My Scientology Nightmare -- by SARAH CHALMERS, Daily Mail
25 Nov 2001
My Scientology nightmare
by SARAH CHALMERS, Daily Mail
femail.co.uk - 25th November 2001
Nicole Kidman is said to be disillusioned with Scientology, the religious order in which Tom Cruise is so active. Here former follower Astra Woodcraft continues her description of her bizarre experiences as a member.
Members dedicate their whole life - and the next billion years, because they believe in reincarnation - to Scientology. Their mission is to convert the world.
'I hated it. Mum and Dad did not get home until 10pm, and we had to do chores after school, under the supervision of a Scientology nanny,' says Astra.
'We had to clean the kitchen and mop the floors. After dinner we'd do homework and be given a bedtime drink called "calmagÓ.'
This drink, others verify, is calcium, magnesium, vinegar and boiling water, which acts as a mild sedative on children.
After two years, Lesley was promoted and the family moved to Los Angeles. For a year, Astra was in the cadets, a group for children of Sea Organisation members.
'My school teacher was not a trained, certified teacher but a Scientology 'supervisor'. We had no lessons but worked straight out of books and instruction sheets,' she says.
Lawrence explains: 'Hubbard believed we had all lived before and attended school, so he didn't put too much emphasis on formal education.'
Astra's life became even more gruelling. After lessons, she had to do several hours' filing before falling asleep on a campbed, finally being collected by her parents at around 2am.
A year of this regime proved enough and she refused to return to the cadets, whereupon her father enrolled her in another Scientology school, which, she says, was no better.
Around this time, her parents' marriage buckled under the strain of long working hours and Lawrence's increasing disaffection with Scientology.
'I had become disillusioned, but Lesley was still very active,' he says.
Under custody arrangements, Astra stayed in California with her father while Zoe moved to Florida with her mother.
Despite her experiences - or perhaps because she knew no other life - Astra began attending a Scientology course at the Celebrity Centre in Hollywood.
There, she was invited into the Sea Organisation, aged 14. 'I knew it would make Mum and Gran happy and I thought I was going to earn good money.'
Astra says she was told she would be working for a publishing offshoot and would earn £200 a week. In fact, she found herself working long hours as a secretary for nominal pay (£10 a week plus board and lodgings). During this time she says she attended school for only six hours a week.
One of my tasks was to persuade people who wanted to leave the Sea Organisation that they should stay. If they refused I had to order them to do hard labour and make them sign "confession-alsÓ saying it was all their fault they were leaving.'
In such a prematurely responsible environment it comes as little surprise that Astra's next venture was to marry. At just 15 she wed fellow Sea Organisation employee Jason Merrill, in the Silver Bell chapel in Las Vegas.
'Jason was older, 22, and very attractive. In the Sea Organisation you are not allowed to do any more with a boy than kiss. If you marry you can move out of your dorm and into your own room. And you can have sex,' says Astra.
However, after just a few months of marriage, Astra became disillusioned with her limited life and the strict teachings of the religion.
'I couldn't tell anyone how I was feeling, not even my husband, because he would be obliged to report me and I'd be ostracised. You are taught to think there is something wrong with you if you are not happy in the organisation.'
Scientology teaches its adherents to file reports on members who are acting against the church. Such people are deemed to have brought shame on their families and are sent to 'ethics' sessions, where they are questioned for hours about their thoughts and forced to make 'amends,' which can include manual labour.
Finally, Astra extricated herself from the movement in 1998, but not before she confessed to a list of petty crimes to avoid being declared a Suppressive Person.
Other Scientologists are ordered not to speak to such outcasts, who are declared enemies, and Astra didn't want to lose contact with her family.
Her crimes included 'stealing' leftover food and a pair of tights, forgetting to return a borrowed shirt and trying marijuana at 13.
'I signed the confession because I didn't want to lose contact with Mum, Gran, my sister and brother,' she says.
In a written response to the Mail's investigation, the church of Scientology refuted Astra's claims as 'fabrication', describing her as a 'disaffected former member' out to extort money. Spokeswoman Janet Weiland insists children in Scientology schools receive at least the state of California's legal minimum requirement of 20 hours' teaching a week, and head teach-ers at the Sea Organisation are fully qualified.
Astra was pregnant when she left and Kate was born soon after. Free of the constraints of Scientology, she felt relief, tempered with sadness and fear.
'It took me a long time to fully break free because so many of my friends were in Scientology. It was like starting my life all over again.
'I also felt sorry that Kate would not have a father figure, but my husband had decided that he couldn't devote himself to the Sea Organisation and us. I didn't want Kate brought up in Scientology.' The pair have since divorced.
Her relationship with her mother has broken down since she denounced Scientology, and the church has sent
Astra a bill for almost £60,000 for the classes she was given. She refuses to pay. Two years later, Zoe followed her sister and left Scientology. Now 16, she is at an ordinary Los Angeles school and is struggling to keep up with her academic work.
'I found it very difficult to be at a school with so many people, with nobody wearing uniform and hardly any rules after the strict regime of Scientology,' she says.
Scientologists, the sisters say, denounce outside schools as places full of 'wogs' (their word for non-Scientologists).
'I was led to believe state schools were all overrun by guns and drugs,' says Zoe.
'It was very difficult for me to let go of all the things they had told me, because I was so locked into it. They told me I was a very special person with special powers and I really thought I could save the world one day.'
To hear Astra and Zoe poking fun at the religion which absorbed them for years, it is at times difficult to believe their tale, yet it has been verified by others who went through similar experiences.
What is much harder to comprehend is Lawrence's role in this saga. How could any father allow his daughters to remain in such an organisation, even giving his consent for one to marry at 15?
'I feel really guilty about what happened and I'm trying to make it up to them,' he says, struggling to explain something he can barely comprehend himself.
'I had no idea Astra was unhappy. She used to tell me everything was fine, because that is what she was drilled to say.
'I let her marry because I didn't want to lose her. She needed only one parent's consent and Lesley had already agreed.
'As for Zoe, she lived in Florida and I rarely saw her. I had to be careful not to put too much pressure on her to leave or she would have been obliged to tell her mother and others, according to Scientology rules, and it could have pushed her further away.
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