Scientology's Cruise Ship as Prison: The Voice Interviews Valeska Paris (UPDATED and CORRECTED)
Often, the ship was not very full, she says, as not enough high-level Scientologists could be convinced to spend large sums to come take their OT VIII training (which runs about $8,000 for only that step -- to reach that point will cost a typical church member hundreds of thousands of dollars over his or her career).
But every June, the ship would fill up for the annual "Maiden Voyage," a celebration of the vessel's actual first voyage. Executives would travel to the ship and would stay for weeks, into July and even August. And one July, in 2004, was especially significant.
"We were all pulled down to the cinema," Valeska says, remembering the special announcement when they were told that Tom Cruise was coming to the ship for his birthday, which is July 3. "We were all told we can't ask for his autograph, or we'd get a comm ev." (A "committee of evidence" is a sort of Scientology disciplinary trial.) "We can't tell anyone that he's coming to the ship or that he'd been to the ship, or again, a comm ev. And we had to call him 'sir.' It was like he was David Miscavige's deputy or something."
As the date for the party neared, however, Valeska committed a grave error.
She got a cold sore.
"David Miscavige saw that I had a cold sore, and I was assigned to lower conditions and I was put in isolation for 4 days," she says. She explains that she was assigned the "condition" of "Treason," which is below "Enemy" but above "Confusion."
"I was in Treason. So I wasn't allowed to go to Tom Cruise's birthday." [Note: I misunderstood what Valeska told me last night about the particular condition she was assigned, and have corrected it. -- T.O.]
By the time Cruise arrived, her cold sore had gone away, but she was still in the doghouse. She remembers that before he arrived, Miscavige was eating a meal and addressed her and a few other workers.
"He said, 'Tom Cruise is coming and I need really good service, so who's going to serve him?' A woman spoke up. 'No, no, it can't be a woman, because he's so good looking, any woman would fall for him.' So a guy had to take the job," she says.
The first morning after Cruise arrived however, the male worker assigned to serve Cruise and his guest, Penelope Cruz, slept in, and Valeska ended up doing the job.
Cruise and Cruz were staying in the best cabin on the ship, which Valeska says was actually a violation of Freewinds rules -- unmarried "publics" (non-Sea Org Scientologists) were never allowed to sleep in the same cabin. But the rule was bent for the famous actor.
"They had a yacht specifically for him," she says, referring to a smaller boat that Miscavige and Cruise used for diving. "Everything was free. They'd go diving and on motorbikes in Bonaire. When they went on the yacht, they had the best service, the best food. Tom was on a special diet. A chef, maybe from New York, a Chinese chef, was flown in to cook for him," she remembers.
Meanwhile, back on the ship, preparations for the big birthday were in full swing. "There were posters for every single movie he'd been in except for the one he made with Nicole Kidman [1999's Eyes Wide Shut, directed by Stanley Kubrick], because she's a big old SP." [Update: Kidman also starred with Cruise in 1990's Days of Thunder and 1992's Far and Away. Valeska says all three movies were absent from the posters and music during the party.]
Still in lower conditions for her now-vanished cold sore, Valeska was unable to attend the party, but she heard plenty about it. "The band did all the songs from his movies, except the one he did with Nicole." And she says three young women from the IASA -- the administration of the International Association of Scientologists -- were disciplined after the party. "They were trying to get Tom's attention. So they were put in the engine room."
The party itself was all about lavishing Miscavige's attention on his buddy Tom. "It was all set up by David Miscavige. All done by the church. And all about Tom Cruise. It was really weird. I mean, who wants to have posters of that stuff everywhere? And music playing from his movies."
A video of the night's festivities leaked some years ago. As we've pointed out several times recently, Cruise got up to sing "Old Time Rock & Roll" with Scientologist Stacy Francis, who would go on to be a contestant on television's X Factor...
Another person on ship that night was former top Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder, who says he does remember Valeska Paris, but didn't know her very well or her situation on the ship. He has his own memories of the night of Tom Cruise's birthday party.
"I was in the bilges," he tells me.
"That's right, he was," Vaselka says. "He was in the engine room. And so were [other top Scientology executives] Guillaume Lesevre. Heber Jentzsch. Marc Yager. I think Jennie Linson was down there, too."
Rinder tells me that each year, from 2004 to 2006, when he went to the Freewinds for the Maiden Voyage, he ended up in the bilges, at one point for more than two months.
What had they done?
"I remember Miscavige yelling -- he's always yelling, always, you could hear him a mile away -- and it was always something about how incompetent they are, and how they can't get anything right," Valeska says.
The year before, in 2003, the same thing had happened with Jentzsch, Yager, Linson, Lesevre, and another executive named Angie Blankenship.
"They had to call us 'sir.' They had fifteen minute meal breaks. They were running everywhere like they were in the RPF," she says, referring to the Rehabilitation Project Force, Scientology's prison detail.
"At night they would come to the course room and they were listening to tapes. And then they were getting ethics interrogations on the meter, and they were not getting enough sleep, I can tell you that. Angie was sick, Guillaume was sick. And then they were working on the ship, on the deck, where public could see them. They were there way after Maiden Voyage that year, all the way to August," she says. "At night they were serving our dinner, and had to call us 'sir.' And these were supposed to be the executives of Scientology."
She sounds stunned, thinking about it today. "That whole time, Miscavige, every day, no fail, he was either going diving, or he was going and taking photos with two people from Golden Era Productions. And then he'd come back at night and come down to the cinema to watch brand new movies flown out from the States. I can't imagine what that cost. Every night he'd go down and watch movies. This went on from June to the end of August."
Again, I asked, what had the executives done? "Nothing. It was just in his mind. Miscavige's thing is that he's doing everything, and everyone else is incompetent, and they were all pieces of shit, and he has to handle everything."
