Conference Address - Paul Schofield
Cults in Australia: Facing the Realities
November 2, 2011 - Parliament House, Canberra
Conference Report and Video
Thank you for inviting me here today.
My involvement with Scientology started when I was 22. I’d gone from being one of the top students at my high school to dropping out of uni and labouring for a living, thanks to an increasing problem with drugs that started when I was 13. I had no direction in life and little self-esteem left.
I was stopped on a street near Central Railway station in Sydney one afternoon. A seemingly friendly guy asked me if I could do a short survey and then he took me for a free personality test. I had plenty of personal flaws and a girl there pointed them out to me and told me that Scientology could help me with them. I gave it a go – for the low, low price of $30.
After several nights of “counselling,” I had a lightbulb moment about my drug-taking. And I paid over $600 dollars to learn more. After several frustrating nights trying to study, I left and wasn’t going to go back, but a kindly woman called me on the phone and got me to agree to trying it again. She spent an afternoon sorting out my problems with study and I was hooked. It seemed like my life problems were either solved or Scientology would solve them for me.
I was gradually convinced that Scientology could make me the god that I supposedly was quadrillions of years ago. I was informed that I’d once been bigger than the Universe and a benevolent, all-powerful fun-loving super-being and Scientology would restore me to that status. And it would do it for everybody on this planet and for every being on every other inhabited planet in this universe. Eternal Freedom was what Scientology supposedly had to offer.
truly help save the planet
I joined scientology staff as I believed I could truly help save the planet with this miraculous stuff and I didn’t much care then about the low or no pay for my 40 plus hours per week – I was Saving the Planet. I was young, optimistic and idealistic. I signed a 5 year contract to work there and was told that by then, scientology would have taken over the planet – the deadline for that particular goal was 1984. And I paid over $400 - my last decent amount of savings - to learn more
There were troubling moments. A few months after I joined, a guy who’d been receiving paid Scientology counselling had a major breakdown. He was sure that he’d achieved major and powerful spiritual states yet he couldn’t sleep nor eat. A rotating 24/7 roster of male staff was organized to baby-sit him. He had occasional violent outbursts and my job was to speak as little as possible to him, to take him for long walks, get him to eat and attempt to sleep if possible and generally try to keep him as calm as possible. Taking him to a psychiatrist was out of the question – every Scientologist knew that all psychs ever did was shock people or drug them, never help them. Hubbard, the founder of Scientology had told us so. And he’d informed us that “psychs” were the cause of all evil in this universe. And they were busy destroying our society and only Scientology stood between the poor, ignorant people of Planet Earth and world domination by the Psychiatric/pharmaceutical/media conspiracy hell-bent on enslaving us all.
So I asked why had this guy had this meltdown? It was carefully explained to me that there was something wrong with this guy as he hadn’t been as ethical as he could’ve been and that was what had triggered him. And there was the possibility that the “Technology” of Scientology hadn’t been applied exactly and that errors in his counselling may have helped trigger him off. It’s a point of faith that there is nothing wrong with the techniques and procedures of Scientology. It’s only ever human error in applying these procedures that lead to bad results. I believed. How could I not? I was constantly told that all of the good things now happening in my life were because of Scientology and any bad was because I wasn’t applying Scientology correctly.
This poor man disappeared from Scientology not long after. I’ve no idea what happened to him. He was the first but not the last person I personally know of who had some sort of major mental breakdown due to their Scientology experiences. And none of the ones I personally knew of ever recovered.
I perservered because I believed
Within a few years I was working 80 plus hours a week and earning maybe $50 for it. And I had to pay rent, food and clothing out of that. But I perservered because I believed that Scientology would make the whole world a paradise of sanity and happiness. And I was contracted for another five years to work for Scientology, and if I broke that, I could lose the Eternal Freedom that only Scientology could give me. I got whatever casual work I could to keep the bills at bay, cut back my work in Scientology to a mere 40 to 50 hours a week, lived on as little as possible and began working on another career that would make me enough money.
I made enough money to do some of Scientology’s Upper Levels – I was now well on the way to being that hoped-for super-being, or so I thought. I certainly had to act like that per everything that I read. I was above mere human being now.
I also became ordained as a Scientology Minister. My contract was nearly up and I was about to leave Scientology staff to pursue my new career when an old friend re-appeared from the US. He was now a part of senior management and he talked me into going to the US for training. He promised me the world and I believed him. I signed another 5 year contract, to start when I returned triumphant from my training.
