Scientology's Cruise Ship as Prison: The Voice Interviews Valeska Paris (UPDATED and CORRECTED)
NEW: Valeska's sister Melissa Paris tells her own story of imprisonment and unpaid, underaged labor in Scientology's Sea Org.
ALSO: Our interview with Ramana Dienes-Browning, who knew Valeska Paris on the Freewinds and has her own story of hellish treatment.
ALSO: A slideshow of Scientology celebrities who partied on the Freewinds while Valeska Paris was being held on board against her will.
Yesterday, a story about an Australian woman who says she was held for 12 years against her will aboard Scientology's floating cathedral and cruise ship Freewinds hit the Scientology-watching world like a depth charge.
Last night, we had a lengthy conversation over Skype with Valeska Paris, and learned much more about her upbringing in Scientology, her time on the ship, and in particular, what it was like when church leader David Miscavige brought aboard his best pal, Tom Cruise, for the actor's big birthday celebration in 2004.
We also talked about how she decided to speak out even though she had previously signed confidentiality agreements with the notoriously litigious church.
"They're cowards. They always threaten, but they never follow it up," she says.
Valeska left the Freewinds in 2007, and later left Scientology itself. In 2010 she first went public with her defection at the blog of former high-ranking Scientology executive Marty Rathbun. Then, yesterday, she appeared on the Australian network ABC's program Lateline, saying that she was held against her will aboard the cruise ship for more than a decade. A fellow former member of Scientology's hardcore Sea Organization, Ramana Dienes-Browning, backed up her version of events.
Valeska, with Declan
The church has denied all of the allegations by Paris and Dienes-Browning, and spokeswoman Karin Pouw's full statement can be found below. At the end of the statement, Pouw writes to ABC's Steve Cannane: "Your source is doing this because she and Chris Guider apparently cannot get their life in order and move on."
In fact, Valeska and her husband Chris -- who was the subject of his own Lateline program -- are getting on with their lives quite nicely, and even have a bit of an announcement...
"They say we're not getting on with our lives? We both have jobs, we have a boy," she told me last night from Sydney, "And I'm pregnant with another baby."
What a change from her time in the Sea Org, where having children is prohibited, where she signed a billion-year contract at only 14 years old, and where she was pulled away from her own mother and put aboard what she says was a floating prison.
Valeska Paris was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1977. She had two younger siblings -- Melissa (1979) and Raphael (1982) -- and their lives changed radically when their parents, who were both Scientologists, split up and her father, Jean-Francois Paris, decided to join the church's Sea Org in England. At only 6 years of age, Valeska was put into a former Scientology organization known as the "Cadet Org." (Her sibs joined too -- Melissa was only 4, and Raphael barely 2, she points out.)
Her sister, Melissa, has written that the Cadet Org was a sort of "mini Sea Org," where even the youngest children were treated like future hardcore church workers, and were "assigned all sorts of manual labor: scrubbing walls, floors, cleaning the toilets...not stuff that kids would normally do." (We're going to be interviewing Melissa, who has her own story to tell about growing up in Scientology and living in a family torn apart by the church.)
Scientology believes that each of us has lived countless lives over billions of years -- our souls, which Scientology calls "thetans," are ancient, and so even when we inhabit a new body in a new life, as a child, there is actually an adult soul inside.
"We were just future Sea Org members that needed to be molded into 'good' SO members which meant breaking us down into robots," Melissa writes.
Valeska did join the Sea Org, at only 14 years old, signing its standard billion-year contract, promising to come back, lifetime after lifetime, to serve the church by working incredible hours for only 50 dollars a week.
In the meantime, her mother, Ariane Jackson, had remarried to a French man named Albert Jaquier, a rags-to-riches success who had managed to go from junkyard worker to self-made millionaire. But Jaquier gave away much of his money to Scientology, and had made loans to fellow Scientologists, and then spent the last years of his life trying to get that money back. Wrote Jackson in 1996:
The various methods used to persuade [Jaquier] to pay money...included daylong interviews by groups of salesmen, "investment opportunities", donations to translate a book, donations to "protect Scientology", etc...Two of the "investment opportunities" where he loaned almost half a million dollars in 1989 to a "patron" and a "patron meritorious" of the International Association of Scientologists"(IAS) turned out to be very bad "investments"...Their failure to repay him added to the fact he had given so much of his money to Scientology ruined him financially. The stress arising from his bad financial position aggravated a heart condition for which he could not afford proper medical care and which he had been persuaded Scientology would resolve. This illness killed him before he could recover the money owed to him.
(See the hard-hitting new investigative series at the St. Petersburg Times for a description about how Scientologists are pressured more than ever to give huge sums to the church.)
Jaquier died in December, 1994, and Jackson began speaking out the next year, at one point going on live television in France to describe her problems with Scientology.
But before her mother went on television, Valeska tells me, Jackson first went to Scientology directly, trying to get some kind of recompense for what had happened to her husband.
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