Via the Daily Beast, Astra Woodcraft shares her youthful memories of and the tale of her escape from a Scientology compound in Florida, including out of body experiences, marriage at age fifteen, and an odd beverage of choice called CalMag:
I was 7 years old when I entered the Orwellian world of rules, rewards, and punishments known as the Church of Scientology. Prior to that, I had led a relatively normal life with my family in London. Then my mother decided to become more involved with the church, and we moved to Clearwater, Florida, where she joined a religious order called the Sea Organization. She signed a contract commiting herself to the group for a billion years—covering her future lives, as the church believes people are immortal. We settled into a compound with other families. The year was 1986.
The Sea Org came along after Scientology, in 1967, initially operating from several ships. The group essentially serves as the managerial arm of the church; its members live together in communal compounds, wear uniforms, work for minimal wages, and supervise church operations.
I saw [my mother] only once or twice a week. I wasn’t supposed to call her “Mom” in public, but rather “Sir,” reflecting her rank within the organization.
There was always a looming threat of hard labor for those who seriously misbehaved. At night we drank a beverage we called “CalMag,” a terrible mixture of calcium, magnesium, vinegar, and water. It was supposed to calm us down. I’m 33 years old now and can taste it still when I think of it.
In my early teens, I began to rebel. I envied the public-school kids and their freedoms. I started smoking. But at the same time, I feared the outside world. I had been told that kids in pubic school are all on psychiatric drugs. And I knew that leaving the church would mean separating, or “disconnecting,” from my family.
People often married young within the Sea Org, as premarital sex was forbidden. I chose a husband at age 15, a 22-year-old named Jason Merrill. I was attracted to him and we had known each other for some time; we married in Las Vegas, with parental consent and a signed order from a judge, as I was underage. We eventually settled into a small room at a Sea Org compound.
A turning point came when I was 17. For reasons I do not know—perhaps money-related—members of the Sea Org were suddenly advised not to have children. We were told that a pregnant woman would be turned out of the organization. I felt shocked and betrayed; I had always wanted kids. A wave of depression set in. I felt I had utterly no freedom or control over my life. I worked round the clock; I was not allowed to go to school. I saw a dreary future unfolding.
One morning in February 1998, I snuck off to my father’s house. My plan was to go from there to the airport, where I would fly to my aunt’s house in England. I didn’t tell my dad my ultimate plan, as I didn’t want to put him in a difficult position. I knew he would help me, but that the church would make my sister “disconnect” from him for doing so.
At the airport, I remember looking around frantically, to see if anyone had followed. Indeed, someone had. I heard my brother, Matt, shout my name as I neared the security line. He was there with a Scientology security guard. I felt a searing pang of fear—and guilt. I didn’t want to get Matt and my mother in trouble for my escape, but I had to go. I ran from him and made it to the plane.