On Sunday, we published a disturbing new document which was produced by Scientology recruiters in Australia. It purports to be the testimony of an 18-year-old named Denny Chang, who extols the virtues of Scientology's most hardcore contingent, the Sea Org, and urges other young church members to join.
After talking with experienced former Sea Org members, it's now clear that young Chang, judging by his own words, probably started his career in the elite troop at only 14 or 15 years of age. And now at 18, when his former schoolmates might be heading off to college, Chang is convinced that Scientology provides an answer for everything: "I started to realize that Scientology is really the only way out," he writes.
The mailer Chang appears on was not one of Scientology's advertisements to the general public. It was an e-mail flier sent out to church members -- the Voice regularly obtains such mailers from various Scientology organizations around the US and Australia, and we publish three of them each Sunday morning.
This one was a recruiting notice for the Sea Org, Scientology's elite corps, whose members are required to sign billion-year contracts and serve the church, lifetime after lifetime.
In his testimonial, Chang relates that as he becomes an adult, he's already an experienced Sea Org officer...
"I'm 18 years old; I'm already an experienced Professional Course Supervisor and a permanent Class IV auditor. And I'm a Commodore's Messenger Organization staff member."
As we've been reporting lately, recruiting to the Sea Org for very young church members - some as young as ten years old - can be very intense.
Melissa Paris joined the Sea Org at only 15 years of age, and a year later was forced into a marriage she didn't want, she told us in a lengthy interview recently. And if Scientology itself often justifies the way it treats Sea Org members by comparing it to the Jesuits or some other ascetic religious order, the experience of Melissa, her sister Valeska, and many other former Sea Org members we've talked to makes it sound much more like a cheap force of manual labor than anything spiritual. Valeska joined the Sea Org at only 14, and she became suddenly famous last month when her incredible story -- that she was held against her will on Scientology's private cruise ship, the Freewinds, from 1996 to 2007 -- became public. She urged us also to talk to her younger sister Melissa, who labored for the Sea Org in the UK as a teenager.
Melissa told us that she had worked for four years doing manual labor at L. Ron Hubbard's estate in England -- more than half of it while still a child, under 18 -- for a total of about $40.
I asked Melissa to read Denny Chang's testimony and estimate for me how much time it would take for him to reach his current level of experience.
"Years," she responded. "Pro supervisor is 6 months to a year. Class IV auditor is easily a year and that's studying every day -- he said that he did it on his own time. Probably longer. I'd say he's been in since 14-15 years old if not younger."
I also reached out to another woman who joined the Sea Org very young, Ramana Dienes-Browning, and who knew Valeska Paris on the Freewinds. In her own lengthy interview, Ramana told us that she first visited the ship with her mother, and while her mother was taking classes nearby, Ramana was subject to intense recruiting by older Sea Org members. She relented, and joined the Sea Org at only 15 years of age.
"The pressure was so intense. And you have to also remember, I'd been raised to be in awe of Sea Org members, to almost fear them. These were L. Ron Hubbard's messengers," she told us in that interview.
I asked Ramana to give me an estimate of how long Denny Chang has been laboring for the Sea Org.
"I would say at least two to three years, possibly closer to four. I cannot see him getting from Pro Metering to having completed his Class IV Internship in under this time, specially since he says he was studying outside of post time. This means two and a half hours per day of study. There are loads of variables but this would be my best estimation. This would mean he joined when he was 15 or 16 and possibly younger."
She added that Denny's enthusiastic testimony was actually "so sad."
I would like to hear from our Australian readers, particularly ex-church members. Does anyone know Denny's family? For Ramana and the Paris sisters, it was extremely difficult to resist Sea Org recruiting when they had grown up in the church, and had known nothing else as Scientology kids. Is that the case in the Chang family?
As we wind down this year -- and next week should be very fun with awards we have to give out -- it is still important to recognize that the stories we've been hearing lately from Valeska and Melissa Paris, from Ramana Dienes-Browning, and from so many others who say they were forced into marriages, forced into abortions, and worked like slave labor while still in their teens, are not stories from the distant past. Scientology still very much wants your impressionable child to do its work at pennies on the hour and with utter dedication to an illusory goal -- the "clearing" of the planet.