How I Escaped the Church of Scientology

"I found myself working over 80 hours a week and earning under £5,000 a year."
scientology center
Photo: Mario Tama

When it comes to The Church of Scientology, you’ve most likely heard about both its celebrity followers and its wacky ideas about space battles (for example, Lord Xenu, the intergalactic warrior you can only get the full scoop on once you’ve climbed a paywall of courses worth many thousands of dollars).

You’ve likely heard a lot less, however, about the employees of the Church, who can be forced to work incredibly long hours for a tiny wage. 


For the most recent episode of VICE’s Informer series, we spoke to an anonymous former employee who spent years teaching people courses and assisting the Church. 

The man joined in his mid-twenties after reading a book about Dianetics, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s pseudoscientific theory about the relationship between the human mind and body. He then reached out to the Church and was encouraged to come in for a free personality test, a common recruitment method for the religion.

“I hadn’t ever heard anything about Scientology before that. I didn’t know what a cult was,” he told VICE. “They told me I was a complete mess, and that I needed to do some Scientology courses to sort myself out.” 

A few months after first getting involved with Scientology, he was pressured into becoming part of the workforce: “They spent some time trying to recruit me to join them. I wasn’t initially planning to do that. They basically wore me down. They’d take me to what they call a ‘recruitment interview’ and keep me there for hours.”

If he refused to sign the paper, they’d hand him some materials to read, leave, and come back an hour later to start the process again. He finally agreed, and signed a two-and-a-half year contract that labelled him a volunteer, so the Church wasn’t obliged to pay him minimum wage. 

“They’d told me I’d be earning about £200 a week, which turned out to not be true,” he said. “I found myself working over 80 hours a week and earning under £5,000 a year.”


At one point, the employee was sent to the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organisation in Clearwater, Florida, one of the main hubs for the religion. “They send you there to become trained. They consider that place to be the Mecca of Scientology,” he told VICE. Once he arrived, they took his passport off him so he was unable to leave. 

Alongside a full training and course schedule, he also had to work to make up any shortfall for his living costs. “They were supposed to pay so much every week for your room and board. If they failed to pay then you would work to make up that amount. So you’d spend so much time every week, probably about 25 to 30 hours doing some physical job usually... I was quite lucky if I got six hours sleep. That was a good night.”

Eventually, he grew disillusioned with the religion. “I realised they weren’t helping anybody, they were just making money. I didn’t think it was right.”

He kept his concerns to himself to avoid scrutiny, but decided to part ways with the Church. “But before you can leave there, they have you do what they call a ‘security check’,” he explained. “They ask you questions to make sure you haven’t done anything you shouldn’t have done. You have to see various people, each one tries to talk you out of leaving, then they put you on the E-meter, and they do a confessional on you, because they believe that the reason you want to leave is because you’ve been doing bad things.

“Then, if they really can’t stop you, they make you sign some things to say you’ll never talk about it… then you’re allowed to leave.”

It wasn’t until about six years later that he understood what had happened to him. 

“From what I’ve learnt from cult experts, normally a person that joins a cult is in a vulnerable position, and it could happen to anybody,” he told VICE. But he has his own theory, too: “I think if you’re more susceptible to hypnosis, you’re more likely to get into a cult.”