Maureen Bolstad described her years imprisoned inside Scientology’s punishment programme – and how the movement’s disconnection policy had cut her off from her twin sister.
Maureen Bolstad quickly got to the heart of the matter.i
“I’d like to first say that I currently have a situation where I’ve been disconnected from my own twin sister and it’s a very heart wrenching and hurtful thing to me.
“And the whole reason why she’s not allowed to talk to me, or believes that she can’t talk to me, is because I left the Sea Organization.
“And that’s one of the things that keeps people in once they join,” she explained: because under Scientology’s disconnection policy quitting the movement meant you could lose all contact with friends of family still inside.
To avoid this, she explained, some people chose to take the long and arduous process of routing out – and even then you would be left with what was called a Freeloader Bill: an invoice for all the training the movement said you had had while on staff.
Routing out had not been an option for her however. When she asked, in February 1997, she had been refused, because she was already the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), Scientology’s punishment programme, a combination of hard labour and thought reform.
“I was stuck there and I had somebody watching me always – 24 hours a day,” she said.
“I had to have a buddy with me. I had someone shining a flashlight in my face at night while I was sleeping every two hours to make sure I was still in bed.
“On the few occasions that I did manage to run away I was tackled and brought back physically.”
And one the guards who tackled her when she tried to escape was a former professional Australian football player.
“He was big and I couldn’t go up against that, but I kept trying.”
In desperation, she threatened to stop eating or sleeping, to just let herself die, if they did not release her, she said.
Bolstad was struggling now to maintain her composure in front of the assembled journalists.
“I didn’t like being treated like a prisoner when I’d done absolutely nothing wrong besides, you know, not wanting to work there any more for nothing.”
Her handlers calmed her down and got her to go to sleep. But that night she was able to escape when she heard her minders walking away from the door they were guarding.
They sent out a search party after her in two trucks and with a dog to help track her down. She managed to evade them, and with a combination of hitching and bus rides she made to her aunts’s home.
But they knew where she was headed.
A Scientology official turned up at the house, and her twin sister was with him.
“They brought my sister and they said ‘If you come back…sorry…” Bolstad was fighting now to keep back the tears, “…if you come back, you’ll get to talk to your sister, you’ll get to talk to your husband and you won’t have to do the Rehabilitation Project Force and we’ll treat you better – and made all these promises.
“And I wanted it to be true, but when I went back I got stuck there for another three damn years and my sister didn’t talk to me and my husband divorced me and it – it was rough.”
She was in semi-isolation for another three years, cut off from the regular Sea Org members.
“I had to do manual labour every day despite the fact that my back and my neck were in bad shape from past injuries. It drove me nuts. I was in so much pain…”
Bolstad had had a motorbike accident in 1993, injuring her neck and shoulder. They had put her back to work after only two days – and her job involved a carrying heavy camera around on her shoulder.
“You see this guy here with a camera on his shoulder?” She indicated a cameraman hefting a solid-looking device on his shoulder. “That’s what I did for them.
“So after my accident where I tore a bunch of muscles in my shoulder and my arm and my neck, herniated 3 discs in my neck, I had to go back to work and carry a camera on my shoulder and I was not allowed to take pain-killers and I had to do that for long, long hours and man, that was tough.”
“I lost my will to live…”
Former members have spoke to her about that time, and about the way she was behaving back then.
“I get people saying ‘Hey, you know, you were nuts.’
“In Scientology, I got in trouble for having a nervous breakdown. You would too if you were working over 20 hours a day and you had to carry around a camera on a shoulder that you’d almost broken. It was tough…
“There should be employer’s responsibility for safety and care of the workers and most companies have some sort of oversight on how workers are treated – their safety and their health and within the Scientology Organizations there was really hardly any of that.
“That’s another thing that I think really needs to be corrected. Just because something is a religious group doesn’t mean that they can just throw the safety and health of their workers out the window - without taking proper measures to look after their health.”
The combination of her past injuries, the manual labour she was forced to do, her imprisonment and the emotional and psychological abuse eventually broke her down.
“I lost my will to live at one point and they finally stopped harassing me because they were afraid I was going to die on them.”
By that time, she said, they were willing to let her ago.
This was after the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson, the Scientologist who had died in their care in Clearwater, Florida, sparking a criminal investigation – which eventually came to nothing – and a lengthy lawsuit, which was eventually settled out of court.
“So they finally let me go – but at that point I didn’t want to go I needed to be taken care of!”
But she had eventually made it out and rebuilt her life, she said.
If she was speaking out now, it was not because she opposed those elements in Scientology that helped people, or opposed reform of the mental health system.
Her problem was with the abuses going on inside the movement, she said.
“I worked for the Sea Organization for 18 years. I got involved when I was 16 years old and I worked hard for them.
“I worked sometimes over 20 hours a day, seven days a week… for less than 30 cents an hour and yet when I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t be a workhorse for them anymore and I didn’t want to be there, I was treated like I was a criminal …
“What happened to me is illegal and I think that I was in such bad shape after it happened that I wasn’t able to deal with it right away.
But I am now able to speak up about it and explain to people that Scientology has a dark side and it needs to be faced and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this kind of stuff just because they’re a religion.”ii
---i I should have posted this two years ago but although I had it written up and ready to go, somehow it got lost in the mix. This is in effect a double posting: completing coverage of a 2010 LA press conference by some of the most articulate recent defectors from the Sea Org,Scientology's elite cadre; and a continuation of Maureen Bolstad's own story, as set out in a separate section (see menu to the right). In the end, I've linked to it in both sections. (You can see video of the press conference at Mark Bunker's site Xenu TV.)
ii Maureen also talked about how she and her brother were recruited as minors by an unscrupulous recruiter who was quite willing to exploit the fact that her mother was drunk when she signed the consent form. You can find this and other aspects of her early years in Scientology at Maureen Bolstad's Story.