JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Responds

Jonestown Survivor Responds to new questions:

Hi there,

I appreciate your questions. I do want to reiterate that I write only for myself – for my recollections. Other remaining survivors and close friends had different experiences in Peoples Temple and have their own unique reflections. I speak only about myself and my thoughts today.

1- What was it about Jim Jones that first attracted you to the Temple?

From the first time I met Jim, in Redwood Valley, I was impressed at his inclusion and affection for all of us. He would hug, smile, congratulate, assist and nurture all of us regardless of age, sex, income, education, and life experience. He would be the one to notice the people cleaning up or working hard, or setting up events. His concern seemed genuine. In his own life, he and his wife had adopted five children of many races, sometimes having to fight a system opposed to household integration. They did it. His wife seemed to be as enchanted with him as the rest of us, which I thought was remarkable. And, he had political allies who were my heroes of the time – Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Dennis Banks, and others. In San Francisco, we were supportive of all diverse community members. There was not only a vision of what we could be, we could look around and see that we had already arrived in a small measure. Certainly, we had more work to do, but we were an inclusive interracial community, and determined to continue the fight.

The public persona certainly differed with the reality, even at that time. But, I did not see that part.

2-Some of the literature on the Peoples Temple paints a picture of abusive practices. Such as catharsis sessions, physical beatings and suicide drills even before the move to Guyana.   How apparent were they?

I disagree that the catharsis sessions were always abusive. Jim ran the Temple as if he were the Godfather of a huge family. He was in charge. He took people to task if our work was shoddy, or our behavior was off, if he or others noticed issues. To this day, I have “family meetings” with my husband and foster son to resolve issues and organize our lives. Sometimes that happened in the Peoples Temple Family Meetings. The abuse part was to have Jim making a decision, stating a problem, and then not allowing the person to respond, or to refuse to listen to problems that needed resolution within the church. Jim could never be questioned. Never. That is abuse. A healthy catharsis is not abuse. Catharsis was the wrong word for much of what went on in our Family Meetings. We had dictatorship laying down rules, and not allowing discussion or defense.  Because Jim took the role of everyone’s “father” he managed the discipline of the members. The beatings were outrageous, and even created life-long disabilities. The suicide drills were an early clue of Jim’s power-tripping. I wrote them off as just one more of his antics to get us more unified and to work harder. I think that the most relevant thing about the suicide drills was that NO ONE COULD EVER HAVE IMAGINED that Jim, the person who got relatives out of prison, who fought in courts for children and adults, who got people legal and medical help, who adopted his own children and seemed to love all children, and who spoke up for human and civil rights would or could EVER take our lives. Every family had had some relative or close friend helped. Everyone had a story.

3-Former members have described Jonestown as one of the  best things that happened to them. Conversely, it has also been likened to a concentration camp. What was your experience of Jonestown? Did people tell you they wanted to leave?

I was one of the members who loved Jonestown. I always felt that there were many positives of our community, and that the problems would be sorted out and resolved once we did not have to work so hard building everything. If you look at a photo of Jonestown – built in just over 3 years, you will see how amazing it became in that short time. We were humping to make it less primitive and more functional and livable. I did not see things that would not be remedied as soon as our full-out building was done. For people who were not happy in Jonestown, it was a prison. You could not leave. Jim asked people to work hard and that after two years, anyone would be free to go. Many were rightly skeptical. Jim did not ever want anyone to leave. He took it as a personal betrayal and defeat. Even when about 20 people wanted to go with Congressman Ryan, he was overwhelmed. Twenty people out of 1,000. His paranoia and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (even besides his drug addiction) did not allow him to see that in perspective. For those of us in Jonestown, since people did not speak about how they wanted to leave (much as in Hitler’s Germany, where parents were reported by their children or neighbors), I had no idea that people seriously wanted out. I was a zealot so no one would have told me.

4- As a former member, how do you view the tragic ending of the Peoples Temple? Jim Jones talked about revolutionary suicide in the death tape, however some scholars view it as mass murder?

The term “Revolutionary Suicide” was coined by Huey Newton, for his book published in the early 1970s. It was the rhetoric of the times, and was used at a time when the disenfranchised poor and people of color were reacting to the abuses of their neighborhoods. Many were saying that if they were to be killed by police or others anyway, they chose to decide the when and where. (That is a rough paraphrase) The deaths in Jonestown were murders. No good came out of the deaths, except that Jim got all the fame and infamy about the community just as he wanted. He never shared leadership.