JONESTOWN SURVIVOR – A Survivor and More

HOW DOES THE TERM “SURVIVOR” FIT ME?

I was interviewed this week by Torrey Bailey from SD City Beat. She asked me how the term “Survivor” fits me. I have traveled through many labels in my life. I began as a zealot. The first twenty years of my life, I searched, experimented, and followed my passions. I made lousy decisions as well as some good ones. But, I stayed optimistic, thinking things would always work out for me.

When I moved into Peoples Temple in March of 1970, I was still a zealot. I was willing to be a very hard worker, and I was delighted by living in community, driving a greyhound-like bus all over the country, and doing all sorts of work that seemed to be creating a better world. I was energized by the end goal – a Utopian community that had eradicated racism and elitism. I could only good things happening – and expected a wonderful finished product. I never felt the disillusionment that some other survivors, and some of those who died in Jonestown had felt. There is no way to know how the victims of Jonestown felt, since there was no forum to discuss concerns or complaints. I know that with the survivors, every possible point of view is represented.

After the deaths of my friends and my dream in Jonestown, I was completely traumatized and distraught. For the next ten years, I was damaged goods. I was a survivor, but just barely. After the second decade after the deaths in Jonestown, I embraced being a survivor, and I wanted a full life. I was married, had a son, earned my BA in both Psychology and Philosophy, and got my bilingual California Teaching Credential.

In 1998, I attended the 20th anniversary gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, with many of the other survivors. I moved beyond being only a “survivor” and began thriving. I was teaching, married and raising my son, while reconnecting and staying in contact with other survivors. I started going public with interviews and writing articles. I attended conferences and wrote scholarly articles about Peoples Temple, and my life. I wrote my book JONESTOWN SURVIVOR: An Insider’s Look, which was published in 2010.

Now, thirty-seven years after the deaths in Jonestown, I have a full and rich life. When I am not in the classroom, I write and travel on speaking tours to universities, libraries, conferences and other venues around the country. I am on the Board of Directors of the Communal Studies Association, and, I am a Quaker and an activist – working on immigration, civil rights, and human rights causes. I also write monthly articles for a local bilingual progressive newspaper ALIANZA NORTH COUNTY. My husband of 33 years and I live in San Diego. My 27-year-old son is a fantastic high school history teacher. And, I keep on speaking and writing about my life in Peoples Temple.

My newest projects are to document the stories of other survivors in Oral History that will be available to the public, and to help put together a final return trip to Guyana within the next year. Both of these are efforts that I am passionate about.

So, my life has gone full circle. I don’t pretend that I am the same now as I was in my early “zealot” stage. But, I do feel that I was on a journey from zealot to victim to survivor and finally, to thriver. And, once again, I am a zealot pursuing these dreams.

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