JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Answers High-Schooler’s Questions

Questions from Grace D, a high school Junior in an AP History class in Washington:
1. What was your relationship with other members like in the 1970's? And, I read you are still on contact with other members, what is your relationship like with them today?

From the time I first passed through the doors of the Peoples Temple building in Redwood Valley, I found meaningful and delightful friendships with the diverse membership in Peoples Temple. People were genuinely thoughtful and caring. One of my favorite parts of the Temple then was the feeling of being in an “adopted family” with people of all backgrounds.

After November 18, 1978, I took about 20 years to get my life together. I married and my son was born, I went back to school, got my BA in Philosophy and Psychology, earned my California Clear Credential, and started teaching. Then, I reconnected with the other survivors. Since then, many of us meet on November 18, and throughout the year. We are in frequent contact throughout the year. Some of the finest people I have even known were and are my friends in Peoples Temple.

2. Were males and females treated differently inside of the People's Temple?

Jim Jones had an inner circle of young women, who were at his beck and call. They were women who kept his most private secrets and plans. They were treated much differently – had no private life, and followed Jim. Jim had other partners over the years as well. (Much of this, I learned about WAY AFTER Jonestown.) That was a small group.

The rest of membership was valued based on commitment and hard work – the harder you worked and the more you got done, the more responsibility you “earned” and the more respect/important position you would have. In many organizations – hard work gets you promoted. This was true for both women and men.

3. What was Jim Jones’ relationship to the Jonestown community as a whole? Was he more a celebrity figure or engulfed into the crowd?

Soon after Jim came to Jonestown, he started withdrawing away from being out in the community so much. He would hold meetings nearly every night and speak on the speakers throughout the day, but not mingle as much as he did regularly in the United States. He was respected and even worshipped, never engulfed into the crowd.

4. Can you think of any important things we should include in our documentary, or people to remember?

Before the deaths in Jonestown, there was never a time in U.S. history when a religious or benevolent leader murdered 1,000 people. One of the biggest reasons we (members) did not take notice of the obvious flags that we should have seen was that NOTHING like that had ever happened before. We never dreamed that it would ever come to that. Unbelievable. We were an early cult and no one yet knew the damage done by cults.

Cults often isolate members – and we were in the middle of the rain forest in Guyana! Our only communication was with a ham radio – and most did not have access to that.

Jim had a public persona which he guarded powerfully. No one who was in the innermost circle could ever talk about his private life. He was very convincing – as many con men are.

Peoples Temple was filled with committed and tireless people who wanted to make the world better – and who sacrificed a lot even before the deaths. We moved from San Francisco and other cities with many amenities, into a primitive life in the middle of another continent – and most did it enthusiastically. We felt/knew that things would get better.

From the beginning of media coverage of the deaths in Jonestown, I was bothered that the world knew all about what Jim had for breakfast and the color of his underwear – and 917 others died that same day. All of those 917 should be remembered for the wonderful, principled people they were, lead by a mentally ill and power-corrupted leader.

5. And, lastly, to a group of high-schoolers that know little to nothing about the event, what is the main message to take from the Jonestown massacre? Why is it still very important and relevant today?

You learn a lot about life when you study about Peoples Temple. We were optimists and worker bees to make the world better. We believed that Jim Jones would lead us on that effort and protect us.

We learned:
• NEVER TURN OFF YOUR CRITICAL THINKING – things are never that perfect
• You can make a big difference in the world – be careful if you are following someone else
• Life can be fascinating and exotic – but you must be careful
• And – maybe the most important – YOU CAN AND MUST SURVIVE ANY THING. Life is fragile and can be taken from you in an instant. Don’t give it away. Don’t let anyone else take it from you. Live it to the fullest.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,