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In Scientology, children are viewed as equal to adults, and therefore responsible for their actions in the same way adults are. “A child is a man or a woman who has not attained full growth,” L. Ron Hubbard wrote in The Scientology Handbook. “Any law which applies to the behavior of men and women applies to children.”
But the stories from two former students sent to a Scientologist-run reform school allege corporal punishment, manual labor and other poor treatment.
The episode specifically focused on the experience of survivors of the Mace-Kingsley Ranches in California and later New Mexico, where, as Remini’s partner Mike Rinder explained, Scientologists would send their children “to get them onto the straight-and-narrow and move them to the first steps of the Bridge.”
The original Mace-Kingsley Ranch was started in 1987 by Debbie Mace and Carol Kingsley, whom Rinder described as “celebrated Scientologists” — though a statement from the Church “asserts that the ranch did not have any Church members on staff and was owned and operated by a lay Scientologist,” and that “the school was modeled after military and reform schools.”
Remini and Rinder received many stories from former students at the ranches alleging corporal punishment and manual labor. Third-generation Scientologists Nathan Rich and Tara Reile both attended the New Mexico Ranch in the late ’90s, and outlined some of the treatment they say they received there.
Rich was sent to the California ranch at age 8 because he said he was actively rebelling against Scientology at the time. His mom described the facility to him as like camp, but as soon as his mother left him there he was put to work.
“Life at the Palmdale ranch was generally that you [when you] wake up, you’ve got to clean your room immediately,” Rich said. After breakfast came physical labor and cleaning the grounds. “You would do some kind of like schooling — things that you need to know for Scientology … there wasn’t any, like, math or history or anything like that.”
Children at the ranch would write “knowledge reports,” or K.R.s, documents Scientologists are supposed to write if they witness actions or in-actions not in line with Scientology practices. “If you didn’t like a kid, you would write a K.R. on them even if they didn’t do it,” Rich said.
As a punishment for being dirty from playing outside, Rich said a security guard took Rich to an outdoor shower and had the entire student body and staff watch as he scrubbed him with a metal fence brush. As a punishment for being caught smoking, Rich said ranch manager Wally Hanks spanked him with a wooden paddle. An audio recording allegedly of Hanks seems to capture him using the paddle on a 15-year-old boy. Though Hanks denied it is his voice on the tape, Rich insisted it was.
In the early ’90s, the ranch moved from California to Reserve, New Mexico, which is where Reile was sent when she began acting out after she caught her father cheating on her mother. At first, she said she was promised a fun three-month program with outdoor activities, but realized quickly that her days would be filled with strenuous manual labor. Once, on a camping trip, she got in trouble and was punished by being thrown in the lake with her only warm, dry clothes, and then forced to collect spring water for everyone each morning.
Despite graduating (after completing a complicated 10-step process), her family refused to take her back and continued to hold the program’s $150,000 cost over her head.
“The whole Scientology aspect of that, of truly making you believe that you are at fault for everything that’s happened, it really, really messes with you as a person. I still struggle with that. I still have that deep-rooted fear that I am a bad person and I’m not worth it and I don’t know why I’m here,” Reile said, breaking down into tears. “I don’t know how I’ve made it this far because I’ve wanted to give up many times, and I’m still trying to figure out how to just be OK.”
Reile is now a mother of two and undergoing treatment for PTSD. She hopes to become a peer support counselor. Her family did not know she was going to appear on the show. “By telling my story I’m essentially going to lose contact with my entire family,” she said. “I just would like my dad to see what really was happening this whole time and I’m really sorry if he truly still believes this is all my doing and that I’m responsible for all of it. It’s really tough.”
Rich didn’t speak to his family throughout his entire time at the ranch, per his mother’s request, and didn’t see them until his graduation. But when he returned home, he still didn’t accept Scientology’s teaching so he ran away and spent seven years battling homelessness and drug addiction.
When he eventually pulled himself together and decided to go to college, his mom wouldn’t fill out the FAFSA form with her financial information. Rich, who is now the chief technology officer for a major visual effects company, wrote her an email saying he hated her and didn’t want to see her again. She died in 2010, and his biggest regret is not being able to patch up their relationship.
“I don’t feel that there’s any one cause for anything, but the largest piece of my life that’s caused me the most trouble was definitely Scientology,” he said. “If I could talk to my mother today, if I could say anything to her, I would tell her that I don’t hate her anymore and I forgive her.”
The New Mexico ranch closed in 2002, and the Church denies having any knowledge of the kinds of events Rich and Reile described. But there is a Mace-Kingsley center operating in Clearwater, Florida that promotes working with children thorough Scientology technology. Mace won a Scientology award for her work, which Rinder said should discount the Church’s distancing of itself from the centers.
Remini called “bulls—” on the Church’s response to allegations at the ranch. “Scientology schools are run on Scientology technology. It doesn’t matter if you’re just an average Scientologist, it is all run the same way,” she said.
After the interviews, Rinder and Remini said they were upset that they didn’t know about what was happening on the ranches. Asked Rinder, “What the f— were we part of?”
(The Church of Scientology challenges the credibility and statements of the contributors appearing in the series. Read the Church’s statement in response to allegations here.)
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