I went to the Scientology “Mecca” in Florida and spent 15 months there doing various courses. I worked up to 18 hours a day, six days a week and had Sunday mornings off until lunchtime for such trivialities as laundry, cleaning the two-roomed apartment I shared with 7 other guys and maybe phoning home. I received maybe $30 per week as pay from my organization in Sydney. It was hard to survive, but there were people there who had it a lot tougher than me. Their organizations couldn’t pay for their room and board, let alone give them any spending money. So they had to work for Scientology at least half the time and study the other half. They did menial jobs in the kitchens or cleaning around the hotels owned by Scientology. None of us ever got enough sleep and the food was usually pretty poor. And if we left, we knew we would be billed for our training and room and board, with no allowance for any work we’d done in the meantime. Usually thousands of dollars per course done. And we’d had to surrender our passports when we arrived, so there was no running away. But we persevered because we were at the best place on earth to learn Scientology – we were at Hubbard’s own organization, where everything was done the way Hubbard wanted it to be done. .
I met people who’d worked directly with Hubbard. They spoke with awe about his supernatural senses and powers and his ability to solve every problem. They even spoke with fondness of their time in the re-education camps that they’d been periodically assigned to for failing to achieve goals set by management or Hubbard himself. They bragged about manually cleaning Rats Alley, a cockroach- and rat-infested tunnel under the LA Scientology complex. They bragged about wearing out 5 or 6 pairs of running shoes doing a Hubbard program that involved running 12 hours or more a day in the Californian desert. They were proud of their battle-wounds. I was troubled by some of their tales, but I was mostly in awe that they had survived and were so tough.
I worked hard but it was never enough
I returned to Australia and was expected to produce miracles as a result of my training. I worked hard but it was never enough to satisfy my superiors. Always I was needed to do more. I was promised more if I stayed and helped and signed another contract, and I stayed, and was betrayed yet again. I moved back home with my aging parents as I couldn’t afford to live by myself, even working another job for 20 hours a week or more. I had little in the way of possessions of any sort, and I again began to look to leave.
I met the woman who is now my wife while on Scientology staff, and we planned to get married. She was ordered to get me to re-sign my staff contract and she did. Three weeks before we were to get married, I was ordered to go to Scientology’s “Mecca” in the US for a conference. I protested that I was about to get married. I was threatened with severe discipline by the highest-ranking executive in Australia. I buckled and went. I rang my wife when I finally got there and we cried for half the phone-call.
I made it back for our wedding and it went well. We had to pay to have our jobs done while we had a honeymoon, and we didn’t even get a wedding card from the organization we both worked for, nor a present. We lived briefly with my parents, then moved into a room in a shared house. Then she got pregnant. And our bosses weren’t happy. I was overjoyed.
I had a week off when my daughter was born, but I was resented for it, and phoned constantly about when I would return to work. I was working 60 hours a week plus for Scientology and they weren’t paying me for what I’d done, but still insisting I turn up and work more. We had no money for nappies or dog-food, yet I couldn’t just leave because I was contracted to them. And they held my Eternal Freedom to ransom.
I worked several other jobs and never got enough sleep, nor got time to spend with my new family. My wife took on baby-sitting for some of the Scientology executives to finish up her unfinished contract as staff. The she fell pregnant again. Life got tougher but I would soon finish my contract and be able to leave and get work that paid enough to support my family and maybe buy some Scientology services as well.
One Sunday morning we all went to the Scientology building in Sydney. I was working that day as usual, and my wife and kids were going to come in, go to church and then we’d all have lunch in Hyde Park. My wife went to the church service and I went to work, dropping in a lot to where the kids were being minded by a few teenage kids. The babysitting room had been changed because mothers in the church service were getting distracted if they heard their kids cry so now it was several floors above the chapel and next to my office. It was a quiet morning and I had little else to do, so when my son got restless and began to cry, I took him out of there for a walk.
I finally got him back to sleep and returned to the room where my daughter Lauren was to find her and another toddler bursting through the doorway to the room and onto the stairwell. The door handle was ineffective and wouldn’t close, and she and the other toddler had been left in this room with a young teenage boy with a broken arm. They escaped. I tried to call to her but she went down the stairs then fell, then rolled under the railings and plunged to the concrete floor two stories below. The boy minding her had managed to get the other toddler under control but not Lauren.
they shadowed us everywhere we went
She was rushed to hospital and my wife and I followed as quickly as we could. We were each given a minder from the Office of Special Affairs – well-known as Scientology’s equivalent of an Intelligence Service – they shadowed us everywhere we went and sat in on most conversations we had with family and friends. I spoke with them about the stupidity of having kids minded in a room next to a stairwell that the door didn’t lock. But I agreed not to mention any of this to others, especially the police.
I was also guilty of a High Crime in Scientology’s justice system – bringing Scientology or scientologists into disrepute. The stares I got from senior executives were those of you-have-really-given-us-a-major-problem-to-handle. None of compassion.
