honorable thing to do." In the RPF he was given a "twin," or auditing partner, who was responsible for making sure he didn't escape. "It's a prison system," he says, explaining that all RPFers are watched twenty-four hours per day and prevented from having contact with the outside world. "It's a mind-bending situation where you feel like you're betraying the group if you try to leave."
Quiet and disciplined by nature, Jeffrey never minded the regimentation and order of the Sea Org. "I was wrapped up in work," he says. "And that's what I liked doing. And I thought I was helping people." But when he became ill, his perspective radically changed. For the first six years of his Sea Org service, Jeffrey had kept his asthma and other health issues in check. In the spring of 2004, he began to develop severe chest pains. By the summer, he was unable to work. By fall, he could barely get out of bed.
Scientologists believe that most illnesses are products of a person's own psychic traumas — they are brought upon themselves. Sea Org members are promised medical care for any illness, but Jeffrey says that he received little medical attention or money with which to seek outside medical care. Instead, he was sent to Ethics counseling. When that didn't cure him, it was suggested he return to the EPF to repeat his training.
Even while bedridden, "if I wasn't there pushing somebody to take me to a doctor ... it didn't happen," he says. Lying in bed one night, Jeffrey listened to a taped lecture given by L. Ron Hubbard, in which he made his famous statement "If it isn't true for you, it isn't true." For Jeffrey, this began a questioning process that would eventually lead to his leaving Scientology altogether. "Nobody can force Scientology upon you, but that is exactly what was happening to me," he says.
And so, one day last February, he asked for some time off to see a doctor. Then he called his mother and asked her to come get him. When she arrived the next morning, Jeffrey left his keys and his Sea Organization ID card behind on his bed. Then, taking only his clothes, he left.
Now twenty-three, Jeffrey lives in a small mountain town more than four hours from Los Angeles. Since his "escape," as he call, it from the Sea Org. he has not returned to the church. He has never spoken out about his experiences, which he still insists "weren't all that bad." But because he left the Sea Org without permission, he has been declared suppressive. Soon, he believes, his family still in the church will have nothing more to do with him.
The order of disconnection, called a "declare," is issued on a piece of gold-colored parchment known as a "goldenrod". This document proclaims the suppressive person's name, as well as his or her "crime". According to one friend of Jeffrey's mother who has read his declare, Jeffrey's crimes are vague, but every Scientologist who sees it will understand its point.
"This declare is a warning to Jeffrey's friends in the Sea Org," this woman, who is still a member of the church, explains. "It's saying to them, 'See this kid, he left without permission. This is what happened to him. Don't you make the same mistake.'"
During the time I was researching this piece, I received a number of e-mails from several of the Scientologists I had interviewed. Most were still technically members of the church in good standing; privately they had grown disillusioned and have spoken about their feelings for the first time in this article. All of the young people mentioned in this story, save Natalie, are considered by the church hierarchy to be Potential Trouble Sources. But many have begun to worry they will be declared Suppressive Persons.
Their e-mails expressed their second thoughts and their fears.
"Please, let me know what you will be writing in the story," wrote one young woman. "I just want to make sure that people won't be able to read it and figure out who I am. I know my mom will be reading."
"The church is a big, scary deal," wrote another. "My [initial] attitude was if this information could save just one person the money, heartache and mind-bending control, then all would be worth it. [But] I'm frightened of what could happen."
"I'm about two seconds away from losing my whole family, and if that story comes out with my stuff in it, I will," wrote a third. "I'm terrified. Please, please, please ... if it's not too late. . . help me keep my family."
One particularly frantic e-mail arrived shortly before this story was published. It came from a young Scientologist with whom I had corresponded several times in the course of three or four months. When we first met, she spoke passionately and angrily about the impact of the church on herself and those close to her.
"Please forgive me," she wrote. "The huge majority of things I told you were lies. Perhaps I don't like Scientology. True. But what I do know is that I was born with the family I was born with, and I love them. Don't ask me to tear down the foundation of their lives." Like almost every young person mentioned in this piece, this woman was given a pseudonym to protect her identity, and her family's. But it wasn't enough, she decided. "This is my life. ... Accept what I tell you now for fact: I will not corroborate or back up a single thing I said.
"I'm so sorry," she concluded. "I hope you understand that everyone I love is terribly important to me, and I am willing to look beyond their beliefs in order to keep them around. I will explain in further detail, perhaps, some other day."
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