I was married to a Jonestown survivor for 13 years. He never got over it. Often, especially around the anniversary, he would have nightmares. He was very paranoid, sleeping with guns and knives, always suspicious of everyone. He could never become involved in church, although he tried on several occasions.
His family joined the church before it moved to San Francisco. He and one of Jones’ sons became like brothers. They eventually left, but he stayed. And like so many others, he ended up in Jonestown.
While there, he and the son he was close to realized that Jim Jones was no longer in his right mind, was taking drugs and using women. They often spoke of shooting him but realized that if they did, they would die, because Jim was constantly guarded. He sometimes felt he could have ended it before the bad things really started happening.
My future husband was in the Georgetown compound on the night of the deaths. They were manning the Jonestown shortwave radio transmissions, and when they suddenly got no response, they realized what was happening. They heard a scream from upstairs where other members were. They heard children screaming “No, Mommy, no.” When they went upstairs, they found that Sharon Amos had slit her children’s throats and then her own. No wonder my husband had nightmares.
He always wanted to write a book and started many times. I have some of the papers, as well as the correspondence we maintained while he was in the service. Once, when we were researching library information, I came across his name and a quote in a book by another member. What really bothered me was reading about Jim Jones and realizing how much my then-husband resembled him in his way of dealing and domineering others. Eventually, the verbal abuse and unfaithfulness was too much to handle, and we separated.
Editor’s note: We received this letter – with additional identifying details which we have removed – in 2003. We felt it was important to publish it, however anonymously, because we recognize that this woman’s experience with a Jonestown survivor is not unusual.
Many people were scarred by their experience in Peoples Temple and in Jonestown. The violence at the end was tragic and shocking. People who survived lost everything, and everyone, they had.
We know of many other violent deaths involving Jonestown survivors and former Temple members. Mike Prokes shot himself to death in a Modesto motel room in March 1979. Several members of the Mertle/Mills family were murdered in their Berkeley home in February 1980 (although those deaths were probably unrelated to their involvement in the Temple). Paula Adams died in an apparent murder-suicide with her longtime companion, former Guyana Ambassador Laurence Mann. Indeed, the number of suicides, incarcerations, and substance abuse problems among former Temple members is high above the national average.
What is even more remarkable, in our opinion, is that all of us know many more former Temple members and survivors who are not like this woman’s former husband. They are warm, human, and humane. They look back on their experiences with mixed feelings, but nevertheless believe that their involvement in the cause – working for social justice and racial equality – was one of the most important things they ever did.
Nevertheless, we are conscious of the stress and anxieties created by the upcoming anniversary. For that reason, we urge anyone reading this who experiences any kind of difficulty to contact us. Even if we can’t help you ourselves, we do maintain a large listing of survivors and former members, and many are willing to help their old acquaintances and friends. Please call us at (619) 584-1841 or e-mail us through our website. We will respond!