“When I was exposed to Scientology in CT, I was floundering. People from that group would tell you how it saved their lives, they were so much happier, healthier, etc. They were VERY friendly to me. I was a little worried about the high cost for classes though, and that many people were struggling to pay for more classes, so I kept my distance.
Moving back to Central New York State, I was failing in my life. I was depressed and unhappy. I happened to hear about Scientologists at nearby Cornell University, so I gave them a call. They drove me to Harry Palmer’s “Mission” in south central NYS. I was sold an entry course for $50. After that class, I was sold something called “Life Repair”. It was quite a lot more, maybe $1,500, so I called a Scientology friend in CT, and she said she thought it was a good deal, that Harry had a good reputation, etc.
Coming to the “Mission”, or “Center for Creative Learning”, Harry’s group was really gung ho, with a bright smile every time you walked by. The receptionist would usually try to sell you a book. The “registrar” would tell you how lucky you were, and that Harry’s prices were SO much lower than other Scientology Missions. They would of course orient any conversation toward Scientology, with explanations why whatever you were talking about could be understood only in Scientology terms. I would push back, and they knew just how to “handle” that.
Later, I learned that Harry had them do “drills” to “neutralize” any criticism, and eventually bring people closer to you and Scientology, instead of running in the opposite direction, as well they should.
Through Harry’s Scientology mind control techniques, and my own vulnerabilities, I started becoming more committed to his Mission. I met a young man there who would become my husband, and I moved to Elmira to cut out the commute, and be closer to this new boyfriend.
Harry owned the run-down house that many of his followers lived in. There was no lock on the front door. I never saw much of Harry. He came in late and left early from the Mission. He never did any work that I could see. Supposedly he was overseeing our classroom and counselling progress, but really he just put his initials on paperwork. He had a tight group of women running his place, answering the phone, selling classes, printing flyers, running the classroom, selling books, etc. They were paid pennies an hour.
My first few months w/ Harry, I was pressured to spend $100 (this was in 1980) for a picnic celebrating Harry. I turned them down, every time staff tried to sell me. The registrar firmly told me that if I wanted to be a part of the group, I should pay up. Then the party got shut down by “Big Scientology”, maybe Harry was getting more attention than L. Ron Hubbard.
Sometime in my first year, I saw a short list hanging outside Harry’s office, of about 6 people who were declared “suppressive”. I knew that was bad. My friend Corinne was on it, along with her boyfriend, a few “ex-spouses”, etc. I heard that most of these people were ‘free-loaders’, who just hung around the Mission and didn’t contribute any more ($). We were supposed to shun them. I wasn’t about to quit talking to my friend, and I got a “talking to” by the “Ethics Officer”. These people were kicked out, and my friend split up with her boyfriend. They were expecting a child. I didn’t see the other “suppressives” around after that.
I was being pressured to buy more and more classes and counselling (“auditing”). I remember once, when I was starting to max-out financially, I complained that ‘what if Harry knew they were pressuring me like that?’ They laughed at me, and said that it was the students who had to support the Mission, which included paying for my husband’s salary, which usually averaged out to 35 cents an hour. Every Thursday 2pm was a deadline for staff to bring in more money. Sometimes whey would pressure you with a half-price deal, for one hour only. Harry put intense pressure on the staff to bring in more money this way. Some weeks when they didn’t make their target, no one got a paycheck. One week, when Harry’s staff sold into the 6 figures, no one got paid extra.
All the money I gave to Harry was in bank loans. I was directed to go to the banks and take out loans. The interest rates were very high back then (~15%), and banks were very liberal with their lending.
I was instructed to take out multiple loans at once before the loans hit my credit report. I was instructed to lie to the banks about my debt. I saw my roommate told to forge a tax return to show higher income for a bank.
When the money came through, Avra would demand cash. They refused to take a check from me. I knew why, but I couldn’t admit it. Harry was hoarding this money and not paying a percentage to the Big Church of Scientology, like he was supposed to.
If you questioned Harry, his staff would suggest you weren’t loyal, or maybe you were a suppressive. I soon picked up a second job. Then I started in a sales job on a crew of Harry’s Scientologists. We worked door to door from 5-9, with usually a 3-4 hour commute each day. Sometimes we were gone overnight, 3-4 nights in a row to places farther away.
