JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Responds to Student Questions

JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Responds to Another Student's Questions

 

Please remember – I am only one of 60 remaining survivors – these are my own, personal recollections only. I write only for myself. Also, I wrote only a few paragraphs to answer these questions. They need more time and more thought. I unfortunately can’t spend the time to do that right now.

 

1.        How did you feel the People’s Temple was taking a stand for social justice?

From the first day, I realized that Jim Jones had an adopted family of all races – Black, Native American, Asian, and his “home grown” son. He and his wife were the first white couple in the State of Indiana to adopt a Black child – Jim Jones Jr. His congregation was the same – mixed race, mixed socio-economic levels, mixed education. This was in the 1960s and 1970s, in a country that JUST passed the Civil Rights Act. Even today, that is not the norm.

 

From there, we moved on to supporting emerging groups – we spoke up for the LGBTQ community in San Francisco, the American Indian Movement, the Farmworkers, really, all of them. They were us and we were them. We wrote letters to Judges to get family members and community members released from prison, and helped be the voice for the voiceless. That was our mission and we did it tirelessly.

 

In the late 1960s, I think that was Jm at his “purest.” He always had a borderline personality disorder – and power issues – he wanted all the power, over all of us. But, it really started eroding what he was doing in the early 1970s when he was so successful with the powerful in San Francisco and in California.

 

2. What did you see was your role in fighting for social justice?

In high school, I had been active in integrating my neighborhood in Maryland, and in the fight for equality and putting an end to segregation. In college in Connecticut, I worked hard on civil and human rights, and demonstrated to end the war in Vietnam, among other things.

 

After college, and a brief marriage, I went to Woodstock – but wasn’t interested in being immersed in that culture. Then I lived and worked with the Black Panthers for about 6 months. That did not work for me as a naive, and optimistic young girl.

 

When I moved to California and met Jim Jones and Peoples Temple – I thought of Jim as a protector who would enable me to continue on with my political activism. That was my life-blood.

 

3. How do you think the social issues of the time affected the rise of the People’s Temple?

I know that the society going through such upheaval (with the murders of so many leaders in the 1960s (MLK, the Kennedys, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers), with the war in Vietnam being so unpopular, and with Civil Rights and civil abuses so much in all of our minds made Jim’s rise to a political position meteoric. He was at the right place (SF) and at the right time to become a spokesperson for many of the disenfranchised.

 

4. What do you see as the impact of Jonestown on society?

Jonestown had the POTENTIAL to show the world that racism and abuse did not have a role in our society and that we should get rid of both in our communities. Those of us who went to Jonestown thought that we could prove to the world that our kind of mixed and fluid society worked. We thought we could keep our kids safe from drugs, give them a community that valued them, and … That is what we thought. What we didn’t know was that jim had so deteriorated in mental health, and had become so drug-addicted, that he stood in the way of that happening.

 

5. Could you describe what the transition into life after the People’s Temple was for you?

 

When I came back from Guyana, I was totally shell-shocked. I moved back into the San Francisco Temple building on Geary and Fillmore for four months until the Conservator assigned to sell off the assets of Peoples Temple kicked us out. Then, I lived in several different communes of Peoples Temple survivors for the next ten months. The government put a lien on my passport, saying I had to reimburse the $500 they spent to bring me back from Guyana, since I was one of those who received a subpoena to appear before the Grand Jury. I went to work, got a job, and went to school at night. I was putting one foot forward at a time – but not yet determined that I wanted to keep going. It was very difficult and we survivors were not much help to each other or to ourselves.

 

After a year of trying to make my decision about survival, I moved into a community I had been spending time with – Synanon. Synanon was a residential drug treatment program when it started in the 1950s, but it had become a fully-functioning diverse community with both former drug addicts and “squares” – those who did not become drug addicts. Over the years, there were thousands of residents who passed through. When I moved in in 1980, there were roughly 50% squares and 50% former drug addicts. Synanon took good care of me. However, there are some events mostly from before I moved in that were illegal and problematic. Some of my fellow survivors from Peoples Temple were anxious for me, moving into another “cult.” Synanon closed in 1990, when the IRS rescinded tax status because of profits we were making in selling advertising products.

 

While in Synanon, I married my current husband, Ron, and my son was born.

 

In 1990, we moved out. I went back to school and got my California Clear Teaching Credential. I started teaching in 1994.  I also became a Quaker in 1994.

 

After 20 years of keeping my head in the sand, I went to the 20th Anniversary Gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, where most of those murdered in Guyana were buried.  That was when my healing began – once I realized I would and could never forget. My life in Peoples Temple is part of who I am today. Once I admitted to myself that I am forever changed – somehow, I could work with that and fully move on.

 

In the early 2000s, I started public speaking. I wrote and published my book JONESTOWN SURVIVOR: An Insider’s Look in 2010. I continue speaking about Peoples Temple and my experiences.

 

2. How would you like history to remember the people of Jonestown?

The people of Peoples Temple were wonderfully committed and optimistic people who wanted a better world and who were willing to make great sacrifices to bring it about. We were so determined, we failed to watch Jim enough, especially at the end. In Jonestown, his mental and physical health deteriorated, and he and his secretaries/mistresses/nurses were able to hide the disintegration.

 

6. In your opinion, what do you think is the historical significance of Jonestown and the People’s Temple?

There is an enormous historical significance of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. Here are just a FEW:

Leaders can never be given absolute loyalty.

Insanity can be very well hidden.

There is no time and place where critical thinking and observation can be turned off.

There are certain behaviors of cult-leaders that are recognizable:

Wanting to take members away from family and loved ones who are not a part of the

group

Moving the group to a remote location

Creating a we/they belief system

Refusing any questioning or corrections of the leaders

Keeping members exhausted and poor

Never assigning anyone as a replacement

Really, it is a very long list.

 

7. Are there any misconceptions about the People’s Temple that you would like to correct?

There are many misconceptions. The primary one that I always want to address is the nature of the membership. We were bright, hardworking, and optimistic people. It was unimaginable to us that Jim Jones, who had gotten our family members out of jail, into the hospital, into shared housing where there was enough food, and kids into safer environments – and so much more. It was just not possible that the same person would become so mentally imbalanced that he would murder or assist in murdering 918 people.