The RPF: What are the Facts?
We got into a bit of a discussion last week on the RPF, and someone calling themselves “Surprised” posted a comment saying, “any RPF people I ever ran into, in LA and elsewhere, were always very carefree, I saw them smiling, they looked healthy and not stressed at all, and often sang, or told jokes or stories when working.”
This got me thinking. Is this the way most Scientology public view the RPF? As a bunch of carefree, singing people, happily “rehabilitating” themselves?
Well, certainly, the Church would like that to be the perception. According to their website, the RPF is “a second chance” for “Sea Org staff members who would otherwise be subject to dismissal for serious and/or continuous ecclesiastical violations”– an opportunity to experience “complete rehabilitation” for “personnel burn out.” Sea Org members who have gone through the program, we are told, “attest to its enormous personal benefit, and express their appreciation for being able to avail themselves of redemption as opposed to dismissal.”
There are a number of reasons to be skeptical of these “attestations” by RPF graduates. For one thing, they have to attest to their gains from the RPF as a condition for graduating from the program. Any reports that are less than glowing result in – guess what? – more time on the program. So these reports are, of course, universally laudatory. Similarly, if anyone currently on staff were to speak critically of the program in any way – they’d be right back on the program. So we’re not going to see anything other than glowing praise from Church sources.
And certainly, any RPF Member who happens to encounter public would take care to present a smiling, happy face, such as “Surprised” encountered. Anything less? More time on the program.
Religious researchers, like Gordon Melton, hired by the Church to do “studies” of the RPF, only read materials provided to them by the Church and only talked to RPF Members hand-picked by the Church. They never inspected the actual conditions of the RPF. And they never spoke to people who had done the program and who had subsequently left the Church.
These testimonies of former members, of which there are many on the web, paint a different picture. Amy Scobee described her RPF experience in her interview with the St. Petersburg Times, and other recent accounts include those from “Thoughtful” and “T. Paine.”
To be fair, there are former Sea Org Members, particularly those who did the program in earlier times, who still recall their RPF experience in somewhat positive terms. They remember enjoying the hard work, the co-auditing, and the esprit. But most remember it as an oppressive, degrading, and abusive experience.
These days, assignments to the RPF can be sudden and capricious. At one point, a Committee of Evidence was required for an RPF assignment. These days, it is more commonly done by executive fiat. David Miscavige has personally assigned many to the RPF by a verbal order. In fact, as reported by T. Paine and others, many people on the RPF have no idea why they are there.
What can we know about actual RPF conditions? Well, some of what we can know is listed in the Sea Org Flag Order establishing the RPF, FO 3434RB, “Rehabilitation Project Force,” a copy of which is available on the internet.
1. They have no Liberties. This is confirmed by those who have done the program. They work seven days a week, 365 days a year.
2. They are restricted to the building where the RPF is located. They must stay in the building, usually out of public sight. They are only allowed outside the building on authorized work cycles. Any travel between buildings is accompanied by a Security Guard.
3. They receive quarter pay to begin with, which may be upped to half pay depending on their progress. As Sea Org Members currently receive less than $50 a week, this means RPF members would receive $12.50 to $25 a week. Assuming they work 8 hours a day, seven days a week (more on that later), this means they are paid 22 cents to 44 cents an hour.
4. They are supposed to work for eight hours, study for five hours, get at least seven hours sleep, and have half an hour for each meal, as well as a half hour at the end of the night for “personal time.” They also have group meetings (musters) three or four times a day. Former members say that this schedule was often violated, with RPF members working late into the night, or even all night, to meet deadlines.
5. They are berthed only in a space which is isolated from the rest of the staff and is only for RPF. Former RPFers describe the berthing space as packed dormitories housing 30 or 40 people in bunk beds stacked three-high. In one instance, 40 men in one dormitory had to share a single sink and toilet. RPF dormitories have been described as cluttered, smelly, and degrading, as you might expect in a room where 40 people are housed together.
