Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, made its jaw dropping debut at the Sundance Film Festival last month. The film is an expose of Scientology’s sinister intrigues against its nonconforming adherents and those who speak out against the “church.”
Scientology has certainly left an indelible imprint on me, because I spent time in its brainwashing machine, but I had the good fortune of being deposited in a federal prison before its brainwashing machine hit the spin cycle and my mind was irrevocably cleansed.
Although my life is abounding with rather bizarre impasses, my odyssey to Scientology was indeed bizarre—even by my standards. The Department of Justice swarmed me with a 43-count RICO indictment for my role as a DC madam, and I was staring at a bewildering 295 years in prison. The Justice Department had made me the scapegoat of a sprawling conspiracy whose primary objective was the blackmailing of politicians and sundry powerbrokers.
Greta Van Susteren was my attorney, and I sincerely hoped that she would allay the government’s zealous prosecution of me. As my case was wending through the federal courts, Van Susteren disclosed to me that she was a Scientologist. I had never met a Scientologist before, so I was both surprised and intrigued by her disclosures about Scientology.
So in 1991, I found myself on an Oklahoma-bound flight to Scientology’s Narconon rehab, which was located near Newkirk, Oklahoma. Although I’ve never suffered from chemical dependency, I had a well-founded distrust of the government’s intent. So I hoped that graduating from Scientology’s Narconon program would demonstrate to my trial judge, Judge Greene, that I had made an assiduous effort to turn around my life, and I would receive lenient sentencing from him even if the government reneged on its proposed agreement with me.
Narcanon was housed on the campus of a former boarding school for Native American children that closed in the early 1980s. The campus’ yellow limestone buildings were like an archipelago of civilization on the remote, sprawling prairies of Oklahoma. My ensuing months at Narconon would essentially be the saga of the D.C. madam meets L. Ron Hubbard.
Upon my arrival, I was quickly drenched in the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard. I initially had great difficulties digesting the Scientology dogmas. According to Hubbard, an alien overlord named Xenu was in charge of a “Galactic Confederacy” 75 million years ago that consisted of 76 planets, including earth. Xenu’s planetary confederation was desperately overcrowded, so Xenu devised a genocidal plan. He lured billions of the confederation’s citizens to government offices under the pretense of a tax inspection, and he dosed them with paralyzing drugs and flew them to earth, where they were murdered. The souls or “thetans” of the murdered aliens were then captured and brainwashed, and they eventually incarnated as earthlings.
Although Scientology’s theology initially struck me as outright psychotic, I found the staff nonjudgmental and compassionate, and Narconon was a welcome respite from the unrelenting heat I had faced at the hands of the government in DC. Shortly after my arrival at Narconon, I was assigned an “auditor,” who would be the recipient of my deepest and darkest secrets. The auditing process is designed to “clear” Scientologists of their “engrams,” which are mental impressions of traumatic events. The auditor records the details associated with an engram, and Scientologists believe that this confession process diffuses the engram’s negative effects on our lives.
Believe it or not, I actually started to enjoy my hiatus among the Scientologists. The human experience can be fraught with grueling circumstances, and people often grope for credos or belief systems that will gift-wrap their problems with a tidy bow and offer novel solutions. I think that most people experience excruciating traumas and gridlocks in their lives that leave them highly susceptible to various alternative belief systems or cults. At that particular time in my life, I faced an existential crisis that seemed insurmountable and hopeless, and, groping for relief, I was highly susceptible to the pat solutions offered by the doctrines of Scientology.
Scientology eventually declared that I was cleared of engrams, but the federal government had yet to decide if I were cleared of imprisonment. A federal probation officer flew out to Oklahoma and conducted a pre-sentence interview, and a few weeks later my pre-sentence report arrived in the mail. I read the report in my dormitory room, sitting on my bed. It recommended a sentence between 63 and 78 months in a federal prison! When I read the presentence report, I was stunned and overwhelmed by dread. A prison stint of five or six years was, apparently, an engram that had yet to be thoroughly cleared, and I immediately phoned Van Susteren. She said that the Justice Department had ruled that I had provided “substantial assistance,” and she assured me that I would receive a downward departure from the recommendations in the pre-sentence report.
Judge Greene set June 12th as my sentencing date, so I flew back to D.C. on June 11th. My mother met me at D.C.’s Washington National Airport, and we spent the night at my aunt’s house in Maryland. The next morning, I donned a blue Brooks Brother’s suit, white shirt, and a blue tie, and I rendezvoused in the kitchen with my mother and aunt. After breakfast, I drove my mother’s car to the courthouse.
Despite my substantial cooperation and Van Susteren’s assurances, Judge Greene slapped me with a 63-month sentence. In retrospect, however, I caught a fortuitous break from Judge Greene, because Scientology had nearly purloined my mind, and five years in a federal prison is preferable to a lifetime sentence of Scientology.