I remember when the big Church of Scientology came to inspect our little mission. Harry had us put fake statistics on the board to make it look like we were hardly taking in any money.
Once when we had visitors (newspaper reporters maybe?) students were called in to the Mission to make it look busier than it really was. I was pulled off my job, and I had to lock the shop (my bosses, also Scientologists, were rarely around). I got in trouble with them for this.
I felt like I was being pulled in a million different directions. I was being pressured to buy classes, but I had to repay the banks for them. So I was working as much as I could. But then I was being pressured to be in the classroom, I was told that was more important than working. I was also supposed to pass out literature to bring in the public. We were also supposed to sell books. I hated this. We were always blamed for not bringing new people in (more money). Frankly, I didn’t want to bring people in to be under the same pressure I was.
It’s hard to understand why I stayed for this. When I finally left, 4 years later, I understood how mind control methods, social pressure, mental exercises and isolation played into it, along with the promise of spiritual eternity. Also, I loved my husband, and was always afraid they would split us up. I kept hoping things would get better. I would fantasize that I could run away, save up a whole bunch of money, then buy my classes again and go “Clear”. I wanted this perfection, “clear”.
Whenever it was xmas or H’s birthday, the staff would shake us down for money. Harry’s gifts were almost always gold. He brought in some of his gold for a photo shoot once. It was in a short ammunitions box, and he had trouble lifting it. I couldn’t budge it. It probably weight 100 pounds.
He also had a TV satellite dish installation company. Of course Harry’s followers worked for him for low wages, in all kinds of weather conditions installing these things on people’s rooftops.
I would try to stay in good graces, but I just didn’t know what to do or say. I was very nervous around staff, especially Harry and Avra. Avra could smell fear, and she was more than happy to blame you for their arrogance toward you. Once the students were given a very large box of godiva chocolates, and when I wanted to eat a second one, she scolded me. Then she apologized and said ‘my thoughts must have caused her to act that way.’
One night I had been out working 24 hours, and driving home in an ice storm when I skid and hit a pole. I was ok, but I went in to the Mission and told them I wanted to take the day off. That wasn’t allowed, but they called Harry about my accident. He said I needed to take a class to get my ethics back in shape, that the accident was my fault because I was a bad person.
When I bought my “bridge”, all the classes and auditing to get to “Clear”, I was told I was done. I would never be asked for money again. Then a month before my wedding, I guess Harry was now going to sell the upper levels beyond Clear, and that meant I was back in the hot seat, being pressured for money. They would call you at work, at home, bugging you to call the bank, check this and that, get someone to co-sign for you, borrow money from friends, etc. I did have two or three friends do this for me, plus my folks and Tom’s folks. I cringe about this to this day. I once co-signed for someone else, and this person eventually stuck me with the loan. Harry got his money, and I got another monthly payment.
A year after I was married, our sales crew was involved in a serious car accident driving home from work. I was hospitalized, and early on, Harry and Avra came to see me with the name of a lawyer. They said I should sue the insurance company, so I did. When I received an award of $40,000, the lawyer took 1/3. I quickly paid off a few credit cards, then I was pressured to give the rest to the Mission. I also maxed out those same credit cards again, giving the money, er cash, over to Harry.
How many classes do you need to buy in advance, and how far into the future? How stupid is it to have 200% of your weekly income in loan payments. We ate cheap. Stale bread, liverwurst, popcorn, and any items we could find on the reduced shelf at the store. I worked three jobs sometimes, and put in 15 hours in the classroom. I had to strategize and pay loans that I had let go for a month, to catch up. I took out credit cards to help make loan payments. My husband helped me, but he rarely made over $50 a week for Harry, even though he worked well over 40 hours a week.
Harry’s followers would be pressured to sell more and more classes -there was a specific “route” to the goal of “Clear”, and then on to “OT3”. You could have tens of thousands on account, pretty secure that your classes were all paid for and waiting for you. Then something might happen, like you stall in your classwork, or get behind paying a loan, or oversleep for work or class, and you would have to get auditing (very expensive counselling, 25 hours for $5,000?), and that would wipe out your account. You’d have to start all over again, buying your classes again. I knew someone this happened to two or three times (Drandy).
