Finding Her Way Out of Scientology’s Infamous Sea Org with Katherine Spallino  

Katherine Spallino, the author of a new book, The Bad Cadet: Growing Up in the Church of Scientology’s Sea Organization, has had quite a life journey. Katherine grew up on a secluded ranch within the cadet org, Scientology’s Sea Org school for children. At a young age, Katherine began to journal about her day-to-day life, capturing the thoughts and experiences of a child coming of age in a cult. Katherine’s background offers the rare opportunity to tell the story of the hundreds of children who rarely saw their parents and were indoctrinated to become future Sea Org members.  

After my deprogramming from the Moon cult in 1976, I learned about Scientology as a destructive authoritarian cult through a former member and Paulette Cooper, who wrote The Scandal of Scientology. Over the decades, I have had extensive experience helping former members and being harassed (fair gamed) by the cult. In 1989, I befriended Jon Atack, author of Let’s Sell Them a Piece of Blue Sky and Opening Our Minds. I was a guest on Leah Remini and Mike Rinder’s A & E show Scientology and its Aftermath and interviewed Mike on his fine book, A Billion Years: My Escape from a Life in the Highest Ranks of Scientology. Rinder was in the cult for 46 years and was one of their top officials. 

The Sea Organization is considered the elite group, and members are made to commit to a billion-year contract. In other words, this lifetime and many future lifetimes. Potential Sea Org members take part in both manual labor and indoctrination classes. Katherine’s book is unique because it is told by someone who journaled as a child.  

Indoctrination and Imprisonment 

As a child, Katherine’s playfulness was seen as rebellious. She wanted to spend time with other kids, not listen to rambling lectures. She was punished with isolation, a behavioral control technique I discuss in the BITE Model. During our interview, she told me that the BITE Model has been helpful to her in explaining her childhood to others. With adult eyes, she can put her experiences into the framework and see the extensive use of cult propaganda, the thought-stopping techniques that wear down anybody who questions the party line, and the disruption of family bonds to make sure there is nothing more important to a cadet than Scientology.  

From the age of six, Katherine was separated from her parents. She lived in a dormitory and only saw her family occasionally. Thankfully, Katherine told me, she formed tight bonds with the girls in her dorm, many of whom have since exited and remain her friends to this day. Still, as a mom of three young boys, Katherine is struck by the stark contrast between her upbringing and the tenderness that was taken from her. This is a common cult tactic. I mentioned that other authoritarian religious cults pressure members to shun former members, including making them believe it is a crime to even associate their own children. The sting of this cruelty is felt on both sides. I encourage anyone physically separated from their family by a cult to attempt whatever form of contact they safely can, even if it means standing on the sidewalk opposite your children’s house holding a sign that says you still love them. Even that small gesture can cause dissonance and keep a foot in the door for change.  

After a close friend of hers spoke out publicly against Scientology, Katherine’s parents cut her off. Katherine theorized that what they had been taught to believe about reincarnation helped them rationalize their decisions. In their minds, they had lived and had children before. They would again. They would have a billion years to get it right. 

Telling Her Story 

One of the things that kept Katherine sane throughout her childhood was journaling. This allowed her to hold onto her authentic identity while Scientology strove to assign her a cult-approved pseudo-identity. As she got older, writing about her experiences helped her process what had happened. She hoped that publishing her writing might help others get perspective on what’s going on in their lives. Most people who are under undue influence don’t realize it. Perhaps even more significantly, many high-control groups are not recognized as cults. A friend of Katherine’s raised in a strict Baptist family identified with her story and saw that the environment hadn’t been good for her. I got the same response when I first published my book, Combating Cult Mind Control. People wanted to hear a story about the crazy Moonies cult but recognized patterns from their own lives. The power of telling your story has spread to the internet with the hashtag #igotout and the website igotout.org. These resources teach survivors how to write as part of their recovery and bring awareness to the reality that intelligent, capable people can still be taken advantage of (and can still recover to live fruitful lives).  

Following the catharsis of telling your survival story, actively rejecting cult conditioning can be helpful. This might come as removing the phrases associated with your time in a cult from your vocabulary. It can also be helpful to do visualization exercises, imagining what you now would say to the abusive authorities you faced then or what the kind of loving authority you needed would have said to keep you safe in vulnerable moments. Katherine noted that while you should leave behind the conditioning, you don’t need to abandon everything. She still treasures the memories of her friendships with the other girls in the dormitory. Katherine wrote this illuminating book because she, too, wants to shed light on child abuse in this destructive cult. She joins me in desiring to see its tax exemption revoked and hopes that everyone will get out of the psychology slavery. Of course, Katherine is no longer a Scientologist and lives in Minneapolis with her husband, happily raising three rambunctious boys.  

Resources: 

Katherine Spallino is on social media @badcadet on Instagram and Twitter.  

Bad Cadet is available at Amazon.com

Steven Kent’s article, Brainwashing in Scientology’s Rehabilitation Project Force

Jon Atack’s books on Scientology, Let’s Sell These People a Piece of Blue Sky and Scientology; Cult of Greed

Scientology indoctrination methods deconstructed, a video demonstration with Steven Hassan, Jon Atack, Christian Szurko, and Chris Shelton