Former Sea Org member Maureen Bolstad’s move from Flag Base in Florida to the International Base at Hemet, California, was in some ways a relief. But the work-rate remained relentless.
When Maureen Bolstad first arrived at the International Base, in late 1983, it was a welcome relief from the grind at the Flag Land Base in Clearwater, Florida.
For one thing, she was getting more sleep: six or seven hours a night – better than the four hours or so that for a while was the best she could hope for in Florida.
But she was not especially pleased with her sleeping arrangements: she was sharing a cramped dormitory with 12 other girls.
And she could still expect to pull in an all-nighter at least once a week.
Some nights, for example, she found herself on laundry duty for Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Hubbard was living at a secret location elsewhere in California and sent his dirty clothes to the International Base.
“About seven Messengers would gather together to hand wash each piece of clothing in special fragrance free soap, and we'd rinse each article in these five-gallon bins that we filled over and over again with filtered water,” Bolstad recalled.
“We'd stay up sometimes 24 to 48 hours straight – depending on how much we had to wash and if it ‘passed’ inspection or not – passed the smell test.”
As part of her training for this task, she even had to read instructions written by Hubbard about how perfumes were part of a plot by his enemies.
According to LRH, perfumes had been “invented by evil psychiatrists … to confuse the senses and confuse people,” wrote Bolstad in a posting to the Ex Scientologist Message Board.
“That's why we had to use the special soaps and really rinse well. Those darn psychiatrists were trying to distract LRH with perfumed detergents!”
Hubbard was notoriously sensitive on this point. One former messenger, Doreen Gillham, has described how he would throw a tantrum if he thought he detected the least smell on a shirt.
“He would tear them off the hangers and throw them down,” she told the LA Times in a 1990 interview. “We're talking 30 shirts on the floor.”
Bolstad also spent time on something called the Decks Project Force, which involved hard physical labour such as construction work –all for $30 a week.
“I never got an entire day off for anything: I never got to visit my own mother until later, in 1987. I'd been promised three weeks off a year to visit my family and I was being denied that.”
This was 1983, when Bolstad was just 16, going on 17: when she should have been at high school.
While her superiors had managed to talk her out of finishing high school, they were quite happy to take advantage of the skills she had picked up while still in full-time education.
“For example, I learned basic carpentry and wood work in junior high school… I was really good at it.” So they put her to work making cabinets as part of a renovation project for what was meant to be Hubbard’s impending return.
But in the early years, there was a good side to life at the Int. Base, she conceded.
“There were horses and there were chickens and they would follow me around and it was just adorable and there was a rooster that would make noises in the morning.”
For most of her life, she had lived in small houses, so getting the run of “this big old creaky house was really fun – plus I got to ride the horses!” she said.
“I had time to go jogging in the morning, because there was no fence, so I could just go running down Highway 79 at six in the morning or 11 o’clock at night... In fact I would go jogging around the entire property and get a good three- or four-mile run.”
By the time she quit Scientology, security was so tight you could not even get off the base without special permission.
But in the beginning, she was young and strong and full of hope: she was working with Ron to make the world a better place. And she was ready to make sacrifices, confident that in time she would reap the benefits.
Looking back, she feels differently.
“I was pretty wide-eyed and excited about new experiences, but I had no real concept of the fact that I was being taken advantage of.”
Eventually, when it became clear that Hubbard was not, after all, going to be coming out of hiding – that she would not be needed as one of his assistants – she was given other duties.
Here again, her previous education helped: having picked up some experience making films at high school they put her to work in the Cine-Messenger Unit.
At first, she worked with the film crew, sending detailed notes to Hubbard about their work. “If there was a problem, I had to propose a solution – and I would stay up until three in the morning typing up my notes and my solutions to the problem.”
Gradually, she won more responsibility, to the point where she spent much of the next decade travelling the world doing film work for the movement. It was a period of hectic activity.
“I was a superhuman – I stayed up all night and did videos and I was actually having a lot of fun and I was in perfectly good health and didn’t think I had any emotional issues.”
In Colorado, she did a video about an activist with the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, the Scientology campaigning front against psychiatry; in Rome, she shot footage to promote the Italian branch of Narconon, Scientology’s anti-drugs programme; and in Venezuela, she profiled a leading member of the Scientology community there.
For a couple of years, she even made regular visits to the Caribbean to help the work of Scientology’s cruise ship Freewinds, where public members pay thousands of dollars to receive the movement’s upper-level teachings.
“I did videos of all these different islands and then I took them back to Gold (the International Base) and they were edited to music and given to the island as a gift so they could use that video to promote tourism to the island.”
She visited 22 different islands and ports in the Caribbean and Mexico and still looks back on that period as one of the best in her life.
“I wasn’t getting much sleep and I wasn’t really getting paid that much but I did get food, room and board and I got to go to all these different islands.” And she liked the people with whom she was working.
Bolstad also did a lot of the camerawork at the annual gatherings of the International Association of Scientologists.
These were prestigious black-tie occasions that brought together the movement’s most prominent public members such as celebrities such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
In the late 1980s the IAS events were so important in the Scientology calendar that they were broadcast by satellite to the movement’s centres worldwide.
David Miscavige assumed the role of master of ceremonies at such gatherings, increasing his profile among the membership. By that time, he was generally acknowledged as the movement’s undisputed leader.
And since at this point Bolstad played a key role at the IAS events, she never had any problem with him.
“He would thank me for when I did a good job. He would make a point of telling my superiors that I did a good job and so then I would get respect from my co-workers.”
From a professional point of view at least, this was an extremely satisfying time for her. “The 80s were more fun … and then it got heavier after that.”