"Tara J" describes her hellish experience at Narconon of Southern California (Newport Beach) and Narconon Warner Springs. With supporting documents:
Tara J.'s Narconon Experience
I'm 47 years old and live in the Baltimore, Maryland area. I do customer service work for a travel agent; in the past I have worked as a paralegal. My husband and I also own a small computer-related business. We have two adult children. In mid-July of 2004, I left my husband and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I was drinking heavily, and started dabbling in cocaine and "meth" (methamphetamine).
My husband and I reconciled in October. He said I needed to get some professional help, and went on the Internet to find a rehab facility I could go to. He searched for "drug and alcohol rehab in Maryland". Narconon has flooded the web with advertising under many different domain names, so these kinds of searches end up returning dozens of hits leading to them. He ended up calling Narconon, although he thought he was contacting another group.
There is a Narconon facility in the Washington, DC area, but they want to get people away from their families, so I was told I had to go to California for treatment. I agreed to go to Narconon of Southern California, which is located in Newport Beach.
Before I left for Newport Beach, we received a lengthy email describing the facility and treatment program. This email was sent by Julie Bryant, the Admissions Director. It mentions bike riding and rollerblading activities, and says that Narconon has an 80% success rate. But nowhere in this email, or in the orientation material, or on the Narconon web sites is there any mention of Scientology. The email was sent from "[email protected]", but the receipt for payment Julie sent on Narconon letterhead showed a different email address: "[email protected]". These are two of the many names Narconon uses. The charge for my stay was to be $25,000, broken down as follows:
Narconon program 21,500.00
Medical detox 3,500.00
Sales tax 35.96
Total cost: $ 25,000.00
The "medical detox" was subcontracted to another facility, Chapman House, located 15 miles away in Orange, CA. This wasn't a serious medical detox, though; I had already been sober for two weeks. They just had some medically-trained staff there to monitor people. I flew to California on October 27, 2003, and Narconon drove me to Chapman House from Newport Beach. I could not leave the facility unless escorted by staff. After three days, Narconon came and got me, and brought me back to Newport Beach, where I ended up spending one night. I was given vitamins and CalMag (a mixture of calcium and magnesium that Scientologists believe has a calming effect). When I woke up the next morning I had broken out in a rash from head to toe.
One thing I noticed right away at Newport Beach was that the place was full of young people; there were no "students" (that's what they call their clients) my own age. So Narconon offered to move me to their Warner Springs facility, where they said they had people my age. I was driven there along with a staffer, and a 20 year old female student who I'll call Megan (not her real name), who was there for an eating disorder.
Narconon Warner Springs was pure hell. There were cockroaches in the bathroom. My room, the size of a walk-in closet, was shared with two other women. The pay phone was apparently bugged. We had to buy our own towels and soap, because Narconon supplied nothing.
Warner Springs had about 50 "students" when I was there, divided pretty evenly between men and women, three to a room. 90 to 95% were young people age 18-22. There were only a few middle aged folks, despite what they told me at Newport Beach. And no black people. I did meet one black student at Newport Beach. He was enraged with the place and wanted his money back. He had to ask me for a quarter to make a phone call.
The staff at Warner Springs was not large, and every one was a former student who had spent six months on the program and "graduated" to a staff position. Dave, the alcohol and drug counselor, had a business card that says he's in charge of the "Department of Expansion". He also said he'd been to about thirty different psychiatrists in his time.
There were no licensed medical personnel of any sort at Warner Springs. They had a so-called "nurse", Sherry, who took us to a man she claimed was a doctor (his office was in a trailer in Temecula, and he was really strange) for a TB test, for the sauna. And she would give you cold medicine if you were sick, and take you to Walmart when you needed to buy something. But she wasn't a real nurse. She said she used to own a mortuary. She was also on the Narconon Warner Springs board of directors. Besides her, and a guy named John, and the CEO, Kathy Dion, they had about 6 recent graduates who served as staff and "ethics officers". [Ed.: see chapter 7 of Bob Penny's book, Social Control in Scientology, for a description of what "ethics" means in this context.] Plus there were two kitchen staff -- I'm not sure if they were also Narconon graduates. The rest of the kitchen help were the current Narconon students.
