Karen de la Carriere, 70, was a member of the Church of Scientology for 35 years. She was married to its President. She held a level of 'enlightenment' and a rank within its organization shared by only a handful of others. She was one of its 'rock stars'.
But when she left in 2010 she was branded a 'Suppressive Person', cast out, harassed and cut off from her son so completely that, when he died in 2012, she learned of his passing via a Facebook posting by a stranger.
Now, for the first time, she has given her full, personal and excoriating account and shared a treasure trove of previously unseen pictures from her years inside the notoriously secretive organization.
In an emotional interview with MailOnline she told of the punishments she claims she endured, often stretching across months. In the name of spiritual enlightenment they all but broke her physically and mentally. She said they made her feel like an 'amoeba'.
She says she had to run for 12 hours a day for three months. She says she was ordered to chip paint off metal bars for days on end. And for six months, she claims she was held against her will in a section of Scientology’s Int Base in the Californian desert known by members as 'The Hole', while her husband was sent to Germany and her baby kept from her.
She spoke of a culture of fear and financial dependence (on leaving she was told she had a debt of $90,000 to clear) and showed MailOnline documents which suggest its international management team, Sea Org, bans members who have children from remaining in service, which she claims has led to members having abortions to keep their status within the church.
The Church of Scientology has vigorously responded to Karen's claims and dismissed her as somebody who 'will literally say anything to get attention'. A spokesman claims she has previously made 'false and unsubstantiated claims about the church'.
A spokesman also contends that 'her allegations about church religious services, conditions of service within Sea Org and so-called "harassment" are false' and said that she has not held a staff position within the church for more than 20 years, adding she remained a parishioner until she was 'expelled' in 2010.
To its celebrity members the church is part concierge, part fixer. But for the rest, according to Karen, it governs through constant observation, oppressing rebellion and nurturing informants.
Karen said: 'Scientology is like tsunami of destruction. It launches at you and when it retreats it leaves behind broken lives, damaged people, bankrupt people, people who thought they were buying a dream but were sold a monster'.
Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, barely 40 minutes drive from the compound in which she was held all those years ago, she explained: 'The dark part of Scientology never surfaces as you enter the door, but the higher up the levels you go the more it's brought out.
'Look, if you throw a frog in boiling hot water it will leap out on its back feet in a New York second. But put it in and slowly turn up the heat and it will slowly take it hotter and hotter and hotter'.
Karen was in her early twenties and living in London when she was introduced to Scientology by a boyfriend. The love affair didn't last, but she was hooked on Scientology from her first Audit.
Auditing is central to Scientology. The subject, or 'Pre-Clear' (PC) answers questions posed by a trained 'auditor' while hooked up to an E-meter, a polygraph of sorts that purports to read moods and gauge signs of spiritual distress. The goal is to attain a 'Clear' state.
In 1975 she signed a simple pledge and entered the Sea Org – the management team styled as a sort of faux navy by church's founder and sci-fi writer L Ron Hubbard. She thought the whole enterprise 'benign' and well intentioned. She wanted to do well.
Within three years Karen had achieved Class XII Case Supervisor status. To this day there are less than 60 auditors to have received what is, for them, the highest honor. She met Heber Jentzsch, a senior officer in the public relations department, and they married in 1978. David Mayo – L Ron Hubbard's personal auditor - gave her away.
They were a golden couple and in 1980, Heber was made International President.
Heber often appeared on television as a spokesperson for the church. Behind the scenes he was a trouble shooter and friend to many celebrities.
According to Karen that role was later taken over by David Miscavige who jealously guarded the church's VIP members. But for many years Heber counted John Travolta in particular as a friend.
The star would regularly visit Heber in his office and was fond of her son Alex.
Karen would never, she said, have dreamed of asking Heber what secrets they shared but she said: 'I know that Travolta would phone up Heber and talk about his worries, or troubles, ask him questions. It was more than an official thing. It was a friendship. He was close enough to ask Heber what should he do in any situation. Travolta loved Heber. It was just very normal for him to be around.'