My husband tried to earn more by cutting trees for pulp in the State forests. One day he was late for work, they called me from the Mission. Where was he, and had I been upsetting him lately, to make him late, or worse? Since he worked alone, with a chainsaw, I was always afraid, but I didn’t dare say it. My boss, also a follower of Harry, was ready to drive me out to try to find him at the remote job site. Just before we took off, he called the Mission again, to check. Turns out, Tom had come in twenty minutes earlier, but no one called me to let me know. They were busy giving him heck because he came in late. His watch had stopped. But somehow that was our fault.
There may have been 30 core people at the Mission, with others coming and going. Harry had maybe 9 people on staff, and they only made pennies an hour (we’re a church, remember?), but we really didn’t need all those people. Harry owned the building, along with other real estate. I lived in one of his houses, along with other followers. I worked with followers. I didn’t have any friends except other Harry followers. I had no time, no money, no life. My husband and I fell exhausted into bed every night. No time for picnics, movies, music, friends, family, and certainly no money either!
The pressure was almost unbearable. You worked a main job, and one or two side jobs, had your butt in Harry’s classroom 15 hours a week, passed out Harry’s literature, etc. Classes were even held on Sundays. Wednesday nights Harry had us writing letters to mailing lists, inviting people to come to the Mission.
There was one program I now consider more dangerous than the others. It’s a sauna program that was designed to “detox” your body. It could go on for weeks, you had to spend hours a day dehydrating yourself in a sauna. Harry also passed out mega-doses of vitamins for you to take during this program, and you were supposed to drink increasing amounts of oil, which is dangerous. I was always dizzy when I did this. We also had to take large amounts of niacin on this program; Harry said if you’re taking enough you will feel the flush of toxins. This isn’t true, you get the flush from capillary dilation. It’s a very unpleasant feeling.
It is my understanding that Harry was delivering higher level classes and counselling that only the main Church of Scientology could sell. They were going to sue him if he didn’t stop. Shortly after, he came out with Avatar!
Funny story. My husband was doing some work at Harry’s property when Harry mentioned to him that he had found some kind of ancient “process” that could be used to “lessen reality”. He sounded pretty excited by it. About a week later, Harry came out to the Mission and gave one staff member after another this new process that he had come up with. That day or a few days later, Tom got Harry’s attention and asked him point blank if this new thing, “Avatar”, had anything to do with the research that he had mentioned about a week ago. Harry looked at Tom very pointedly and said “No, it had nothing to do with that.” Tom noticed that Harry was closely watching Tom then, to see how this landed with Tom, to see if Tom would buy it.
It was announced to us that Harry’s new invention, Avatar, was better and quicker than Scientology. It only cost $1,000, and since most of us already had LOTS of money on account, that would be no problem. Great, I thought. I won’t have to go through more classes, time, and pressure to buy more. But, I would still have to repay my loans.
Students started asking for their money back. The sales crew I worked with (all followers) were getting pretty disgruntled. I quit Harry’s mission. Soon they tried to sweet talk me back, and convinced me to use up my money on account with auditing. Yes, the same auditing that Harry said now we didn’t need. They also charged me a lot of money for this auditing, to use up my account faster. They tried to get other people to do this, but they did not. I think at the time, I tried to keep the peace because I didn’t want to lose my husband. Several couples had this fear, and one or two did split up.
Things came to a point where Harry decided he had to try to calm things down with a big meeting. He was truly surprised when we aired some grievances. One person told him how ashamed she was that she had got a friend into Harry’s group, someone who had a high-powered job at Corning Glass, but had to deliver pizzas at night just to make ends meet. Another person was angry that her father had called Harry in the past, concerned about all the money she was giving Harry, and Harry insulted him. One man brought up a complaint (can’t remember what it was), but Harry told him that (whatever) it wasn’t true. This man (Dick) knew for a fact it was. What a shock that Harry was trying to blame and manipulate us, after all those years when we thought he was a god. Dick got up to walk out, and Harry bent over backwards to get him to stay. Harry mentioned the stress he was under, and how someone stole his beloved dog Grey Wolf (actually shot for running deer, we found out later). We all mentioned our crushing debt, and that several people were going to have to declare bankruptcy or Chapter 13 (and indeed they did afterwards). Harry said he didn’t have our money any more, it cost a lot to run the Mission, and we never brought in enough people to help support it (not true about the cost, do the math). We could have all the Avatar we wanted. But no, we couldn’t give our “credit” to people who didn’t have any money left on account.
