I have chronicled in this blog numerous times before the life of a Scientology staff member is a tough one. They are hired with expectations of making a living, even if it is a frugal one, but what they get is either starvation wages or no wages at all. This was true even back in the days that Scientology had people in their course rooms. But nowadays the course rooms are bare. The only people taking courses are the children of Scientology or existing members who have been forced to retake courses, at their own expense however. Needless to say they are short of staff members. Yet Scientology points to the Inglewood, CA, org as a huge success. Here follows a recent story, courtesy of Tony Ortega and his “Underground Bunker.”
It was a video that lasted only 14 seconds. Long enough for a woman named Tiponi Grey to make a short statement behind a pair of large sunglasses…
It’s not unusual for people who work for Scientology to leave. But it is very unusual for them to announce it publicly on YouTube and Facebook. We reached out to Tiponi, and she agreed to talk to us about what had prompted her to make the video — after she checked us out and got a feel for the Underground Bunker.
Tiponi tells us that she had worked for several months at Scientology’s “Ideal Org” in Inglewood, California, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles with a primarily black and Latino population. Scientology’s facility there was opened on November 5, 2011 in what seemed pretty clearly to be an attempt by Scientology leader David Miscavige to make inroads in the African-American community.
Scientology is overwhelmingly white, and actor Jason Beghe told us that in the early 2000s both he and Isaac Hayes approached Miscavige, telling him that he needed to do something to attract more black participation. New churches in Inglewood and Harlem were part of that new outreach. But Tiponi tells that the Inglewood org is in trouble.
“The staff there is struggling, they’re not being paid, and they’re struggling to get new people people in,” she tells us. She says that the staff during the day numbers about 21, and 38 work on the night shift. But they’re serving just “two to eight” students at any given time, she says. “On various days, sometimes there may be no one in class. That happens a lot.” Tiponi was raised in Los Angeles and spent several years in Las Vegas. She has two sons and a daughter, and she got involved in Scientology, she says, because a former boyfriend had tried it out and told her about it. She first went to the org in July to take Scientology’s “personality test” and then took her first course.
She was offered a job right after that course, and was made a supervisor. “I oversaw basic courses for public,” she says, using the term in Scientology to differentiate public, staff, and Sea Org members of the organization. But she also had a personal mission in mind, she tells us.
“I just wanted to learn what they know so I could bring it back and teach other people, black people who really need that technology and that help. I really didn’t want to join any religion,” she says. “I have a problem with religion. With any kind of religion.”
If she didn’t like religion, why did she go to work for one? She joined staff, she says, because it was a way to get into the courses without paying for it. So she signed a five-year contract, and then tried to learn as much as she could. In the beginning steps of Scientology involvement, a person is put through “training routines” that involve staring with concentration, remaining focused through distraction, and learning with the heavy use of dictionaries and clay modeling. Former Scientologists who might have grown disaffected over the expensive and esoteric upper levels of Scientology often tell us that they found the beginning courses useful, even after they left. “I believe in what L. Ron Hubbard was doing, and the technology, and clearing the planet. But in other ways no, I didn’t like what they were doing,” Tiponi says. After she had spent some time as a public supervisor, Tiponi says her bosses told her they wanted her to supervise the “Survival Rundown” course, and transferred her to the headquarters complex in Los Angeles on Fountain Avenue, known as PAC Base and more colloquially as “Big Blue.” In recent years, Miscavige has put a heavy focus on the Survival Rundown, or SRD. It’s a composite course that oldtimers remember as “the Objectives,” and it involves up to hundreds of hours of strange exercises such as touching walls and holding objects. It’s intended to put someone in “present time,” and many former Scientologists tell us it’s a mind-bending (and mind-numbing) experience, as well as a physically exhausting one.
Tiponi said she felt restricted at PAC Base, and that she wasn’t learning what she wanted to. Also, she says it became more obvious to her that Scientology’s real purpose wasn’t what she had expected.
“When you get to a certain status, you learn what the true purpose is. I got to that point and realized it was just a business.”
After growing frustrated at PAC Base, she objected and went back to Inglewood. But even there, she says, she was spending too much time wrestling with bureaucracy and not learning what she wanted to know. She typed up a message complaining that Scientology was too focused on fundraising and sent it to key people at the org, announcing that she was resigning.
“It’s too much about money. You can’t call yourself a church and that’s your main purpose,” she says.
Tiponi says she said nothing negative about L. Ron Hubbard or the people who worked at the Inglewood org, but it was very obvious after she sent her message and then posted her video that she is now considered an enemy of the church. Still interested in Scientology’s materials, she tried to purchase a Hubbard recorded lecture, but was told she wasn’t welcome. She says the prices at the Inglewood facility are too high anyway.
“If, as in any religion, the purpose is to clear the planet, then you need to give something. And in that neighborhood there, you shouldn’t be charging those kinds of prices,” she says.
When she was on staff, one of her duties was to try and “recover” Scientologists who had left the organization. She was expected to write hundreds of letters — 700 each week. But the people they were trying to reach in the Inglewood area just weren’t interested, or didn’t have the money. The idea of putting that church there is a good one. But they have to look at what they’re doing. They need to get new people in to pay for staff, whose job it is to get new people in. It’s a cycle that doesn’t work, because the people who live there can’t afford those prices,” she says.
Tiponi says she’s now looking at a couple of different avenues, and hopes to start a business. She may, she says, teach something like Scientology’s study technology on her own.
We asked her if she expected to get some pushback from Scientology if she did that. But so far, she says, she hasn’t been harassed.
We sent an email to Scientology’s international spokeswoman, Karin Pouw, asking for a church statement about Tiponi’s resignation. If we hear back from her, we’ll add it to this story.