Lauren lingered for two days then she passed away. We fled to my sister’s farm, far from Sydney. And I asked Lauren’s godfather, himself a minister of Scientology, to organize and conduct a funeral service for her in a few days time. My wife’s sister was getting married in a few days and we wanted the funeral out of the way before the wedding and wanted everyone to grieve. I worked out a service with him that would let everybody do that, or so I thought. As a Scientology super-being, I was able to rise above all this emotion, wasn’t I? I locked it away.
The funeral service was a disaster. It was held in one of Scientology’s Sydney buildings and the first thing that sent me spinning was my daughter’s best friend, our dog, was refused entry – I was told because it could make the non-scientologists attending sad. Then the service was held, and there were a lot of scientologists crammed into the room that we hardly knew. The minister appeared, and shouted the service with a half-smile on his face. He’d been coached carefully to do it that way he later told me. Two minutes later it was over. Our families and non-scientologist friends were outraged, but unable to say anything because of the circumstances. And scientologists after the service were trying to get my family to try scientology counselling for their grief.
pressured to be the scapegoat
Even a pianist friend who I’d asked to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" – Lauren’s favourite tune – was barred from doing that. But I couldn’t complain. I knew that, as Lauren’s father, I was at least partly responsible for what had happened per scientology doctrine – I had “Pulled It In” because of bad things I’d done in the past sometime. I’d already been pressured to be the scapegoat and I was accompanied to the police station by a minder from OSA to make my statement – I was not allowed to see the police by myself. I bent the truth so it looked like I was looking after her at the time, and no-one else would be to blame but me.
I soon got phone calls asking when I would go back to work and so I did, walking past the spot I’d seen Lauren fall every day. I had some scientology counselling for free but stopped it as my wife and I wanted an internal investigation into why the babysitting arrangements were so shoddy. We persisted with this until we eventually got this – and its findings were that I’d been responsible somehow because I’d been sick a lot and so must have pulled it in. I even wrote to the Executive Director International for a review of all this but never got it. But I couldn’t publicly complain, because my Eternal Freedom was under threat if I did.
I was told that we could get compensation via the Scientology’s insurance policy. So my wife initiated a claim. We were then summoned to OSA to be told not to do that as it would mean we’d need a psychiatric evaluation to prove that we’d been harmed by Lauren’s death and seeing a psychiatrist could mean no more scientology – people who’d been treated by psychs aren’t allowed scientology counselling. When my wife still wanted to go ahead with the claim, OSA told her that doing so would amount to suing scientology – that is classified as a High Crime in Scientology’s Justice Codes and that meant expulsion from Scientology. We dropped the claim.
I begged and borrowed money from friends and got more counselling but it never quite fixed it. I left staff when my contract expired and found work with a scientology company. At least now we had nappies and dog-food.
I worked a variety of jobs over the next few years. For a while we all lived in a converted garage at a scientology drug-rehab facility where I’d been promised a decent wage but once went five weeks without any pay at all. We had two more daughters born to us and we’d moved out of Sydney and were now living on 2½ acres and my wife was about to start a job running a child-care centre, something she’d dreamed of doing.
I had to call our families
It was a Friday in February and typically hot. My wife had given my daughter Kirsty a bottle of potassium chloride to take a tablet from and give her brother James one – we’d been told it was an accepted thing to do to handle heat exhaustion from sweating too much. It was used in scientology’s sauna program in Sydney and elsewhere and it was something that you could buy over the counter at every pharmacy. Unknown to my wife, Kirsty ate a lot of these tablets and began vomiting badly. We called an ambulance and then she stopped breathing. 000 told us potassium chloride was a killer – something we never knew. That night, I had to call our families to tell them that Kirsty had died.
I also phoned OSA and told them what had happened and that potassium chloride was being used right now in the sauna program. I was told the next night by OSA that it had now been removed from the sauna area in Sydney and elsewhere.
Because we’d lost two daughters, we were suspect. Our children were not to be left in our care and my wife’s parents had to take them. We fought for a week to get this overturned and finally had an interview with a DOCS (Dept Of Community Services) representative who wanted to inspect our house for child safety as the last step before we got our kids back. A scientologist “friend,” a former senior executive in Sydney, had suddenly become our best friend and insisted on “helping” us with DOCS. She turned up at the interview and started telling the DOCS rep that she never used supplements and no scientologist she knew did – a blatant lie. Even our scientology friends we spoke to about this were amazed she’d said this as it was so false. Now, in retrospect, I can see why this was done.
What I did subsequent to all of this became public knowledge when my letter to Sen. Xenophon was tabled in the Senate here two years ago. And I spent the better part of a day after that detailing my part in it to detectives from the NSW police so I won’t go over it here.
