Friday, April 11, 2014

Escape From Scientology

How one young woman risked everything to break out of the prison that is the Church of Scientology   

On the morning that 29-year-old Jillian Schlesinger finally decided to leave the Church of Scientology, she awoke early and wondered whether she was losing her mind. Was she about to do something she’d always regret? A native Californian, she’d spent most of her life in the church. Her parents were Scientologists, as were her friends—basically everyone she knew. If she left, they’d disown her. On the other hand, if she stayed, her misery would continue. Either way, Schlesinger knew her escape attempt would change her life forever.

She was not just a member of the church, she was part of its elite, the Sea Organization, Scientology’s management body of members who sign contracts promising to serve the group for a billion years. She lived at Scientology’s big blue West Coast headquarters on Sunset Boulevard, known as the Pacific Area Command, or PAC Base. Every day, she went to work with hundreds of other Sea Org members, all dressed in starched uniforms—khakis and button-downs for men, skirts and neat blouses for women. The facility, once a hospital, is monitored by security cameras and armed guards. Everywhere she went, someone, somewhere, was watching her.

Scientology is an American religion predicated on the teachings of the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. Founded in 1954, it is a highly insular faith rooted in ideas of American self-help and psychotherapy as well as Eastern mysticism. It maintains, as many religions do, that society needs healing, and also purports to be the only group with a cure. All the problems of the world, according to Hubbard, are rooted in psychic traumas known as “engrams,” which Scientologists devote their lives to identifying and dispelling through a lengthy therapeutic technique known as “auditing,” in which members revisit their past horrors until, through sheer repetition, they are neutralized, and human suffering is relieved.

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