And then they started with those stupid books. We had to ask "Do birds fly?" over and over again. We were yelling at ashtrays. This is what the Narconon program requires. In Scientology, it's known as the TRs, or Training Routines. The TRs also include an exercise called "bullbaiting", where you have to say horrible things to someone and they must listen without showing any reaction. They wanted me to tell Megan that she was fat -- a terrible thing to say to a woman with an eating disorder. Their bullbait "patter" included things like "you nigger" and "you fucking crackhead". They really seemed to have a problem with black people. One of the first things that Ron, a senior staffer who was in charge of detox, said to me, was that he had just gotten a black roommate. He said: "You know how it goes; you have your black people and you have your niggers."
Narconon promised to provide family therapy, but we never saw any. They did get all my siblings' phone numbers from me. And they hounded the young people to give them the names and cellphone numbers of their drug dealers. The "therapy" they did provide was Scientology, and it was useless. Students weren't even allowed to talk about their drug or alcohol problem (rule #27 of the Narconon of Southern California Student Rules). But they were encouraged to spy on each other and turn each other in for rule infractions: that was Rule #29.
The treatment program included doses of niacin -- which is probably what caused my allergic reaction. When I had a cold they gave me a "cold pack", and they also had something they called a "sleep pack". They said both contained niacin.
Once, when my husband called, my roommate Megan told him "This place is a cult, and I'm running away." She hid in the back of the Newport Beach van when a group came up to look at the facility. They got her back, though, and interrogated her for hours. She told them all the dirt on who was flirting or sleeping with whom, and even made stuff up just to get on their good side. After the interrogation she came back to our room and flopped on the bed like a wounded animal. She was never the same.
Needless to say, there was no bikeriding or rollerblading. We couldn't even walk up the hill because that's where the staff compound was. The CEO, Kathy Dion, also lives on the property.
Finally I'd seen enough, and told my husband how crazy this place was. He said he was getting a plane ticket and coming to get me. Immediately after that, Narconon started isolating me. They put me on kitchen work and wouldn't allow me to be around anybody. Other people got sent to "Ethics". An instructor said to me: "I hear you're leaving us", when I hadn't discussed this with anyone other than my husband on the phone. This is why I think the phone was bugged. Another counselor said to me: "When you leave, you don't talk about this place." They kept asking me over and over: "Are you a reporter? Do you work for a newspaper?" I started yelling at them: "This is a cult! This is not a drug or alcohol rehab!"
Before I left they surrounded me in my room and made me sign something saying that I wouldn't sue them (plus that I would get most of my money back).
My husband showed up a couple of hours later. This was November 8, 2004. When he got there, he walked up to my room, and when he saw it he started crying because it was so bad. We left immediately.
I did not get to do the sauna. They were getting ready to start me on that when I left. They keep it hidden out of sight. (In Newport Beach it's in the basement.) The sauna program was 30-40 days in length, 5 solid hours per day with no breaks. They brought in water and vegetables for the students to consume. People didn't seem the same when they came out of the sauana. I think it makes people so weak they can't resist the cult indoctrination.
I spent a total of two weeks at Narconon, leaving in mid-December 2004. They agreed to refund $20,000 of the $25,000 fee, but so far we've seen no money.
We were also told, by a guy named Mike Colburn, that I could have my file back, but of course that has never happened. (The day that I got there they had me spend 2 hours on paperwork. Alison Prestridge, the Director of Service Consultation, sat with me and would hand me things to sign, a lot of questions about my past drug use, etc.)
I have filed a complaint with the Maryland Attorney General's office, and they are investigating. I am also seeing a private psychiatrist once a month, not just for my drug addiction, but also for the trauma resulting from my Narconon ordeal. I am clean and sober now. And I'm mad as hell.
After Tara J filed her complaint, Narconon's refund coordinator,June Rosenberry, sent her a release form to sign in order to receive $20,000 of the $25,000 she'd paid. The terms of the release prohibit her from making any negative comments about Narconon, L. Ron Hubbard, or the Association for Better Living and Education (the Scientology front group that is Narconon's parent organization). After signing this form and cashing her refund check, she cannot contribute further information to this web page. As of mid-February 2005 she was doing well.
Why does Narconon, a program that claims a 78% success rate, have a "refund coordinator"? And why are refunds contingent on a promise never to disparage cult leader L. Ron Hubbard?
Supporting Documentation: see http://Stop-Narconon.org/Personal/TaraJ
* Email message to Tara J.'s husband describing the services to be provided
* Receipt for $25,000 issued by Narconon of Southern California
* Narconon Orientation Material
* Narconon of Southern California Student Rules
* Release form for refund