She’s related to Scientology’s most powerful member. She’s also one of the organization’s most aggressive and prominent critics.
Jenna Miscavige Hill, the niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige, grew up with the organization and spent most of her life as a member. That is, until she escaped at age 21. In Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape, which was released Feb. 5, Miscavige Hill recalls her life as a member of Sea Org, the church’s most devoted core group, describing what it was like to be sent away as a child to receive an education in Scientology, the manual labor she says she was forced to perform, the coercion she says she faced from officials throughout her life, and what drove her to break away.
Here, the 10 juiciest bits from Beyond Belief.
1. She signed a billion-year contract with Sea Org at age 7.
At age 6, she was sent to a place called the Ranch, a training academy for the Sea Organization (Sea Org), the highest order within the ranks of Scientology. She writes that she and other children there were expected to dedicate themselves fully to the church’s mission, and only saw their parents for a few hours each weekend. At age 7, she says she was forced to sign a contract pledging to serve Sea Org “for the next billion years.” Miscavige Hill says she was told by the recruiter at the Ranch, “We come back lifetime after lifetime”—Scientologists believe that after you die, you come back and begin a new life in another body—“You are signing a billion-year contract.” Even at 7 years old, Miscavige Hill says, she sensed something wrong. “Before I signed, images from The Little Mermaid flashed in my mind, particularly when Ariel signed the Sea Witch’s magic contract,” she writes. “Whatever my future held for me, one thing was now certain: my life was no longer my own.”
2. Families were discouraged and prevented from seeing each other.
At a young age, Miscavige Hill found Sea Org all-consuming. Her parents became members, and she would only see them at bedtime. Typical Sea Org members were required to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, she says, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m., with an hour off each night for “family time.” Miscavige Hill would sleep at the Scientology nursery until her parents were off and could pick her up.
At age 4, Miscavige Hills says, her parents stopped coming home, and she discovered they had permanently relocated, as Sea Org members were increasingly discouraged from spending time with, or even having, families. If a female member became pregnant, she was demoted to a non-Sea Org mission. “I never doubted that my parents loved me,” she writes. “Even now, looking back on their dedication to the church, I have no doubt that its teachings played an enormous role in their putting their Sea Org responsibilities before their family at all times.”
3. Children in Sea Org performed manual labor.
Life at the Ranch was military-like, Miscavige Hill says. Days were spent performing manual labor. Several buildings had holes in the walls and floors, and the kids were charged with renovations and construction. Part of each day was devoted to “decks,” which were labor-intensive assignments. Miscavige Hill estimates that roughly 25 hours a week were spent on these projects, ranging from cleaning the swimming pool to weeding for fire prevention and digging irrigation trenches. She describes temperatures that would often exceed 100 degrees. Though the children were given salt and potassium pills to keep from overheating, breaks were rare, according to Miscavige Hill. “The conditions we worked under would have been tough for a grown man, and yet any complaints, backflashing, any kind of questioning was instantly met with disciplinary action,” she writes.
4. Class was “Chinese school.”
There were daily uniform and hygiene inspections, and any misbehavior—questioning of authority, lateness, or doing something “unethical”—earned a “chit,” a written demerit that went into a file for each child at the Ranch. She says little priority was put on education. Class was dubbed “Chinese school,” as it was modeled after what L. Ron Hubbard reportedly observed classrooms to be like in China, and mainly involved repeating “everything we heard exactly as we heard it.” A major part of class time was spent memorizing quotes by Hubbard. Academic subjects like math, reading, and geography were expected to be learned separately. Each course period ended with three cheers to L. Ron Hubbard, performed while facing his picture on the wall, Miscavige Hill writes.
5. Children were warned to steer clear of those not in the organization.
While on the Ranch, Miscavige Hill says she was taught that “the outside world was filled with ignorant people.” Scientologists called people outside the organization Wogs, which stands for Well and Orderly Gentlemen. She says church members were trained through the auditing process to avoid them, as they were “unenlightened” and would find the Scientology lifestyle “alarming.”
6. As early as 13, she was required to detail her sexual history.
When she was 13, Miscavige Hill says she required to fill out a life history form. In addition to supplying her Social Security number, all her ID numbers, credit-card number, information about her bank account, and nonexistent criminal record, she was required to fill out a questionnaire asking who all of her relatives were and how they felt about Scientology. She was also told to “detail every single sexual experience, including masturbating, that I ever had.” The questionnaire asked for hospital records, too. “I knew I had to do it, but it was hard to understand why the church needed this information,” she writes. “Even though I had nothing to hide, I felt like the church was asking me for information just for the sake of having it, almost asking for material they might blackmail me with that served no Scientologic purpose.”
7. She was considered an embarrassment to her family.
As a teenager, Miscavige Hill was in a training course with a boy who was not a member of Sea Org. Fraternization outside of coursework, and most certainly romantic liaisons between Sea Org Cadets (students) and those below their rank, was forbidden. But Miscavige Hill writes she couldn’t help falling in love with a boy named Martino. She asked for a transfer away from him, as she knew their love was forbidden, but officials rejected her request and scolded her for her dalliances—even though nothing physical had actually happened between her and the boy. Upset, she tried to call her parents, which was forbidden, and had to be restrained by several people in order to keep her from doing it. She says she was taken into a private room by Shelley Miscavige, David’s wife, and berated. “I have given you my time, looked after you, and all you have done is take advantage of,” Shelley screamed, according to Miscavige Hill. “You have been completely outrageous. If you continue this way, you are going to get your name changed to something else, as it is completely out PR,” using church terminology to allude to the fact that she was disgracing the hallowed Miscavige name in Scientology.
8. Tom Cruise was once considered a “Potential Trouble Source.”
Miscavige Hill got engaged to Dallas T. Hill, who used to work at the organization’s Celebrity Centre. The Centre’s facilities were solely for use by people of influence. She says that Hill told her that John Travolta “was very appreciative of Sea Org staff members at the center and their hard work,” and treated them nicely. Miscavige Hill writes that he also told her that during his marriage to Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise was actually considered a “Potential Trouble Source” because his wife was not committed to the church. The labeling apparently interfered with his progress in the organization at the time, and as a result he wasn’t actively involved.
9. She tried to commit suicide.
When she got engaged to Hill, Scientology officials ordered her to keep the engagement a secret, and kept telling the couple to postpone the wedding while a family member was investigated. Eventually, this went on for so long that they slept together out of wedlock, which officials later discovered. Misvcavige Hill says they were immediately separated and she was not told of her fiancé’s whereabouts. Weeks later, she writes, and only after she had stepped out on a ledge at a Scientology building and threatened to jump, the two were reunited. Miscavige Hill’s parents, who had by that point had left the church, did not attend the wedding, which was finally permitted to happen.
10. Officials tried to break apart her marriage.
While on a mission trip in Australia, the newlyweds discovered anti-Scientology websites that gossiped about her uncle, David Miscavige, and how he was said to have strong-armed his way into power. She called her parents, who all but confirmed it. Fed up with the coercive nature of the organization, she decided to leave—and was heartbroken to hear that her husband was going to stay. Miscavige Hill was about to board a plane to her parents, when she had a change of heart and told her husband she wanted to stay with him. He called church officials, who told him that she would not be allowed back, contradicting what she says they had said previously when she was considering leaving. Being lied to caused him to snap, she writes, and he confessed to Miscavige Hill that he had been blackmailed by the organization to either convince her to stay or to let her go without him, otherwise he would not be allowed to see his family again. Upon learning that she wouldn’t be welcomed back, he ran away with her to his parents’ house. They both left the church.