Karen recalled that for while she was treated 'like a Queen.'
But in 1982 she was confronted with a reality that made her question everything.
In an attempt to raise funds, she said, the church was drawing members from all over the country and offering procedures called L10, L11 and L12.
These intense auditing courses promised miraculous results to truly troubled – desperate - individuals and charged $1,000 an hour.
Karen was the Case Supervisor in charge but to her dismay she was presented with people she claims were suicidal and psychotic day after day and who she says were already under psychiatric care.
Karen recalled: 'I had people threatening to throw themselves from the tenth floor onto the cement below. Scientology is mindlessly anti-psychiatry and here we were disingenuously and hypocritically accepting psychiatric patients. If one of these people died on my watch I was responsible.'
Karen complained, she said, she fought 'tooth and nail', to eject the Pre-Clears she believed she simply was not qualified to help. And she was punished for it.
She recalled: 'The church has an intelligence bureau. It used to be called the Guardians Office, now it's the Office for Special Affairs. I was summoned and told I was being sent to the Rehabilitation Project Force [RPF].
'That is the mind control, Gulag of the church. It's rough – sleep deprivation, cold left over Oliver Twist food, hard manual labor.
'You have to do anything from cleaning toilets hour after hour to sweeping backroom staircases to cleaning the grunge under the galleys, crawling on your belly.'
But Karen's particular punishment was as bizarre as it was brutal, she claimed.
She said: 'I was a guinea pig. For 12 hours a day I had to run around a pole. Today it's called the Running Program – they sell it. On the sixth floor of their 'cathedral' in Florida there's a running track and you give the church $2,500 and you run for 5 hours a day or more. It's supposed to give you spiritual enlightenment.'
And it did give Karen an enlightenment of sorts. She explained, 'I was on that every single day for three months. Only with breaks to recover... then running and running. I hit a very low point. I was squashed like a subatomic particle. I was an amoeba. I was crushed, just moving robotically like a puppet to move my body round the track.
'But I swore as I ran round that track, one day I will tell the story about what really goes on in the Church of Scientology. I made the decision that one day I would talk about it.'
Until that point, Karen admitted, she had been aware of punishments but had believed completely Scientology's teaching that any punishment was something a person 'pulled in' towards themselves through their own 'evil intentions'.
But now, she said, 'I saw there was no humanity, there was no mercy I had served the church now I saw I was a slave within the church. You have no possessions. You have no money reserves, you're making peanuts, you can't fend on your own'.
In 1984 her son Alexander was born and her joy at motherhood blotted out the darkness she now felt.
She wanted another child but according to Karen, the year after Alex's birth, 'I saw the pressure starting - no more children, bulletins (were issued about it). The church loves only itself. Children get in the way of productivity'.
It might be hard for an outsider to understand how the threat of expulsion would be enough to see a woman abort a longed for child but for members this wasn't about losing a job. This was about losing an entire life.
MailOnline has seen a bulletin of one of the many 'orders' posted by Sea Org on the subject. It states, 'The Sea Org is the only group which is taking complete responsibility to handle the whole planet.
'This is a huge task and…requires complete dedication from its staff. The Sea Org is not set up to handle or take care of children. Sea Org members getting children has resulted in unpractical burden…and inhibited efficiency.
'Therefore Sea Org members who have children will not be allowed to remain on duty in Sea Org units.'
It goes onto explain that expectant parents will be 'sent to a Class V org for duty' - a lower level of the church. And in a particularly punitive measure it stipulates that 'Married Sea Org members... who beget a child…may NOT be posted in the Class V org closest to the SO org.'
A church spokesman told MailOnline that since 1986 'it has been the policy of the Church that if married members of its religious order, the Sea Organization, wish to have children, they must do so outside the Sea Organization and return once the children are grown'. The spokesman added that it has never recommended abortions to staff or parishioners.
There was no such punitive directive when Karen and Heber decided to beg permission to have a second child but they knew where things were heading.
Karen said: 'Heber and I petitioned the International Executive Director – a puppet of David Miscavige. It took us weeks to put together. We attached all the evidence that we are productive people of magnitude.
