Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Dear Amanda.

This is a story about a Father's struggle to keep in contact with his children, it is very long and very moving.This a small segment taken from chapter two, called Clearwater.

In the fall of 1994, Linda and I decided to visit you and Ben in Florida. Hoping you two could get some time off from your various duties, whatever they were, we announced our plans long in advance, because we wanted to spend a week with you both, traveling, exploring, visiting, and camping out.

Ben, in his Sea Org uniform, and you, in plain clothes, gave us the grand tour of the Fort Harrison (a former resort hotel, now "spiritual headquarters") and the Sand Castle (a former motel, now posh offices and quarters). Both facilities were clean and in good repair, generally pleasing to behold, if a bit on the gaudy side. Sea Org members, in their blue uniforms, scurried everywhere. The feeling was one of barely controlled chaos; it was not unlike scenes I had experienced at school plays and such.

After some urging we prevailed on Ben to show us where he lived: an apartment complex where he shared a suite with a number of others. It was a bit run-down, obviously not a beneficiary of the attention lavished on the buildings we'd toured earlier, but habitable.

Our tour of the Quality Inn (or “Q.I.”), yet another former motel where you and your mom lived, was impromptu and more interesting.

We visited there several times: first, just to see where you lived; second, to rearrange the load in the car for our camping trip; third, at the end of that trip, to tour your school and talk with its teacher.

The first time we went there, you showed us the room you shared with three other girls, and showed us the near-by room your mother shared with another woman and her baby. You proudly demonstrated your ability to get into your mother’s room via a window when the door was locked. I wondered why you, at the age of 12, didn’t live in the same room as your mother.

That place was bad. The building and grounds were obviously suffering from a lack of maintenance and repair. So were the children, as we were soon to see.

During our second visit, I reorganized the load in the car and eavesdropped while Linda visited with about eight kids, from about 6 to 11 years of age. They had apparently just been hanging around before we arrived; now, they were seeking Linda's attention.

They needed attention, physical and emotional, in the worst way. Not only were they dirty, with matted hair, and in need of changes of clothes; they also very much needed some adult affection.

Linda was eager to provide it. She sat in the car's front seat while a girl of about 8 sat on her lap, stroked her arm, and explained her parents had been bad, so they were in the R.P.F.* and were too busy and too tired to care for her. The other children surrounded the open car door, some talking, some quiet, some reaching out to touch Linda, all hungry for attention. This went on for about half an hour. Linda said afterward it was like relating with street urchins in a third-world city.

[*R.P.F.: Rehabilitation Project Force, a Scientology forced labor and concentration camp to which members who are guilty of, for example, poor job performance or inadequate recruiting efforts, are sent. Scientology’s most egregious violations of members’ civil rights are probably to be found in the R.P.F.]

You, of course, were older than any of those urchins. Presumably, at 13, you were old enough to be useful to the Sea Org and thus enjoyed some status in it. I tried to imagine you as one of those sad, lonely children, but my imagination was not equal to the task.

Although Ben's freedom to come on our little trip was in doubt until the last minute, the four of us left Clearwater that afternoon for a circular journey that included several state parks (including one we thought should be re-named for that venerable insect, the mosquito) and a visit to my father and his wife in Ft. Lauderdale.

My fondest memory of that outing was the canoe trip you, Ben, and I took up the Loxahatchee River. While Ben and I paddled through the mangroves and upstream into the woods, with ospreys by the hundreds flying about and perching in trees, you read to us from a book about mangrove swamps. Truly a marvelous time!

We returned to Clearwater late one afternoon, after a week of traveling through the state. I had wanted to see the school you were currently attending, and from which Ben had supposedly graduated. Ben thought he could arrange that.

People were dining in a cafeteria when we arrived, so we waited. I remember watching a boy doing stunts on his bicycle and thinking how dangerous that looked, because there was no unpaved area on the grounds of the Q.I.

After supper, Ben introduced us to Miss L., the teacher at the “Cadet School,” and we followed her to the two-room facility which appeared to have been a conference room when the Q.I. had been a motel.
Miss L., though courteous and accommodating, was obviously not well educated, judging from her use of the language. In fact, she revealed she had never attended college, but had been awarded a teaching certificate in Arizona, at a time when college was not a prerequisite for such certification. I surmised her certificate limited her to teaching kindergarten and (maybe) first grade. At the Cadet School, she taught kindergarten through twelfth grade.

She showed me the study areas and the collection of textbooks. Some of those were hand-me-downs from public schools; most of the others were written by L. Ron Hubbard and did not address academic subjects. She confirmed my suspicion that the Cadet School was not accredited.

Miss L. explained to me that she did not teach chemistry or physics, because the school had no Bunsen burners. I suspected that she didn't teach those subjects because she had not the slightest understanding of them. Also notable for their absence were computers and lab equipment of any sort.

As we neared the end of our tour, Miss L. showed me an area, on one wall, where about ten diplomas were on display. She explained that a student had to pass the G.E.D. examination in order to receive a diploma from the Cadet School. One of the diplomas on display was Ben's.

I knew Ben hadn't taken the G.E.D., and he was nearby, so I questioned him. Miss L. was very embarrassed when she had to admit Ben had not earned the diploma.

After our tour of the school, our business in Clearwater was finished. We bade you and Ben farewell, then we drove away from the Q.I. I pulled the car into the first available parking lot to compose myself, because I was somewhat shaken, not only by my recently acquired understanding of your "school," but also by the sum of my impressions about the environment in which you lived. I knew, in that instant, that I had to do something to get you out of that place.

Linda and I began sharing our perceptions and comparing our experiences. After we’d shed a few tears for those poor, sad children we’d seen at the Q.I., I composed myself, and we drove to the state park where we’d been camping to get a night’s sleep before beginning the long drive home.

When you first moved to Florida, you and Ben seemed happy and healthy; other than the serious matter that you were failing to receive the educations to which you were entitled, I could find no fault with the ways in which you were being raised.

In the intervening years, however, other problems had begun to appear; by the time our visit in Clearwater ended, it was obvious to me that you were in grave danger.

Your frightened reaction to our little auto accident I took seriously, particularly since your explanation strongly suggested you were in an environment in which fear was used to motivate you.

I also noted that your need for glasses had not been met in Clearwater, and wondered whether your dental and health needs were being addressed.

I had observed carefully as your mother had manipulated you when you suggested you might want to move to my home. Although it was certainly possible that any mother, Scientologist or not, might be moved to such tactics by the threat of having a minor child leave her home, the skill with which the appearance of your making the decision was preserved despite the arm-twisting to which you’d been subjected made me suspicious. I was beginning to learn that Scientology freely uses manipulation to alter people’s perceptions of reality, and those most affected by that manipulation are Scientologists. I was beginning to understand manipulation as a tool for forcing a Scientologist into a mold while maintaining the fantasy that she is making decisions “of her own free will.”

Then there was the huge issue around continuing visitation among the three of us. The implied threats that some attempt to interfere with our visitation would result if I were ever to speak ill of Scientology I found very worrisome; I was hardly proud of the fact that, so far, they were working.
In fact, the Sea Org already had the mechanism in place for such interference: your and Ben’s need for advance permission to be “off post” in order to leave Clearwater. I was pretty sure that was why Ben had abruptly stopped visiting: his permission to do so either hadn’t been granted or had been rescinded. I interpreted that as nothing less than the Sea Org’s insistence that he choose between his loyalty to the organization and his loyalty to me.

Your mother’s willingness to remove herself from the loop regarding arrangements for your visits completed that picture: I was left to make visitation arrangements directly with you and Ben and, therefore, indirectly with the Sea Org. In this very important area, at least, your mother had abdicated her parental responsibilities in favor of the Sea Org.

Your lack of animation during the first three days of your summer visit was a matter of some concern to me. Obviously, there could be many possible reasons why a girl of almost thirteen years might experience difficulties in the face of the adjustments necessary to change homes temporarily. But what I had learned about Scientology caused me to think it more likely that you had been subjected to some form of mental abuse before leaving Clearwater.

Of course, it was our visit to Clearwater that put the icing on the cake. We had seen two faces of the Sea Org: the glitzy, polished, uniformed headquarters, capable of being photographed and shown proudly to the public; and the wretched underside, where facilities were in disrepair and children were neglected, disrespected, and poorly educated. What sort of religion, I wondered, could so neglect its children?

There could be no doubt that gross misrepresentations, even lies, had been made to me concerning the well-being of my children. Obviously, it was time I began seeking explanations from sources other than your mother, sources outside Scientology. Something had to change; the way to begin was to try to understand what was happening and why. 

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