Work in the engine room was incredibly unpleasant, Rinder tells me. "Valeska talks about passing out? That happened to Heber one time, too.
"It's a kingdom unto itself. There's really only one way into or out of the ship. There's no outside law enforcement," Rinder adds, backing up Valeska's assertion that it was virtually impossible to leave on one's own. "Mike Napier, the captain of the Freewinds, is one of David Miscavige's favorite hit men. He gets used to control and intimidate people that Miscavige wants controlled and intimidated," he says. "It is such a completely controlled environment. It's very difficult to get away from there. Don Jason is the only one I know who was able to get away on his own."
In 2009, St. Petersburg Times journalist Tom Tobin wrote the incredible story of Jason, a Scientologist who had been sent to the ship for counseling and discipline, and who finally escaped from the Freewinds by riding down a cable with a sort of rolling pin to maintain his grip. That was in November 1996, soon after Valeska had herself arrived on the ship.
"After he got away, the guy who was the security chief was given a committee of evidence and was taken off his post and put in a lower position. And the security guard who was supposed to chase him down was made a plumber. So heads rolled for him getting away," Valeska says.
I asked her if, during her 12 years aboard, there were others like herself who felt they were imprisoned. "There were people who were there who didn't want to be there, but it takes forever to get off the ship."
And was anyone working there actually happy with their situation?
"Well, the captain was happy. But nobody liked him," she says.
"I guess it's all about David Miscavige now, but it's not about caring about the individual at all. The goal is clearing the planet, so they just trash the individual. There's a bigger
purpose," she says, explaining how no individual's happiness was considered very important.
Near the end of her time on the Freewinds, Valeska had been busted down to washing pots and pans. "I knew I was going to the RPF, but I didn't care, I just wanted to get off the ship." She had run afoul of the management, and plans were being made to send her to an RPF complex in Australia. Valeska remembers having to sign papers to that effect, and it had to be videotaped.
"I had to put makeup on, I looked like shit."
Finally, she got off the ship, in 2007, and at the RPF met Guider, who was also there. After they "graduated" from the RPF, they began seeing each other, got married, and had a son, Declan. That was against Sea Org rules, but by then they didn't care. They decided to leave Scientology, but the church wanted first to get them to sign gag orders.
Valeska says that she had already signed one confidentiality agreement while on the Freewinds.
This time, she made sure not to sign her legal name.
"Of course, you don't get a copy of it. I didn't even read it. It was 15 or 20 pages long," she says. Guider, meanwhile, didn't sign his at all.
"He was stronger. He said 'Fuck you, I'm not going into session, I'm not being sec-checked [Scientology's version of interrogation], and I'm not signing anything.' I wish I'd done the same thing," Valeska says.
Even so, it must have taken some soul-searching before she decided to go public with her statements at Marty Rathbun's blog. What brought her to that point?
"I was pregnant and I was getting nasty messages from my dad and e-mails from my brother," she says. Once she left Scientology -- and reunited with her mother, who she hadn't seen in 15 years -- then her father and brother, who remain in the church, were forced to disconnect from her and her sister Melissa, who has also left Scientology.
"Melissa has a a 10-year-old daughter who has never met her grandfather," she says.
Did she worry, however, that Scientology would use the confidentiality agreements she signed to take her into a legal hell?
"I spoke to Mike Rinder. He said that if you bring up David Miscavige, there's no way they'll sue you, because they would never risk having him in court," she says.
It's been two months since Lateline did its own story about Chris Guider. I asked how the publicity has affected them.
"It's all been positive. Since we've left the church, life has been awesome. and speaking out is great. You get it off your chest. And I want them to go away. I want that whole church scene to be taken down," she says.
Her story has certainly had a surprisingly strong impact. I'll end with this video from Australia's version of A Current Affair, which aired last night. And after that, Scientology's entire response to Valeska's allegations.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing "disconnection"]
[Tom Cruise and Baby Suri embarrassed by news item, so someone must pay]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
[Scientology hates clean ice: The "Fair Game" operation that should turn your stomach]
[Scientology hates clean ice, part 2: Another target, and the web as weapon]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun's open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun's cause] | [Squirrel Buster's claim to be making a "documentary"] | [VIDEO: "On a Boat"] | ["Anna" sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology's highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND "FAIR GAME"
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology's West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology's enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard's remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to "handle" the Voice]
[Lori Hodgson and Disconnection: "No one's going to take my eternity away"]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
["Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | ["Tom Cruise not a kook!"] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his "suppressive person" declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology's retaliation is "scary and pathetic"]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo's "Turnaround King": [Doing Scientology's dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone's smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
[Philip Boyd, Saving Grace actor, rips "the business that is Scientology"]
JANET REITMAN'S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman's first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn't like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman's print reviews, and why isn't she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN'S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: "Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle"] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman's Story] | [Jeff Hawkins' Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology dodges a bullet in Australia] | [Scientology exec Jan Eastgate arrested]
[All hell breaks loose in Israel] | [Scientology sees fundraising gold in the UK riots]
[Aussie former rugby pro Chris Guider calls David Miscavige "toxic" and "violent"]
[Stephen Cox, UK church newbie, pledges 20K pounds] | [Biggi Reichert: A German Lisa McPherson?] | [The Birmingham trove: 7,000 internal e-mails]
[Australian farmer blamed for giving Tom Cruise a bad shrimp, loses her friends, family]
ODD VIDEOS AND ODDER NEWS
[Scientology singalong, "We Stand Tall"] | [Captain Bill Robertson and "Galactic Patrol"]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The "Ideal" dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York "org"]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist's letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth] Sponsor Content
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]