Part V: Scientology’s Californian Prison Camp

Trigger Warning: Contains slight details of physical abuse and imprisonment.

Theories of Shelly Miscavige’s disappearance have pointed in a specific and unsolved direction: she is imprisoned in the Int. Base, a cluster of buildings inside the Gold Base compound, all of which is otherwise known as “The Hole.” It was created by David Miscavige in the early 2000’s as a form of punishment for high-ranking Scientologists.

Miscavige is infamous for his violent and angry behavior. On numerous occassion, Scientology staff have claimed he physically and verbally abused them and other members; in one instance, Miscavige made fun of Scientology’s “marketing guru” Jeff Hawkins. When Hawkins asked him to stop, David saw that as disrespect and hit Hawkins in the face. Debbie Cook, another former high-ranking member of Scientology, testified under oath in court that, “One time I was called into a conference room and [David Miscavige] ordered his secretary to slap me and she slapped me so hard I fell over into the chairs. [Another] time Mr. Miscavige ordered his communicator to break my finger if I didn’t answer his question.” He has physically struck and choked his staff, lunged across tables, thrown people’s body’s on the ground. The list goes on. The abuse goes on. But his crimes go unpunished.

Maybe you’re wondering, Why the hell did David Miscavige build a prison camp for his staff in the first place? In 1998, Bernie McCabe, the state attorney of Pinellas County, charged the Church of Scientology Flag Service with the negligent homicide of Lisa McPherson. On December 5, 1995, McPherson died from pulmonary embolism in the back of a van filled with Scientologists. She was 35. The criminal charges were eventually dropped in 2000, when the county medical examiner changed her cause of death from “undetermined” to “accidental.” In 2004, a civil suit was settled and the Church came out of the situation nearly unharmed.

But this was not enough for David; he was furious with the way high-ranking Scientology executives handled the investigation and held 50 of them in The Hole.

Little is known about The Hole. While researching, I was looking through the testimonies of various ex-members who had either been imprisoned in the Hole or abused by the Church. Amy Scobee, Mike Rinder, Debbie Cook and Paul Haggis are amongst these ex-members, and they all have websites created by the Church. You can google their name, and one of the first results will be from the site  These websites contain lies and personal information about the ex-members to discredit their statements and negatively affect them for the rest of their lives.

In 2009, the FBI investigated Scientology for allegations of human trafficking, slavery and abuse, but the investigation shut down in 2011, perhaps having to do with the ruling of 2010 case Headly et all. v. Church of Scientology International et al. In the case, the judge ruled that the First Amendment protects Scientology from the courts deciding whether the religion’s discipline methods are reasonable. Protection from these investigations would make it easy to hide anyone, like Shelly Miscavige.

What happens in The Hole:

  • Guards will beat and torture prisoners.
    • Some torture methods include water boarding.
    • These torture methods end in coercing confessions.
      • Coerced confessions do not mean true confessions.
    • Showers are forbidden.
    • At least 100 people are there, and the spaces are crowded. People sleep within six inches apart on, cots or pillows and blankets on a hard floor.
    • It is over 100 degrees F.
    • Prisoners can only eat for 10-15 minutes.
    • It is ant-infested.
    • No one knows the amount of time they are in there for.

The extensive protections and secrets of Scientology are enough to make anyone wonder if David Miscavige is keeping Shelly in The Hole. It is difficult to uncover all the secrets and mysteries of the Church; the religion itself is incredibly complex and structured with a layered history, rules, locations, accusations and scandals. The “suicide” of Flo Barnett, LAPD protections, history of abuse and illegal activities, support from celebrities and billion dollar funds are all enough for the Church to hide what they want.

I did not dive into everything that happens in Scientology, like ex-members having to disconnect from their friends and family or the consequences of Scientologists signing a billion-year contract. I would love to have the opportunity to actually talk to ex-members, maybe even attend one of the local meetings just to get more than an internet and book-based investigation. It’s a fascinating and disturbing religion.

I am going to take a little break from this series; there are a few other stories I have interest in covering. Like all unsolved cases, this five part series has no ending as of yet; just more questions. I will continue to add entries if new information is released or I find more clues to write about (which there will be). Until then, Shelly Miscavige remains missing.


More information on FBI Investigations of Scientology:

How Scientology tried to tell the FBI to erase records before being released under the Freedom of Information Act:

Cover photo credit: 

All sources included in text and listed below: