JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Answers a Author’s Questions

An author who hopes to write a realistic fiction book sent me this list of her final questions before finishing up her writing. I am including my answers here.

• I’m trying to find more information about day-to-day life in the Ukiah/SF Peoples Temple, especially the experiences of children. To my understanding, children came to the Temple after school for tutoring, swimming lessons, group activities, choir practice, etc., but I can’t find much more than surface information. Was this only for Wednesday School, or did most members (and their children) come to the Temple every day for services and other Temple business? How many children lived with their biological families versus in communes?
• ANSWER: In Ukiah/Redwood Valley, we had a family meeting each Wednesday. We had counseling sessions each Tuesday and Thursday evenings as well. Kids would sometimes come for choir practice and on another evening, and tutoring. It was unstructured, but often happened. After mid-1972, we had meetings on Wednesday nights and Sunday nights in Redwood Valley, and otherwise traveling to San Francisco each Friday, and on to Los Angeles on alternative weekends. Many children from both Redwood Valley and from SF and LA lived in the homes in Redwood Valley. There were only a few who lived in their own homes without any other kids. The communes were for adults only. No kids lived there.

• What was your experience of living communally in Peoples Temple (pre-Jonestown)? I know that people were scattered in various communal houses in the Western Addition, and that some lived in the Temple, but how did those family/community units function, exactly? How did the communal experience differ from those of non-communal members? Were any non-communal members on the PC or otherwise deeply involved in the church/on equal footing in the hierarchy with some communal members? Were people regularly pressured to go communal? Where did you live before moving to Jonestown?
• ANSWER: I never lived in SF while in PT. I lived with Jack Beam and his family when I first moved into PT. His wife headed up a Family Care Home with seniors placed by the county, and I lived there with Rheaviana, Jack Sr., Jack Jr., Joyce, and Ellie. After about 9 months, I moved into the first young person’s commune – Eastside Calpella House, then to East House, and finally to West House, where I lived until I moved to Guyana. Our food, household needs, etc. were paid for out the church fund – we turned over our checks. If we bought our things, we would turn in receipts and get reimbursed. We got a bit of money each month for needs. Everything else was covered. We all worked outside jobs, and then did our Temple work at night. The exception to that was Jim’s secretaries/mistresses – and a few others – who did not have outside jobs – in either RV or SF or LA. In SF, most of the communes were for seniors, or younger people lived in who lived in the Temple building. In LA, there was an apartment building next to the LA Temple where many people lived, mostly seniors.

• As the congregation grew, how often did Jim Jones interact with individual members? I know that by the end, he largely isolated himself–was there a slow progression towards this? How often did you speak with Jim Jones? How did you feel upon meeting him for the first time? How did your feelings shift over the course of your time in Peoples Temple? How did you feel about him in the immediate aftermath of the Jonestown tragedy, and how do you feel now? This might be a particularly weird/sensitive question, but does any fondness for him remain, or rather, for the person you believed he was?
• ANSWER: When I moved in to PT in Redwood Valley, I would see Jim five or more days a week. After a few years in Redwood Valley, I was head of security around Jim’s house. I would see him coming and going, and around the property, throughout the week. In 1973, Jim and many folks started moving down to San Francisco. Also beginning around then, Jim spent more time in his upstairs housing unit in the SF Temple. He would see people who were working on his political connections and spent less time with those in the congregation. He rarely spent much time in Redwood Valley. I would say that his priorities changed. When I first met him, I thought he was a great parent, a solid socialist, a person who lived what he preached, and someone who was an articulate speaker for my own political and social views. I thought of him as a protector, and as a person who would notice people who made Peoples Temple better, regardless of education, color, social or economic level. He would notice who took out the trash. He appreciated everyone’s hard work. He seemed to do it all the way until we were all in Guyana. After November 18, I really hated him. Since then, I have realized that a lot of us added to his power, his ego, and even caught his insanity. Jim was not the only one responsible. There is enough fault to go around. I don’t hate him or anyone. I am saddened by what happened. I hate what happened. I hate that his mental illness and his drug addiction was hidden from us. I have many regrets. I refuse to live with hate consuming my life. But, I have no fondness for Jim.

• Did you believe that Jim Jones was God? How did you interpret his claims of divinity?
• ANSWER: I was an atheist when I moved into PT – even more so afterwards, it “atheism” has degrees. I felt that Jim tried to be “all things to all people.” Some people listened to Jim as a religious leader, a savior, a God – I listened to him for his political commentary and to hear about his fellow activists he worked with.

• What were your experiences with catharsis? This is an area of particular interest for me, and I think I have a pretty good sense of how it worked, but I’d love to hear about your specific experiences. What was your first catharsis session like? Was it jarring/uncomfortable/upsetting to be scrutinized publically? Did you find something meaningful while participating in catharsis?
• ANSWER: It really wasn’t catharsis – it was more confrontation, and being held accountable. I did like the direct talk, and streamlined conversations. And, once you said something, you were held accountable for anything you said or took on. I appreciated that in the Planning Commission setting, everyone was addressed and expected to have the required information correct before sharing it. That being said – Jim often took that opportunity to be cruel, arrogant, and awful at the PC meetings, unlike other more public settings. Things would move on around – and many topics covered – but it was generally a very frank discussion.

• What was it like when someone defected from Peoples Temple? I’ve read a fair amount about how Jim Jones dealt with defectors (telling stories about bad things that happened to those who left the Temple), but how did you feel, personally, when friends defected? Did you believe what Jim said? (mostly I’m talking about pre-Jonestown incarnations of Peoples Temple, since I’ve read a lot about the few defections in Jonestown.)
• ANSWER: First – you have to understand that Jim never wanted anyone to leave him, and he considered it their personal (personal to HIM) betrayal. When people left in the US, I later learned that Jim would send people out to threaten them, and tell them they were never to talk negatively about Peoples Temple and Jim. I remember he told one person who wanted to leave that if she left, she would never have a climax again. Other times, he would warn people who left that it was dangerous. None of my best friends ever left while I was in the US. Those who left were disparaged, and dissed – called counter-revolutionaries and sell-outs. What I mostly heard was name-calling. I found out much later that people were threatened to keep quiet. The same was true when people talked about being unhappy in Guyana, or if they wanted to leave. Jim would accuse them of betrayal, and of being bourgeois and selfish. In Jonestown, he had no intention of letting people leave – but he “asked” people to at least wait until the community was finished. People who wanted not realize that people were not d to leave saw through this lie. (I did not realize that people were in disbelief, or that they still wanted to leave. There was never an appropriate time to complain or to confront Jim or his decisions.)

• Did you ever consider defecting from Peoples Temple? Were you aware that some fellow members were unhappy?
• ANSWER: No, I never thought of leaving. Once in a while, usually at public meetings, I hear of some people who were unhappy. I was a zealot so people would not come to me to discuss their unhappiness. I had no idea that many people were unhappy, or alarmed about Jim’s behavior and decline.

• What was the return home from Jonestown like? To my understanding, it took a few days to gather all the survivors, at which point you flew home together–is that correct? What were those final days in Guyana like, and what happened when you got back to the US?
• ANSWER: In Guyana, about 85 of us were spread out – kept divided until everyone could figure who was who. Ryan’s group was kept at one hotel, with some of the Concerned Relatives, The men Jim sent out of Jonestown were kept elsewhere, people at the Peoples Temple house on Lamaha Gardens stayed there, etc. Ryan’s group left first. Then the women and seniors from Lamaha Gardens house left. Finally, Air Marshalls were sent to supervise the travel of the Basketball Team and others from Lamaha Gardens, and we were flown back to JFK Airport where we were individually interrogated, and issued subpoenas to appear in front of the SF Grand Jury. In Guyana, we were under house arrest at Lamaha Gardens. The Guyanese Defense Force soldiers stayed in the house, “protecting us from ourselves” as they put it. They were kind, sort of like our National Guard – very young and kind. When we got to SF, I stayed in the SF Temple building with some of the returnees. Others went different ways, some staying in touch and some not. I lived in the Temple building for four months and then lived in two different communes with former Temple members for the next year.

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