Doris Braine says the transformation of her Patty Jo was heartbreaking.

"It was," she said, "like my darling daughter had died."

Before Patty Jo went to work for the Church of Scientology at the age of 20, she had been "fun and pretty and a joy to be with," recalled her 72-year-old mother. "Suddenly, she became a totally different person, shooting fire from her eyes."

There were those hateful looks, and the dozens of letters that Patty Jo returned unopened. For two years, she would not even speak to her mother, who had criticized Scientology and refused to hand over $2,000 for church courses.

And Patty Jo had taken to calling Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard her father.

"I would cry all the time," recalled Braine, a retired college dean. "I had to psych myself up to go to work, be charming and do a good job. But all day long I thought about her. I prayed my head off that someday she would be able to get out of it.

"It took 15 years, but I think it was worth every prayer I said."

In 1982, Patricia Braine left Scientology, disillusioned with the church and disappointed with herself for succumbing to an environment that, she said, twisted her thinking and isolated her from a world she had hoped to make better.

Scientology, she said, "promises you euphoria but ends up taking your body, heart, mind, soul and family. . . . We were so brainwashed to believe that what we were doing was good for mankind that we were willing to put up with the worst conditions."

Over the years, defecting Scientologists have come forward with similar accounts of how their lives and personalities were upended after they joined the church's huge staff. They say the organization promised spiritual liberation but delivered subjugation.

In interviews and public records, former staffers have said they were alienated from society, stripped of familiar beliefs, punished for aberrant behavior, rewarded for conformity and worked beyond exhaustion to meet ever-escalating productivity quotas.

"Slave labor" is how Canadian authorities in 1984 described the Scientology work force.

Worldwide, there are nearly 12,000 church staff members, many of whom are in Los Angeles, one of the organization's largest strongholds. They have kept Scientology afloat through a turbulent history that, arguably, would have sunk any other newly emerging religion.

Day and night they labor single-mindedly at jobs ranging from the meaningful to the menial. Some work in administrative areas such as promotion, legal affairs, finance, public relations and fund raising. Thousands of others deliver the church's religious programs. Still others proselytize on city sidewalks, sell books and wash dishes.

Scientology spokesmen insist that the staff is treated well and not exploited. They say that the detractors simply lacked the devotion to advance the religion's aims and the morality to abide by its high ethical standards.

Current staff members say their lifestyle is no more unusual or harsh than that of a monk. Joining the Scientology staff, they say, was the supreme expression of their devotion to create, in Hubbard's words, "a civilization without insanity, without criminals and without war, where the able can prosper and honest beings can have rights."

The elite of Scientology's workers, at least 3,000 of them, belong to a zealous faction known as the Sea Organization and are given room, board and a small weekly allowance.

They sign contracts to serve Scientology in this and future lifetimes--for a billion years. Their motto is: "We come back."

Dressed in mock navy uniforms adorned with ribbons, they bark orders with a clipped, military cadence. They hold ranks such as captain, lieutenant and ensign. Officers, including women, are addressed as "Sir."