JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Interviewed by 11th-Grader

Every few weeks, I am contacted by students who become curious about Peoples Temple – and they are eager enough to contact me with questions. Often, they have chosen the topic in a history class because it is intriguing, or horrific, and they want to understand it better.

This week, an 11-th grader contacted me. She is writing for a History Competition. She asked several questions and I have listed her questions and my answers here.

What was your experience in Jonestown like?

I first visited Jonestown in 1975, with the Planning Commission and Jim. I fell in love with all of Guyana then. IIn March 1977, I moved down to Guyana from Northern California. I never planned to leave. It was a tropical paradise – perfect weather, in the middle of a rain forest with powerful warm rainstorms – wonderfully inclusive culture and delightful Guyanese. I was very happy both in Georgetown were I lived for 8 months, and in Jonestown, where I lived for over a year.

I am struggling to see the comparison between brainwashed and genuine happiness at Jonestown. Could you shed some light on that?

I was delighted living in Jonestown. My life was full and pure – I was working for a better world where all races, socioeconomic levels and educational levels were treated equally. We valued hard work and integrity, and we lived it every day.

We were brainwashed. The most important part was that none of us knew the full extent of Jim’s insanity. It was hidden from the residents of Jonestown. Even though Jim lived in our midst, he was sadistic and mistreated many of the dedicated members. But it was covered up. Even his drug use was kept secret, and when he was incoherent, he was kept away from Jonestown residents. He had a small cadre of mistresses/secretaries who knew much of his paranoia and addiction – but they were caught up with the dream he spoke about. We all stopped being critical thinkers. We were deceived for years. As Jim got more and more unbalanced, he was in the community less. Without him – the rest of the 950 people worked hard, loved each other, loved the community that we were building, and were optimistic that life was good and would get better. We trusted Jim way too much. He was corrupted by his power. Power corrupts.

Why did you follow The Peoples Temple to Jonestown?

When I was in the US – growing up and going to college, etc., I saw the inequality all around. I saw leaders in the 1960s killed – President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers. I just couldn’t stand it. My voice was just one in the darkness. When I met Jim, I thought that with his power, and all of our voices, we could become voices for the voiceless. He set up soup lines, provided communal housing, provided free legal advice, welfare and Social Security advice – wonderful services for people in San Francisco and LA, and elsewhere. I thought I would have more impact with a group. I had tried the Balck Panthers for a time – it hadn’t worked well for me. But, I just couldn’t give up. Jim seemed to be a loving husband and father, and treated everyone equally well. His deceipt was well hidden. When he talked about Guyana as a place to raise our children away from drugs and violence, I could visualize that. And, when I first went there – I was ecstatic. It became everything I dreamed about. It looked like we could overcome all obstacles. It was a thriving community – not self-sufficient, but creative and bustling – and we each had “the sky is the limit” attitudes.

How has your experience impacted your life?
I came back from Guyana traumatized and barely able to decide to keep going. After a horrific year of trying to get my life together, I moved into a second community – Synanon. It too was controversial. But, I lived in Synanon for 10 years. They nursed me back to health. I met my husband – we’ve been married 32 years this July. I adopted my son in 1989. Synanon closed in 1990. I went back to school and finished my BA in psychology/philosophy, got my teaching credential, became a Quaker, and hid my involvement in Peoples Temple.

In 1998, I had a family, a job, many friends, security, and I decided it was time to figure out what the hell happened, and how had I missed it happening all around me. From that point on, I dug into every aspect of Peoples Temple and my life as part of it. I wrote, met with many of the survivors to discuss it, talked to everyone, etc. In 2010, I published my book.

So – the experience changed me A LOT-
I am not frivolous, and light-hearted.
I do not believe anything I hear – I have to see it with my own eyes.
I am a critical thinker and planner about all aspects of my life.
I absolutely believe in the same ideals – total integration, diversity, education, caring for the voiceless, protecting children, stopping war, stopping abuse, our Bill of Rights, etc.
I am a pacifist and a Quaker.
I am an Occupy member – Occupy Escondido and Occupy San Diego.
I am active with the ACLU and other organizations that protect the innocent.
I am very politically active – going this weekend to Sacramento to protest against fracking in California.
I am on the Board of Directors of the Communal Studies Association and do yearly scholarly papers about communal living.
I can do anything I set my mind to.
I stop injustice and racism whereever I see it.
I teach my 6th grade students about equality and justice.
I write often about my issues.
A friend once said that I “put faces on the body bags of those who died in Jonestown” because I speak about them and demonstrate that we were not all sheep being led to slaughter, or all air-heads. We were visionaries who did everything we could to make the world better. I have seen a better world, and I am not going to give up working for it.

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