Scientology describes its Flag Land Base in Florida as “The Friendliest Place in the Whole World”. New recruit Maureen Bolstad got a very different impression.
Maureen Bolstad agreed to sign the billion-year contract for Scientology’s Sea Organization because of the promises her recruiter had made her – none of which were ever kept, she said.
He told her she would be able to finish high school; that she would get regular visits home; and be trained in Scientology skills that would help her mentally ill mother.
But as she was still a minor, the recruiter still needed to get her mother to consent to her joining the Sea Org.
“He took me to my apartment and got my mother to sign a parental consent form – and my mother was completely drunk, she was just sitting on the couch.”
When her little brother found out what was going on, he insisted on joining too. So her mother ended up signing consent forms for them both.
Bolstad was barely 16 at the time; her brother, just 14.
Within 24 hours, they had left their home in California and flown to Flag Land Base at Clearwater, Florida – also known as Flag.
To talk her out of going to high school, her superiors painted a frightening picture of a world dominated by the dogma of evil psychiatrists.
“It made the outside world seem so horrible and scary – full of evil. I felt, ‘Wow, I’m safer now because I’m away from all these things in society that are actually the cause of everything.’”
Rather than let her complete her high school education then, she was put to work doing laundry and cleaning at the base. Her brother became a runner, delivering messages between the different offices.
“I had to stay up until about four o’clock in the morning ironing people’s shirts. It was ridiculous because I wasn’t really getting any sleep,” she recalled. “And then I’d have to get up at 7.30 to go to work the next day.”
“The Friendliest Place…
Scientology describes Flag Land Base as “The Friendliest Place in the Whole World”.
But one thing Bolstad quickly had to get used to was being shouted at a lot. “It was actually pretty shocking," she recalled. "I was getting yelled at every time I made a mistake.”
In an October 1968 policy letter, Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard wrote about something called ethics presence. “As an executive you get compliance because you have ethics presence and persistence and can get mad,” he wrote.
Bolstad put it another way: “You’re taught that if someone knows that you are going to yell at them if they do it wrong, then they are going to be more motivated to do it correctly.”
This kind of macho management was nothing new.
In a July 1994 Internet posting former scientologist Dennis Erlich describes two particularly aggressive officers he came across back in 1976, when Flag had just opened,
One of them, he recalled, “made a habit of getting up on a chair and screaming his lungs out at individual interns… Students would hear him and go silent with terror at the thought of having to confront [his] wrath…”
And he was the nice guy, wrote Erlich.
The other officer “was famous for getting right up inches from your face, poking you in the chest and screaming ‘PIG SHIT!’ when he didn't like your answer to his questions and wanted to show his disgust for you.”
Several former Sea Org members say this kind of drill-sergeant behaviour was the norm at Flag. Some even said you had to cultivate it if you wanted to get on there (see Abuse in the Sea Org elsewhere on this site).
Bolstad did not take well to this regime: it shook her up so much she only made more mistakes. But her boss did not draw the obvious conclusion.
“She didn’t attribute it to her yelling – she just said I was a Potential Trouble Source, because I had accidents.”
A Potential Trouble Source is a Scientology term meaning someone who is in contact with a suppressive person, one of those inherently destructive people Hubbard designated as the root of all evil.
Clearly, Bolstad just wasn’t getting it: so her boss put her on the running program.
The Running Program
In 1982, when Bolstad experienced it, the running program – or Cause Resurgence Rundown – was something that Hubbard was still developing.
Scientology’s literature describes it as “a special program that can bring about a tremendous boost to one’s levels of cause and control.” Some of its veterans describe it as a living hell.
Bolstad had it relatively easy. “I was on the Running Program for five hours a day,” she recalled. “There was travel time to and from the park where we put up the pole and there were some bathroom breaks and water-drinking breaks.”
With about four hours of actual running daily, she reckoned she was covering about 12 miles – and she thrived on it. “Of course, being 16 years old, running around a pole was actually fun,” she added.
But some of the older people running beside her were clearly suffering, she recalled. “They were just trying to get through it.”
Some 25 years later, former member Marc Headley described how the program worked at the International Base, in Hemet, California.
In those days, wrote Headley in a September 2007 Internet posting, you ran around a pole in the searing California heat to the point of exhaustion. Then after a few minutes rest, you started again.
Inmates had to run at least five hours a day – though eight to ten hours was preferred – and the program could last for weeks, he wrote.
“Most Int base staff who did this program… went through several pairs of shoes, entire feet blistered to shreds, ankle problems, feet problems, leg injuries, extreme weight loss, heat exhaustion…” he noted.
Things improved for Bolstad when she was put to work studying Scientology materials. For one thing, she started getting more sleep, because you were not meant to go into any therapy session without having slept properly.
And with her $30 a week pay, she was able to supplement the communal meals with fresh fruit and protein bars.
So although she was still working or studying 16 hours a day, seven days a week, she began to feel better.
Even her boss’s screaming fits stopped bothering her.
“When I was on this running program I actually felt I was feeling stronger, the exercise was making me happier – so when she yelled at me it didn’t bother me any more.
“I felt better and I also realised that she wasn’t mad at me – she was just mad. That was something I didn’t notice before. I noticed she yelled at everybody.”
By now, Bolstad was being trained up for the Commodore’s Messenger Org (CMO), a group of youngsters who acted as the founder’s personal aides (Hubbard had by this time promoted himself to the rank of Commodore).
She was kitted out in the standard Sea Org uniform: dark-coloured shoes and slacks and an ironed white shirt with a blue-and-gold lanyard, the colours designating her as a member of the CMO.
The CMO was something special, even inside the Sea Org, said Bolstad.
“You are taught there that basically you are an emissary of the Commodore and if other staff members don’t show you the respect that they would show L. Ron Hubbard then that’s wrong and you have to correct them on that.”
At 16, going on 17, she was not completely comfortable demanding respect from people old enough to be her parents. “Personally I don’t think that was very healthy for me as a kid to demand respect from older people.”
But she got that respect.
Then, out of the blue, she got promoted to the International Base at Hemet, California.
For a more extreme version of the running program, see David Mayo’s account in A History of Violence, elsewhere on this site.