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A story on children in Scientology in the St. Petersburg Times describes
When Beth Erlich was 11, she signed her first contract.
A billion-year contract.
For the next several years, she grew up in Clearwater as a loyal Scientologist. In her early teens, she said, she worked until 10:30 almost every night, including school nights. She said she didn't complain when dinner was rice and beans, or when cockroaches scampered across her room.
She lived with her father and his new wife in a room "the size of a closet" at the Fort Harrison Hotel, the biggest Scientology- owned building in Clearwater.
That didn't last. Soon she moved in with about 20 women church workers in a different room in the hotel. The room was bigger, but stuffed with bunks and dressers.
Next she moved across town, to the "QI," a former Quality Inn the Scientologists had bought on U.S. 19, near East Bay Drive. Dennis Erlich said it was not unusual for parents and children to live in different rooms at the QI. That's just the way it was, he said.
Sometimes Beth would return to discover she had been moved out of her room with no warning. "We're talking, at like, 10:30 at night I would come home and my stuff would be someplace else." She guesses she eventually was moved as many as 20 times. Children, she said, were moved routinely to make room for adult Scientologists.
Beth did love one thing about public school: the food.
"At the time, I was used to eating main dishes which were rice with something or beans with something."
Compared to the food served up at the QI for the Scientology staff, lunches and breakfasts at school were wonderful, she said.
"Oh wow, it was heaven," she said. "It was incredible. A square meal."
Why would someone allow their child to live as Beth did? Scientologists, particularly staff Scientologists, firmly believe they are saving the world, former members say. Next to that grand purpose everything else is secondary.
"Scientology comes first, and everything else is off-purpose," said Vicki Aznaran, a former high-ranking Scientology official who is suing the church. "Parents who want to spend time with their children are looked down on. It's not socially acceptable."
When Beth was 13 and Kristi was 12, plans were made for Kristi to visit Clearwater.
Beth was ecstatic.
So was Kristi - until she saw the room she was going to share with Beth at the former Quality Inn.
"Oh my god, I couldn't even believe that Beth lived in a place like that," Kristi said. "There were bugs everywhere.... We were always scared of having bugs run across our feet and face and stuff while we were sleeping."
Eva Kleinberg moved from Germany to Clearwater with her 9-year-old son, Mark, in 1986. She had joined a group of Scientology staff members called the "Sea Org."
Eva was told she would have two hours a day for family time. But with travel time from work, she said she actually had only one hour with her son. Because of the 12-hour workdays, she couldn't always stay awake for the full hour.
"I would compromise with my son," she said. After eating, she and her son would divide the remaining half-hour of their family time. "I would play a game with him for 15 minutes, and I would get to lay down for 15 minutes and sleep."
While Eva worked, Mark cleaned up around the motel or played with friends.
About a year later, Eva and Mark left the church.
Asked what he thinks of Scientology, Mark, now 14, said, "I don't think it's too good 'cause the people ... they don't get to spend any time with their family and it's real expensive."
Church spokesman Richard Haworth said staff Scientologists actually spend three or four hours a day with their children, which he said is more than the average family.
Adeline Dodd-Bova also left Scientology. She said she got disillusioned after working at Los Angeles schools that catered to Scientology children:
"I started seeing just really blatant neglect... terrible cases of children that were not getting any food, they were being sent to school with no food for the entire day."
She was surprised at how strictly people followed the notion that children are adults in small bodies, capable of caring for themselves.
"What they ultimately sometimes end up creating are these children that turn out to be absolute, arrogant spoiled brats because no one can tell them what to do with their body under any circumstances because that's what they have been led to believe -- they're totally responsible. So by the time they're 9 or 10, they don't want anyone to tell them what to do."
Eva Kleinberg said she lived in a one-bedroom motel unit with her 9-year-old son and another mother and child. She said she knew of a family of seven that lived in a single room. Home was the former Quality Inn, 16432 U.S. 19 N near Largo.
"When I came here (in 1986) it was such a disaster, she said."
Michael Pilkenton said he used to live in a two-bedroom apartment with seven roommates, including a boy of about 10 whose parents were in California.
Pilkenton, 27, is a former staff Scientologist. He lived in Hacienda Gardens, a Scientology-owned apartment complex, in 1989.
Asked about cases of overcrowding, Scientology spokesman Richard Haworth said the organization has complied with fire codes that regulate how many people can live in buildings.
This page was last updated on May 8, 1999.