Wednesday, February 27, 2013 |
Public denouncements of the controversial Church of Scientology by former members are nothing new. But Jenna Miscavige Hill's escape is higher-profile than many: Not only was Hill a former high-ranking member of the church, she is the niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige himself. Hill is the author of Beyond Belief, a memoir about growing up in Scientology and her struggle to leave the church behind. She shared the story of her childhood with The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti recently.
Hill's roots in Scientology are deep, especially considering the relative newness of the church (science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard started the religion in the 1950s). Her grandparents were early adopters, and both of Hill's parents grew up in Scientology. Their devotion to the church had a profound effect on their Hill's life and her relationship with her parents. "When I was two, my parents joined what is called the Sea Organization, which is basically Scientology's most devout followers," says Hill. "It's run like a paramilitary organization. People there work seven days a week, 14-hour days, they sign one-billion-year contracts, they have little to no time off, and they sort of manage Scientology around the world."
Sea Org members are also not allowed to have children. "So when they joined...I only saw them for one hour a day," says Hill. It got worse. From the ages of four to 12, Hill only saw her parents once a week. When Hill was six, she was put to work herself. "I was brought to a place called the Ranch, which is for the children of executives of the Sea Organization -- there were about 80 other kids there -- and we were run there as though we were Sea Org members in training. We were actually called cadets...we did manual labour for four hours a day, we had our own jobs."
Hill lived in a dorm with six other girls, and had to share a bathroom with the seven girls in the dorm next door. "Everything was uniform...in pretty much every room there was a picture of [L. Ron Hubbard]," she says. The routine she describes sounds like the military. Dorm and uniform inspections happened daily, and tardiness was punished by dunking a child's head into a bucket of ice water.
To an outsider, any one of many events in Hill's life would seem like a red flag and a sign to get out of Scientology. But it took a lifetime of those alarming details piling up to make Hill finally decide to leave the church. Her husband wanted to join her, which almost ended up making the process harder. "They had secret meetings with him telling him how bad I was, telling him if he left with me he wouldn't be able to see his family," Hill says. "I almost ended up leaving without him, I was actually at the airport, but then at the last minute I decided I couldn't do that, and we wound up leaving together the next day...they were very angry when we left."
The couple worked at a family member's jewelery store, but were subjected to regular harassing phone calls from Scientology officials. When Hill started speaking out against the church in 2008, she found herself followed by private investigators. "In Scientology, they basically don't want any people in there having any knowledge of critics," says Hill.