Artists Peter and Karen Schless were seduced by Scientology's celebrity spirituality, and detoured from Hollywood careers to join its extremist group, the Sea Org. In leader David Miscavige's inner sanctum, they built their mental prison as they melded into its radicalized lifestyle where danger, captivity and abuse were normalized. After three escapes, Karen chose between two unbearable options.
Escaping Scientology Part I sweeps you into the lives of two young adults filled with hope and love as designer Karen and her award-winning musician-composer husband Peter overcome obstacles to succeed in the music and fashion industries together. Scientology re-focuses their goals toward the importance of clearing the planet and recruiting celebrities to build Scientology's social capital. Karen portrays the basic beliefs of Scientology that led to her radicalization into the Sea Org at the Celebrity Centre, a fortress where artists aspire to achieve greatness while attaining spiritual freedom through L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings. Karen shows how celebrities are lured into Scientology and develop a co-dependent relationship from which few break out.
Part II reveals Karen as a flawed and complex woman when she and Peter move to the secretive International Management headquarters, where they join 800 fanatical Sea Org members that made billion-year commitments to make this a Scientology world without war, criminality, or insanity. Karen finds the dystopian outpost and its global operations to be proof that Time magazine’s 1991 article, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power” captures the essence of Scientology’s mindset, that she describes as “war is everything and everything is war.” She is no passive victim as she attempts to stay in the driver’s seat and keep their marriage intact while fighting the pressures of the Int base culture that attempt to break them apart. Scientology goes under “Cruise Control” as Miscavige becomes obsessed with his biggest trophy, Tom Cruise, and stiffens his control and abusive punishment methods on the Int base staff. Karen rebels against regulations and spends time in Scientology’s prison camp. After two attempts to escape the Int base, she is trailed by security guards and coerced into returning. Failing to escape, she questions the evidence of her own senses, and makes a mind-twisting re-commitment to become the best version of a Sea Org member she can be. Karen carves out a world she can live within as she is promoted into the highest echelons of management, appointed by the Chairman of the Board RTC to Int Management Public Relations Officer and later to take charge of the image of Sea Org staff internationally from the Int Finance Office. While working on special projects under David and Shelley Miscavige, she travels to Scientology bases around the world where she sees human rights violations set in place by Hubbard’s policies that cause her to conclude Scientology is a for-profit business that builds billions of dollars of assets on the backs of Sea Org slave labor, while hiding behind the banner of the First Amendment, claiming benefits and protection as a non-profit religion.
The epilogue of Part III portrays the mind-wrenching process of physical escape, and psychological anguish as Karen plies herself out of Scientology’s grip and endures its cruel disconnection policy. She re-acclimates herself to life on the outside while, brick by brick, she disassembles the walls of the mental prison she had built, and survives with the help of her accomplice and the love and support of her family.
Karen's narrative memoir shows that Scientology's plan, authored by L. Ron Hubbard and David Miscavige, is filled with flaws: While the leaders impose their will on members who follow blindly and spend exorbitant amounts of money or dedicate their lives to achieve spiritual freedom, they grossly underestimate the power of individual free will in those brave enough to escape and speak out.
"This is the same book I had worked to prevent being published since the early 2000s. To know that I have been able to encourage and assist Karen to tell her story to the world now is both satisfying and cathartic. It is a great read by a talented woman."
- Mike Rinder, Consultant, A&E Channel's Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath; former Executive Director, Office of Special Affairs, Church of Scientology International
"Karen's story will show how people become radicalized by extremists. This story is not about rehashing and reliving the trauma of the past. It's a story coming from a survivor/thriver. I strongly encourage people to read this book carefully and thoughtfully, to realize the degree that Scientology has long been exploiting well-known social influence methods and techniques."
- Steven Hassan, M.Ed. Author, Combating Cult Mind Control and Freedom of Mind
"Karen speaks with the authority of a long-time insider. It's engaging, engrossing, illuminating, and reveals how even intelligent, highly creative people can be seduced by the siren song of Scientology. Karen is a talented writer, and I found it hard to put it down."
- Jefferson Hawkins, Author, Counterfeit Dreams; Leaving Scientology; and Closing Minds
About the Author
KAREN SCHLESS PRESSLEY enjoyed her pre-Scientology career in fashion design and music publishing until she was seduced by Scientology's celebrity spirituality. She survived a 16-year journey with the cult, as a celebrity recruiter, as the Commanding Officer of the Celebrity Centre network, and as a 12-year member of its extremist group, the Sea Org. She held creative and executive positions at Int Management headquarters, from costume designer in its film studio, to Int Management Public Relations Officer in the Senior Executive Strata, to doing special projects for church leader David Miscavige while in charge of Sea Org image and uniform design. After her third escape in 1998, she became an activist against Scientology's abuses. She has spoken at more than 100 events and appeared on CNN, NBC Dateline, CBS Morning Show, and in French and German documentaries on Scientology.
She is an honors graduate of Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, GA, with a B.S. in Communication and a Master of Arts in Professional Writing from KSU. Karen enjoyed a post-graduate career as an adjunct instructor of English at Southern Polytechnic State University, and as an adjunct instructor of Communication at Kennesaw State University from 2011 through 2015. Karen established Bayshore Publications in 2017, with Escaping Scientology as her first release. Coming to Terms With Your Story: Writing to Heal is in editorial production for a 2017 publication. She edited Commodore's Messenger: Book One by Janis Gillham Grady (Outback Publishing, 2017). Her work has appeared in the International Cultic Studies Association’s ICSA Today magazine and Cultic Studies Review Journal of Research, News and Opinion. Karen enjoys family life on the Florida Gulf coast, and survived Hurricane Irma mid-publishing Escaping Scientology. Karen's works will always strive to carry the theme of being a survivor/thriver.