Jenna Hill, the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige, is to publish a memoir of her life in the movement. If it's anything like the devastating open letter she wrote to the movement in 2008, they need to batten down the hatches.
First there was the book project on Scientology announced by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Lawrence Wright following his devastating New Yorker article on celebrity defector the film maker Paul Haggis.
Then Tony Ortega, who towards the end of his five-and-a-half years stint as editor-in-chief at Village Voice wrote a column on Scientology that became essential reading for anyone following the movement, quit his day job.
He too is off to write a book on Scientology, with a trailerload of goodwill from the ex-member community – and a full contacts book.
But now it seems that Jenna Hill, the niece of the movement's current leader, is going to beat them both to print.
Hill is getting ready to publish a memoir of her childhood inside Scientology – and how she rebuilt her life as an adult outside the movement.
Beyond Belief: My Life in and out of Scientology, published by William Morrow, is due out in January next year.
Jenna first went public about Scientology in January 2008, when Scientology was busy trying to rubbish Andrew Morton's recently released Tom Cruise: an Unauthorized Biography.
Jenna took exception to a 15-page denunciation of Morton's book in which Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw dismissed it as a “bigoted defamatory assault replete with lies”.
One thing in particular outraged her.
Pouw had categorically denied that the movement forced members to break off contact with relatives considered hostile to the movement.
This practice, known as disconnetion, means former members who have either quit or been cast out of Scientology lose all contact with loved ones still inside.
Jenna knew from personal experience that this particular claim was a lie.
As you well know, my parents officially left the Church when I was 16 in 2000, she wrote to Pouw in a January 2008 open letter.
I, having been separated from them at the age of 12 and thoroughly engulfed in the beliefs of the Church since birth decided not to go with them.
Not only was I not allowed to speak to them, I was not allowed to answer a phone for well over a year, in case it was them calling me.
Her letters were intercepted, she wrote, and passed on to senior executives.1
Only after they had seen the letters and decided it was ok for me to see them would I receive some of them while sitting in a board room while they watched me read them and asked me to comment on them, she continued.
Between the ages of 16 and 22, she wrote, she was allowed to visit her parents once a year, for a maximum of three to four days – even that was only after her parents had threatened legal action if Scientology tried to prevent it.
Even then, she wrote, she had to submit to a “Security Check Confessional” before the visit and immediately after her return.
That involved being questioned about if she intended leaving Scientology; and whether her parents had said anything bad about the movement.
During these interrogations, she was hooked up to one of Scientology's electropsychometer, or e-meters, the deviced used in the movement's auditing, or therapy sessions.
On this occasion though, they served a different purpose. Hill described the e-meter as “similar to a lie detector”.
This happened every time she visited her parents, she wrote.
Disconnection is compulsory
Jenna went on to give examples of how Scientology's leader David Miscavige, her own uncle, had effectively torn his own family apart by enforcing the disconnection policy.
For as per policy, relatives still inside the movement had announced they wanted no further contact with those who had left – regardless of whether they were openly critical of Scientology.
As I have explained in detail elsewhere on this site, disconnection is not the freely taken choice of any Scientologist: it is a compulsory measure taken against anyone the movement designates as beyond the pale.
One sentence from Introduction to Scientology Ethics, by the movement's founder L. Ron Hubbard, spells it out. For among the high crimes Hubbard listed for which one can be declared a Suppressive Person and cast out of the movement, is the following offence:
Failure to handle or disavow and disconnect from a person demonstrably guilty of suppressive acts.2
Hubbard’s disconnection policy, which he first introduced in 1965, was so controversial and attracted so much negative publicity that he cancelled it in 1968.
But it was gradually reintroduced in the 1970s and was fully reinstated in a September 10 1983 policy letter.3
In her 2008 open letter Jenna went on: I can name at least five friends off the top of my head [whose] family members are not allowed to speak to them without being themselves ousted from the Church and prevented from communicating with other members of their family and even their children still involved in the Church lest THEY too be ousted!