I finally left Scientology three years ago when I discovered the depths of deception I and all my fellow cult members had been subjected to. When I first hinted to my wife that I was dissatisfied with Scientology, her answer was blunt but predictable – handle it or you’ll never see the children again. Then she spoke to OSA about it.
We refused to sign anything
Eventually a friend was able to convince her quietly of what I’d done and she too left. We then asked for a refund of several thousand dollars we had on account in Scientology. It took nearly six months and only happened that quickly because we involved the Department of Fair Trade in our case after around four of those months. Scientology wanted us to sign waivers saying that this was the only claim we’d ever make against them, that we’d never speak publicly about them, etc etc. They got lawyers involved. We refused to sign anything but a receipt of monies received, and eventually we won.
Shortly after this, we received a letter from Dept of Fair Trade saying they had a FOI request from Scientology asking for our phone numbers, bank account details, email and postal addresses. As Scientology had all of this except our current residential address and home phone number, why did they file this? Several other people later told me they too had been subjected to this same sort of FOI by Scientology.
Then I finally went very public, after a lot of discussion with my wife and my friends about it. The result was my letter to Sen Xenophon two years ago and the subsequent media from that. My friends and I involved in that became more vocal about abuses we and others had suffered. I also began to appear outside Scientology’s Melbourne HQ at protests.
One friend had her dog poisoned. Thankfully they got it to the vet in time and it was saved. All of us had wild tales circulated about us to our former friends who were still in Scientology. And vicious half-truths were circulated more widely.
I also had a private investigator turn up at my workplace in Melbourne. He’d park his car opposite the driveway of where I worked so that he could see into the factory. I spoke with my local police about it and they said they could do nothing if he were a licensed PI. It was intimidating at first but soon became a little farcical.
One day before a weekend protest in Melbourne, I had the Friday off work but began to get texts from my mates at work telling me how the PI and his boss (we figured that was the boss as he drove the better car) were both outside work at lunchtime. Then a woman also turned up over the road, sitting on the nature strip pretending to read a book. One mate did a bit of overtime that afternoon kept me informed of what was happening and they were still there when he left to go home. The joke was that a car identical to mine was parked in the company car-park that day and was still there well after most of the workers had gone home. But the PIs stayed. Because they couldn’t see the number plate. Which was hidden by a mound of dirt.
I attended the Senate Inquiry here in Canberra where I was privileged to give evidence concerning my time in Scientology. And reading the various submissions to that, I began to see that there were many groups just like Scientology. I spoke with people who’d left other cults and saw eerie parallels to what I’d experienced. And I decided to use whatever connections and media exposure I had to help those who’d suffered at the hands of these organizations.
I’ve tried, with several friends, to help those in particular who’ve suffered internment in Scientology’s re-education camps. One I spoke to had told their story to their GP and then to the psychiatrist that the GP had referred this person to, and neither had believed the story. It’s unreal to most people that such things could happen in such a seemingly civil society as ours. It’s unreal to think that someone could work 20, 30 40 years of their life for a group and then be dismissed or leave with no house, superannuation, savings or possessions except for a few clothes. Yet it happens. I see or hear about the victims of this regularly. And my heart bleeds every time.
just around the corner
Why didn’t I just leave? Why don’t others just leave? There were many other abuses I could tell you that would also prompt that question. But I was part of a group that held my Eternal Freedom to ransom. Like every exclusive group that claims a monopoly on the answers to the universe, the glorious end where the heroes have won and now rule the stars and all is perfect justifies any means used to get there. And we were all promised that just around the corner was a new Golden Age for all mankind, no matter what cult we had stumbled into.
If any one of these cult groups were a foreign government, our government would be condemning them for their human rights violations, and rightly so. Why doesn’t our government act on cults like they act on foreign governments? It’s a question I’d like to have answered. Not out of self-pity nor spite. I hold few grudges against those people I’ve known in my time since joining scientology.
Someone I tried to apologise to recently for my behaviour to them when we were both scientologists put it beautifully - he said “there is nothing to apologize for; we were all rats in the same cage.”
I only want to dismantle that cage, not harm my fellow inmates.
Why is it we recognize those who escape from a repressive regime somewhere else in this world as a refugee seeking a better life yet see someone who escapes a cult here in Australia as somehow responsible for every abuse they received while in that cult?
Why is it that someone unfortunate enough to be born somewhere else under a repressive government is recognized as truly worthy of humanitarian aid yet someone born here in Australia inside a cult group’s dictatorship is somehow seen as being to blame for their fate?
Why is it that the rights of would-be gurus and their accomplices seem to be treated as so much more important than the rights and the dignity of those they enslave?