When Spencer Schneider was a twenty-nine-year-old Manhattan corporate lawyer, an acquaintance invited him to a secret meeting of an “esoteric school for inner development,” known to its students simply as “School.” Suspicious yet curious, he went. At first, he found support, community, and meaning. But soon, he found himself trapped in one of the nation’s most secretive and abusive cults. In the name of personal development, hundreds endured decades of sexual and physical abuse, forced labor, arranged marriages, swindled savings and inheritances, and systematic terrorizing. Some of them broke the law. All for their charismatic and demented leader Sharon Gans, a washed-up actress who claimed to be on a spiritual par with Buddha. This is Schneider’s story of how he got entangled in School, why he stayed, and how–– impossibly––he got out after twenty-three years. It’s a cautionary tale about the power of group psychology and how anyone can be radicalized. It’s also a story of surviving traumatic abuse and ultimately finding a path to healing.
Spencer Schneider is an attorney who specializes in corporate litigation in New York. A native of Brooklyn, Mr. Schneider is an open water marathon swimmer and ice water swimmer. He works as an ocean lifeguard, operates a lifeguard training academy, and co-founded a water rescue group. He is the only member or former member of School to have published his experience in the cult. He was a member of School’s inner circle for twenty-three years. He started the blog about School called “Cult Revolt.” A contributing writer for East Magazine, he lives in New York City and East Hampton. Spencer can be reached @officialspencerschneider on Instagram and on Facebook at Spencer Schneider.
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