'The petition came back denied and Heber was severely punished and reprimanded'.
Throughout the interview Karen veers between high passion and weary sorrow. Invariably when she speaks of Heber it is with a deep sadness.
Heber has not been seen or heard from publicly since 2004. Multiple reports and testimony from ex-Scientologists claim that he has been 'imprisoned' in the dreaded Suppressive Persons' Hold (known as the SP-Hole) on Int or Gold Base for years.
Yet back then they accepted that they could not have more children. Heber took his punishment and they carried on.
The church responded to Karen's claims saying that 'Reverend Jentzsch turns 79 next month and is living in semi-retirement at a church facility. He is in regular touch with family and friends, participates in Scientology services as a church parishioner, but given his age no longer makes public appearances on behalf of the church'.
In 1986 L Ron Hubbard died and Miscavige rose to power – today his official title is Chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Center (RTC).
Today, according to Karen: 'David Miscavige runs the show with an iron fist and a dark heart'.
There have been many allegations of violence leveled against Miscavige by members of Sea Org who have left the church. All have been hotly denied.
Karen never witnessed any acts of violence through the years, but there was talk and Miscavige was someone she feared.
By the time he took over she was working in LA as Heber's assistant. She was in the office when, one day she was summoned without warning by Miscavige.
She will never forget the look in his eyes that day. It was 'just cold, cold steel,' she said.
He didn't shout, he showed no emotion or empathy at all. Instead he calmly told how she was to 'hit the decks'.
With those three words he brought Karen down to the 'lowest of the low', she said, and condemned her to the most brutal treatment in the name of spiritual cleansing.
Her crime was to gossip about two senior members of the executive who had been removed from their posts. She had shared information she had no business sharing, she said, and was told that this was the reason behind the punishment that followed.
She claimed: 'David Miscavige's order was "Work her till those manicured fingernails are worked to the bone."
'That was a blood curdling sentence. It meant, "Drive her to the limit"'.
'For ten days I did hard manual labor, chipping paint off iron bars,' she said. 'I was not allowed any personal hygiene. When you work for hours and sweat, it's humiliating to smell and not be allowed to even brush your teeth or change your clothes.
'Heber was sent off to Germany – the government was investigating Scientology as a dangerous cult – and my son who was about two-years-old at the time was left in Los Angeles in a Scientology Nursery. That's what drove me crazy.
'He was completely orphaned. How is it religious to take a two-year-old from his mom for months?'
For the next six months Karen claims she was subjected to the 'Truth Rundown'. She was questioned for hours every day, sometimes woken at 2am and questioned by multiple interrogators. Again and again she was asked if she intended to 'destroy Scientology' or if she had 'an evil intention to destroy David Miscavige.'
When she finally emerged she was, she says, damaged and broken. It is the only way she can explain why she remained in the church as long as she did and, to her eternal regret, why she allowed her son to enter Sea Org.
In 1988 under extreme pressure she and Heber divorced. She later learned that Heber had been summoned and filed 24 'Knowledge Reports' against her in one evening.
She explained: 'The church uses intelligence as weapons. This is a culture where husband reports on wife. The child reports on the father…everybody reports to the mother church. You can do it online if you want.'
In 1990 Karen finally gathered the strength to 'route out' of Sea Org. This is a process of interrogations which can take weeks, months or even years. All her auditors wanted to know, she said, was whether or not she intended to speak publicly against the church or try to claim child support. She was told she had a debt of $90,000 for the training she had received.
She paid off that debt racking up huge credit card bills in the process. She established a life, she remarried to husband Jeff Augustine, she built a career first in real estate and finally as successful online dealer in Thomas Kinkade paintings. Yet she kept donating to the church.
She said, 'I must was damaged, I was off-center. I donated more than $250,000 before I left.'
When Alexander was eight he had asked to join Sea Org and to her enduring regret she let him. She said: 'He wanted to be near his father – though he only ended up seeing him 11 times in 15 years.'