These were people who could not speak to their own children because they had quit Scientology, she wrote.
This is a widespread practice … these people's families are crying every day because they can't speak to their children who did nothing but leave the Church of their own free will.
Jenna closed her letter with a suggestion – an appeal, almost – that the movement divert its energy from attacking its perceived enemies to repairing the damage wrought by disconnection – starting with the family of David Miscavige himself.
Hell, if Scientology can't keep his family together – then why on earth should anyone believe the Church helps bring families together!
It was powerful stuff and at the time emboldened a lot of other Scientologists who were still hesitating to speak out – but it had no discernible effect on Scientology policy.
For as the relevant news groups and Internet forums confirm on an almost daily basis, Scientology enforces disconnection with the same ruthless efficiency as it ever did.
Ex Scientology Kids
Jenna was one of those who in 2008, along with Astra Woodcraft and Kendra Wiseman, set up the Ex-Scientology Kids website (“I was born. I grew up. I escaped.”)
ESK has influenced a range of people, including ex-members who went on to become one of the movement's leading critics.
Jeff Hawkins spent 35 years inside Scientology – most of his adult life – before joining the recent wave of defectors and rebuilding his life.
He credits ESK for having finally convinced him to speak out.
As he put it at his blog, Counterfeit Dreams: “You could say they shamed me into it.
“If they were willing to put their names on the line and face whatever Scientology dished out, then what was I afraid of?”4
ESK attracted an eclectic mix of visitors including second-generation members who, like the site's founders, had since quit the movement.
Many of them took the time to tell their often quite distressing stories.
And the website received floods of correspondence – and not just from former members. Other readers wrote in to tell them how the site had opened their eyes to Scientology's abusive nature.
In recent years however, its levels of activity have fallen off dramatically (Kendra, for one, has moved on to other things). It was also the target of some quite ferocious spamming that for a while made it all but unusable.
But a visit to the site shows recent signs of life: both Jenna and Astra have updated their media profiles.
And both take the time to express their solidarity with Katie Holmes, the most high-profile defector from the movement, who this summer ended her five-year marriage to Tom Cruise.
Media reports have suggested that Holmes was determined to prevent daughter Suri from being drawn further into Scientology.
And Jenna writes: “As a mother myself, I offer my support to Katie and wish for her all of the strength she will need to do what is best for her and her daughter.”
My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive.
I was allowed to see my parents only once a week at best – sometimes not for years.
We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labor, long hours, forced confessions, being held in rooms not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child...
While it is very unlikely that Suri Cruise would have the same upbringing as me (due to her parent's celebrity status), any organization that is capable of mistreating and neglecting the needs of children, regardless of their social status, and which has a long history of breaking up families is no place for an innocent child.
Amazon – and no doubt other outlets – are already taking prepublication orders for her book.
1 Ironically, these senior executives were Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder – who themselves have since quit the movement. They are now leading figures in what has become known as the Independent Scientology movement which still accepts the value of Scientology, but rejects the regime as it is run by David Miscavige. See Rathbun's blog Moving Up a Little Higher, to which Rinder is an occasional contributor.
2 From Chapter Seven of An Introduction to Scientology Ethics. But this originally came from a December 23 1965 Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter, “Suppressive Acts Suppression of Scientology and Scientologists” – so it can hardly be said to be a corruption of Hubbard’s policies by the current leader Miscavige.
3 “An Ethics Officer can encounter a situation where someone is factually connected to a Suppressive Person, in present time,” wrote Hubbard.
“This is a person whose normal operating basis is one of making others smaller, less able, less powerful. He does not want anyone to get better, at all.
“In truth, an SP is absolutely, completely terrified of anyone becoming more powerful. In such an instance the PTS isn't going to get anywhere trying to handle the person. The answer is to sever the connection.”
“PTSness and Disconnection”, September 10, 1983.