JONESTOWN SURVIVOR – Has Evolving Perspective of Peoples Temple

Recently, a family member of another survivor contacted me. She said that she sensed that some of my reflections in my book have changed over these years. I published my book in March 2010. I wrote the book in 2009 and early 2010. I have changed in my understanding and feelings in several ways.

Here was my response to her:

When I went to PT, I was in heaven. I had already strayed enough – as you read in my book. When I went to PT, I had the integrated community, and wonderful friends I would never have been as intimate with outside of PT – which is true to this day. And I was in a progressive movement that enriched my every day. I was also alone – no other “family” there, no children. I was on my own to make a commitment of my own. That allowed me a freedom from a certain kind of guilt or conflict. No one I was responsible for was ever misused or abused. The second part of that was that I personally felt necessary and productive. I didn’t know that people were unhappy. I spent time with others who mostly felt life was good in PT. We lived communally – my favorite way to live, and we worked tirelessly and didn’t have time to doubt. My time working at welfare, then helping people on welfare get treated properly and write appeals, etc., and writing to judges to get people out of prison, and working on files – all the different things I did – made me feel pure and proud.

I can’t express how that experience really enriched me and supported my development.

But, since I didn’t have conversations with people who were unhappy, and since I didn’t identify enough with the people who had issues with Jim, AND PARTICULARLY SINCE I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON BEHIND THE FACADE, I was riding high. Now that thirty-five years have passed and I have spoken with others who knew more, who were involved in some of the horrific parts, and were more astute in seeing Jim and the machinations of a sociopath, I do have a different understanding. And then, of course there was the unimaginable tragedy at the end – and continuing for all of us since then.

I didn’t have an “easy” life in PT – but the hard part for me was the non-stop working. Emotionally, I was always happy and with people who worked as hard, and who were commited. I didn’t know about Jim and his many affairs and his manipulations of families and couples. I knew he was a harsh taskmaster and made public issues that I felt strongly about too. There was a focus on bullying (although, of course, I now acknowledge that Jim was the biggest bully. I didn’t see it then.) I thought he was a father-figure who took to mentoring the congregation as a good father would mind his own children. He would connect with us, parent us, nudge us in the right direction.

Some reader mentioned that I was one of the “elite” of Peoples Temple since I was on the Planning Commission. I don’t know about any “elite” if that means above scrutiny, or outside of being held accountable. I do know that the closer you were to Jim, the more you lost your identify. I saw it before and during Jonestown. People who were drawn to be in Jim’s inner circle – primarily his mistresses and secretaries, paid a huge price. And, in the end, they were infected by his insanity and as bad as or worse than he was. They in fact did put together the drinking of the poison. Jim was incoherent that day.

I saw wonderful, intelligent, insightful people caught up by Jim’s smoke and mirrors. People smarter than me, people wiser than me. Power does corrupt, and absolute power does corrupt absolutely – as the quote goes. We survivors and family members saw that cancer metasticize.

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