In 2010 three Sea Org representatives visited her home and accused her of speaking with 'supressive people'.
They had learned that she had been in touch with friends who had left the church and spoken out. They invited her to come back and be 'cleared'. She refused.
Three weeks later she received a letter from Alexander. She claimed: 'He said to me that I had to make good with the Office of Special Affairs for him to have any kind of relationship with me.
'Alexander was brought up in the church. He was in their power. He was very conflicted.'
The church has always strenuously denied forcing members to 'disconnect' from those who leave or speak out against it. Every member has a choice. But it is a stark one. Sever contact or lose everything – job, community and eternal life. When it comes down to it, the line between faith, and force, is very thin.
When Karen refused to come back she became 'Fair Game'. This principle laid down by L Ron Hubbard states that a suppressive person can be 'lied to, stolen from and destroyed'. Once out of the church they are fair game.
A bizarre and aggressive campaign attacking Karen's reputation followed, which the church denied to MailOnline. She believes, but can't prove, that she had fallen victim to 'Fair Game'.
She claims she was accused of trafficking children, she was reported to the health department for insanitary living conditions, she was reported to animal welfare for cruelty to the many pets she dearly loves, and claims details of a medical procedure were posted online even though she had only shared that information with her auditor.
And in the midst of all this, came the death of her son, and her exclusion from it.
Karen will always blame Scientology for her son's death. Had he been in touch with her and had he not believed so strongly in their healing hands method of 'Touch Assist', she is convinced he would have received proper medical care for the pneumonia that killed him at such a young age.
However, the church insists that her son was staying with his wife's parents when he contracted pneumonia and died. A spokesman said that Karen has 'shamelessly exploited this tragedy to wage an internet war against her son's father and to falsely blame him and the church even though the official autopsy found no such evidence exists', adding it was a 'frivolous, false accusation'.
In the statement the church has denied harrassing Karen as has dismissed her as being like a 'biased lunatic who spreads falsehoods about the church because they have personal axes to grind'.
But she insisted, her reason for speaking out, her motivation for blogging against the church and posting frequent and highly critical videos on YouTube, goes beyond this deep personal pain.
She explained, 'I’m not speaking because I have some vendetta. I'm not saying that people can't believe what they want to believe.
'I'm speaking against the abuses that take place in the name of Scientology.
'People are being crushed and destroyed and it's got to stop'.
Want 'total freedom'? Sign your life away for billions of years
They join to cross the Bridge to 'Total Freedom'. But first members of the Church of Scientology sign contracts locking them into the faith not only for this lifetime but all the lives they believe come after.
They are bound for a billion years by legal documents in which they sign away their spiritual, physical and mental freedom.
In never-before-seen contracts for potential members of the elite Sea Org - seen by MailOnline - members jettison family or friends opposed to Scientology, absolve the church of any liability, surrender their right to sue or reclaim donations and give the church license to hold them hostage under 24 hour guard with no limit of time.
They accept the church’s 'unalterably opposed' stand to psychiatry, instead placing their physical and mental health entirely in the hands of the church.
They agree: 'If circumstances ever arise in which government, medical, or psychiatric officials or personnel or family members or friends attempt to compel or coerce or commit me for psychiatric evaluation, treatment or hospitalization I fully expect that the Church.. will intercede on my behalf to oppose such efforts and/or extract me.'
Similarly though the church denies any policy of 'disconnecting' believers from family who are critical, members must state: 'I am not connected with any person, such as by marital or familial ties, of known antagonism to spiritual treatment or to Scientology'.
And in a clause that both Karen and her husband, Jeff Augustine - a retired corporate executive who has researched the legal make-up of the church extensively - dub a license to kidnap members surrender themselves to the 'intensive, rigorous Religious Service', known as the Introspection Rundown.
They accept that this means 'being isolated from all sources of potential upset, including but not limited to family members, friends or others', 'specifically consent to Church members being with me 24 hours a day', 'fully accept that the duration of any such isolation is uncertain' and determined by the church and absolve Scientology of any 'known and unknown risks of injury, loss or damage' that might result.
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