At the end of the meeting, Harry said he’d meet with people to discuss a partial refund.
There was a line of folks standing outside his office. Harry came out after a while, not having seen everyone, and said he would see more people in the morning. Tom and I sat down with him. I had given Harry over $60,000 in loan money over 3 years’ time. I had crushing outstanding debt. But Harry said I had used up all my money on auditing, and it was too late. “That ship has sailed,” he said. Avra told me I should have complained right away if the auditing was no good. (It wasn’t helpful for me; auditing never was, it was just expensive.) Avra said once she ordered some very expensive smoked turkeys from Nieman Marcus and later found they were bad. Did she get a refund? No, she did not.
I was pretty upset. I felt angry and betrayed. Mostly I blamed myself for being so stupid. It was also upsetting to see that after several years of believing he was the Messiah, Harry was just a greedy SOB. He couldn’t bear to part with his money. A few years later, when Harry’s accountant was deposed, he gave testimony that Harry had a good sized fortune, and a second larger fortune he knew about Harry had in cash. We all saw his gold, and that was probably $750,000 just in that box alone.
I left Harry a second time. I told my husband about my decision, and that he (Tom) could do what he wanted, but I would never go back. To my relief, he said he was done, too. Everyone left Harry except two people. Most of us moved out of town. I stayed with my sales crew job, now all ex-Harry-ites. My husband and I worked on paying off our debt as fast as possible, so we could try to start a family before we hit our mid-thirties.
I spent a long time crying. I was angry, too. I felt like I lost those years with Harry, lost them from my life. I had cut off friends and family. I was in massive debt. I managed to find someone at Cornell who was in the Cult Awareness Network, and he directed me toward some books, one especially, called Snapping. Reading about how people are vulnerable, and how destructive mind control cults can break you down and then reshape you to their way of thinking, and make you into addicted malleable puppets for them to pull the strings, it was a help. I could see my progression of falling for Harry, from start to finish.
When Harry ended Scientology, it was a crack opening up in the earth. I believed so strongly. Suddenly that was all over. Now Harry was selling us a new “plot of land”, one that would never crack. But I couldn’t fall for it a second time. I felt SO stupid. I was angry at myself, until I realized that Harry really didn’t have my best interests at heart, ever. He was only interested in piling up his gold, having his little ‘pretend’ “Mission”, slave labor staff, students in $10s of thousands of dollars debt, no career, no life, no kids, nothing.
If he was a kind hearted do-gooder, he would have shared his love and knowledge in a system that would not grind down the “follower”. Mind control group leaders all have this in common. Harry is the only “way”. You do NOT question him. He does not have to account for anything, especially financially. If you do question, it’s your fault, not his; YOU are guilty for thinking bad thoughts against him. We were afraid of the outside world – Harry would often say our birth families were “suppressive”, and they would mess you up. People were not allowed to leave, unless they weren’t coming up with more and more money – then they were forced out. This was how it was in our group.
As Harry’s followers, we were under censorship by his staff, and then by ourselves. We were afraid to joke. We were afraid to say anything lest it be interpreted as “unethical” by Harry. We were encouraged to “rat” on other students, who might be struggling with loans, or in the classroom. It was our fault that not enough new people were flooding Harry’s door to buy endless classes.
When I finally left Harry, I was lost. I didn’t know what to do with the little free time I finally had, after working to pay off the loans I took out for Harry. With this free time, I felt like I was losing my mind.
I tried to relate to others who had left, they were angry, and blaming themselves, too. Many didn’t want to look at how they were pressured into bankruptcy. I tried to get a group suit going, but many didn’t want to even talk about it. I felt bad about many choices I made that favored Harry over my family and friends, even people in Harry’s group.
It took me a long time to see that mind-control is real. We don’t want to admit that. I am grateful that Harry screwed us over by dumping our Scientology accounts and starting something new (Avatar). If he didn’t, I might still be there. That’s a frightening thought”.
[Kathy Raines: September 25th, 2019]