An Article for the Communal Studies Association Newsletter

By Laura Johnston Kohl
About four years ago, I was introduced to the Communal Studies Association by my good friend, and my son’s former godmother, Elena Broslovsky. In the 1970s, I had put my heart and soul into the dream that was Peoples Temple and Jonestown. I had suffered an almost unsurvivable trauma – the death of my 913 friends and my dreams in Jonestown, Guyana. Amazingly, I survived and returned to the United States in November 1978. About a year later, I realized I had to take a drastic step to get through the trauma. I moved into another community, Synanon, and lived there for ten years. I married, adopted my wonderful son, and made wonderful friends, including Elena.
Between 1990 and 1998, I was no longer in Synanon and I worked to put my life together. I went back to school and earned my BA and my Clear California Teaching Credential. I reconnected with my fellow Peoples Temple survivors during the 20th anniversary, in 1998. By that time, I had some stability in my life. I had been married 16 years, my son was doing well, I was teaching in a bilingual classroom, and I was ready. I did many public speaking events, and wrote articles about my experience of surviving. I was on the Speakers’ List of the Jonestown Institute. My speaking engagements were always tearful but I continued, knowing that I had experienced something that needed further articulation. There were not many survivors, and most were reluctant to go public. I just kept moving forward.
In 2008, I started writing the book that many people had encouraged me to write. Elena and I reconnected and she introduced me to the Communal Studies Association, the annual Conference and her friends. She encouraged me to make a presentation. I wrote and presented “Seeing the Faces” to introduce a few of my fellow Peoples Temple loved ones. I have presented every year since then, and have another presentation ready to go this September in Auburn, Kentucky. It is a wonderful group where I can share my experiences in communities of Peoples Temple and Synanon.
In early 2009, I went ahead with my book. I self-published it in March 2010. Last month, I published it on Kindle. And, today, I found I am #24 Best Seller in Social Scientists & Psychologists, on Kindle. I have had quite a journey over these past thirty-three years.