Jonestown Survivor – Available for Student Interviews

Jonestown Survivor – I am contacted almost every week by students learning about Peoples Temple and Jonestown. I respond to them, and then post my responses here for others who are interested in learning more.

Jonestown Survivor responds to some new questions from a high school student:

Thank you for writing to me. I have written very brief answers to your questions. I write only for myself, from my perspective. I am in touch with about 60 survivors, and each one of us would likely answer these questions (maybe most questions) differently, so these are my reflections only.

I asked you what research you had done because – generally – the more research you have done, the deeper and more comprehensive the questions you ask. There are many books, articles, and media sources available to get a more full picture – so these are very brief. That is one reason I wrote a book. Each question could take a chapter in itself.

How did I survive? I first moved from Redwood Valley, north of San Francisco, to Guyana on March 7, 1977. I lived in Georgetown (the capital of Guyana) for about the first year, and then moved into into Jonestown for ten months. My responsibilities in Georgetown included buying all the supplies for Jonestown, a 24-hour boat ride into the interior of Guyana. I bought food, machinery parts, and gathered donations that could be used in our building. In Jonestown, I worked on the discipline crew, on an agricultural crew, taught Spanish, did counseling, and typed for the law office.No matter where we lived while in Peoples Temple, we were busy all our waking hours. At the end of October, 1978, Jim sent me back to Georgetown to relieve some of the people working there. He was well-aware of the investigations into Jonestown and into Peoples Temple, but most of the rest of us in the community really had no clue.

What was an average day like at Jonestown? We got up with the sun, had breakfast in our dining area, and went to work. We all had lunch mid-day, and then went back to work. Around 5, we’d come home, shower, eat dinner, and go to a meeting in our pavilion. We might have a movie, language classes to learn Russian, work on some projects, work on cottage industries we had (soap-making, sewing, woodworking, etc. Around 9, the community would slow down. The population was about ⅓ seniors, ⅓ 18-and older, and ⅓ under 18. There was a lot of energy. Some of us kept working in offices, and with students.

Did you have any main rituals? In Jonestown, we did not have any rituals other than work. Our schedules were predictable and busy. Our one practice was to integrate every area. When eating, we ate with people we had not worked with during the day. In everything we did, we moved around so that we didn’t form cliques. We were an inclusive community. Everyone knew everyone and treated everyone respectfully.

Did you have a symbol and/ or sacred text? There was no sacred text. Jim was well-versed in the bible and could win most arguments about the written word – because he had studied it – but it was in no way a “sacred” text – more the opposite.

Did you celebrate any holidays? We did not celebrate holidays, and in fact, did not have any day off during the week until the summer of 1978, when Marceline Jones came to Jonestown. At that point, we had Sunday afternoons off from work.

With your questions, none of them asked about Jim Jones. I think it is important to note that Jim became more and more corrupt, drug-addicted, and mentally ill over the years of Peoples Temple until the final day. He hid the worst of his behavior behind his secretaries and mistresses, so we survivors have learned so much more about the inner-workings since the tragedy. What I knew all along was that the people of Peoples Temple were the finest, most dedicated, and wonderful people I ever met. They had committed to making the world better at great sacrifice even before they were murdered in Jonestown. I have yet to find a group as committed to justice and human service. They did not deserve that ending.