6. They may not speak to or approach staff or public or outside public (people in the community) unless spoken to. They address all other staff and even public as “Sir,” whether male or female. They must wear a distictive black and grey uniform at all times.
7. The Flag Order states that married RPFers are allowed one night a week with their spouse if they are upstat and as scheduled by the RPF MAA (Master-at-Arms). Former RPFers report that this is no longer allowed, and in fact spouses are often separated geographically. Currently, spouses are encouraged to divorce their partner if they are RPFed.
8. They must suffer additional time in RPF if sentenced to it for violations of regulations, failure to produce, excessive natter, refusal to come clean or any other offense. This means that their RPF time can be lengthened if they step out of line in any way.
9. They may not have with them in the RPF any radios, TVs, music, musical instruments, games or any such entertainment or luxury. They cannot have a cell phone. They can only use a phone to their family with a Security Guard listening in. They cannot own a computer or have any access to the internet. They cannot read newspapers or magazines. Letters to them are intercepted and read. Their letters out are censored.
How long are people on the RPF? As long as it takes them to complete the RPF program, which consists of work, study, and co-auditing each other on Security Checks. When the program was originally instituted, it took a few months. Currently, people are on the RPF for many years – reportedly four to ten years.
Why has the program lengthened? Originally, all auditing was done on a “read it – drill it – do it” basis (RDD). Currently, RPFers are required to conform to “Golden Age of Tech” standards, doing a formal metering course, a Pro TR Course, and extensive training. Their metering and TRs now require an RTC pass. They are given exhaustive auditing programs. And, as reported by Thoughtful, even when your auditing is complete, you have to prepare a lengthy CSW (Completed Staff Work), meticulously tabbing and annotating the pc folders to prove that every point needing handling was handled. Then one waits months (in some cases years) while the CSW is reviewed, rejected, redone, and finally approved by RTC.
Meanwhile, one continues working, at 22 to 44 cents an hour.
According to US prison sentencing statistics (2004), the mean sentence lengths are 3 years for violent crimes, and 2.58 years for drug crimes. In other words, RPF members are, on average, spending more years in detainment than violent criminals or drug pushers.
One might compare the RPF to a minimum security prison, which this Wikipedia article describes in this way: “Minimum security prisoners live in less-secure dormitories, which are regularly patrolled by correctional officers. As in medium security facilities, they have communal showers, toilets, and sinks. A minimum-security facility generally has a single fence that is watched, but not patrolled, by armed guards.
The difference between the RPF and a prison? The prisoners have it better! Let’s look at some of the United Nations prison-related standards and norms.
1. The UN standards dictate that “all accommodation facilities shall meet the requirements regarding health, heating, ventilation, floor space, sanitary facilities and lighting.” 40 men in one room with a single toilet and sink hardly passed this requirement.
2. The UN standards require that “recreational and cultural activities like sports, music and other hobbies shall be available to all prisoners.” In the RPF, there are no hobbies, sports, recreation, music or anything similar.
3. The UN standards state that “Prisoners under sentence shall be required to work, but this work must not cause distress. The daily and weekly working hours shall be set according to local rules, leave one rest day a week and sufficient time for education and other activities. Work is to be remunerated equitably and prisoners shall have the right to spend part of their earnings on approved articles and to send money home.” RPF work schedules, while they leave time for auditing and training, do not allow for any other activity. RPF Members do not get one day off a week. And they are not paid equitably.
In fact, one could argue that RPF labor (used to do org renovations and make org furniture) might even fit the definition of a sweatshop, as given here: “[any] employer that violates more than one federal or state labour law governing minimum wage and overtime, child labour, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation, or industry registration.”
In summary, we have, in the RPF, a system where Sea Organization members can be arbitrarily assigned to a prison-like system, often not even knowing why they are there, and kept there for an indeterminate amount of time, often many years, in degraded conditions that would never pass even the standards for a prison.
Is the RPF a benign system for the rehabilitation of errant staff, as it was intended? Or has it become something else, something more political, something more similar to, say, Vietnamese reeducation camps or the Chinese system of “Reeducation Through Labor” ?