Jonestown Survivor Responds to New Inquiries

Jonestown Survivor Responds to Inquiries

Earlier this month, I received this email from my website – from the “Invite Laura to Speak” section. Since I don’t answer any Peoples Temple-related question with a “yes” or “no” answer, I try to give the questions some thought before I answer. I had quite a dialogue with these two students.

They wrote:

Hello, we wanted to talk to you about what happened in Jonestown and what you experienced there. We are writing a paper about the religion and we would like to ask some questions to a survivor who lived through it all.

Thank you for your time.

Here are my responses:

People joined for all kinds of reasons. I joined because I was so unhappy about the events of the 1960s, with our leaders being assassinated – John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers to name just a few. And, we were in a horrific war – the War in Vietnam.  I looked for a group that would have a loud voice to set things right. So, I joined because of Jim Jones' politics. And, he had adopted 5 children of different races, and insisted on integration and seemed to care for all of us.  Other activists joined, and other grandparents who had kids in prison or on drugs, so that they could offer some hope to the grandkids living in drug-infested areas. Other joined because Jim helped them with free legal aide, with nurses and doctors taking care of them, and because he moved people who had very little income into communes so that people could share resources and all could eat. Some came because they were religious and he lived the way he preached – simply and without huge wealth, jewels, limousines, etc. He lived as he taught us to live.

NOW, we know that the power went to his head, that he ended up a drug addict, and was corrupted by the power he had. But, that was all well-hidden by his secretaries and mistresses.

I moved into Peoples Temple in 1970 and worked at the local welfare department with ten or more other Peoples Temple members. My life was interesting – I worked, but I drove one of our greyhound-type buses, was a counselor, an interpreter (Spanish) as needed, lots of different things. Every day was a surprise and fascinating. We talked about and then began our Jonestown Agricultural Project after one of our kids overdosed on heroin in San Francisco. We wanted a safe place for children and all of us.

In 1977, I moved to Georgetown, Guyana. I worked in the capital for nearly a year buying supplies for Jonestown, picking people up at the airport, meeting the community. I loved it. Then, I moved to Jonestown for 9 months and loved it there. I worked on an agricultural crew, counseled, worked in the law office, and loved the rain forest. At the end of October, Jim sent me back into Georgetown to work. That is when the horrible end happened in Jonestown. I just happened not to be there. In Georgetown, the woman who got the radio instruction for us all to kill ourselves tried to persuade Jim's sons Stephan and Jimmy – they said NO. She killed her three children and herself. No one else in Georgetown did.

In terms of Peoples Temple as a religion:

I was/am an atheist – since 9th grade. I was not looking for any religion. I was only looking for a safe place to be politically active. And, I met the finest people I have ever met in my life in Peoples Temple. They were willing to take on great sacrifice – moving to a very primitive community in the middle of the South American rainforest – to prove to the world that a totally diverse community could thrive and live safely. We had people who were Black, white, hispanic, Native American, Asian and British – in a wonderful, thriving community until Jim got so mentally ill, and surrounded himself with others who caught his mental illness and dysfunction – and agreed to end it all. He didn't do it by himself – we gave him too much power, and his secretaries/mistresses kept too many secrets we didn't know about. a terrible combination!

Their response with the last few questions:

This is so helpful thank you so much for this information. But I have three more question.

1. When the massacre arose did everybody know what they were getting into?

2. Also what do you think made Jim so unique that everyone responded so well to him?

3. Finally, do you think it is okay that today we do call this a "cult"?

Everyone knew at the end that there was poison in the drink. But, people were exhausted after being on overtime duty getting ready for Congressman Ryan's visit – working very hard. Also, Jim told people that they could never go back to their lives since they (he did not take responsibility) THEY had killed a Congressman and they would be felons. Their children would be take away, their relatives would have nothing to do with them, and more. Plus, Jim had helped at least one person in every family to get off of drugs, to house them, feed them, get free legal aid, no one could believe that the same many who had done that could be lying or insane enough to kill them. He wasn't some stranger – he was a person who had inspired them to leave the USA and had always taken care of them. He was insane but it was well-hidden to the very end.

Jim was not a stranger who walked into a room full of people. He had helped so many in so many ways – he was a loving father figure, a protector. The con-man side of him was well-hidden, and as he got sicker and sicker, it was even more covered up.

Peoples Temple was ABSOLUTELY a cult. But, we are a nation that loves cults – from gangs, to many churches and many groups that instruct people who to vote for or not to vote, who tell people not to get medical care, who tell people to hate people who are different – different color, different sensual orientation, different religions. And, there are many more cults now – the Ku Klux Klan, etc.

Their final question (so far) How would you go about joining a cult?

if you came to a meeting, some greeters would welcome you. If you seemed to be racist or investigating, or questionable, you could not come in – we'd tell you we'd decided to have a Family Meeting, and guests would be invited back another time. We looked for decent, authentic people to come into any meeting. We screened out people who didn't match that.

We included people who wanted to come but did not really proselytize looking for new members as such. We were well-known for our services and people came. We were not like people who come door-to-door to persuade you to come. People brought their friends and relatives, and talked about the healings and services. People came out of curiosity and interest.


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