My mom, Becky, was a simple country girl who loved God and wanted to be a missionary. She was 16 years old when she had me, and when she was 20 or 21, she married my dad, Charles. She believed with all of her heart that she could make a difference. She thought she was going to go to Guyana to be a missionary and help the people of that country.
My parents joined Peoples Temple in Indiana, but Mom was the stronger believer. The only reason my dad stayed in the Temple was for me and my brother. He actually tried to get Mom and me out of the Temple when I was about 4 or 5 years old, but the Temple – or should I say Jim Jones – moved in and did what it did so well: Divide and conquer. The result was that Mom and Dad divorced.
Mom wanted to go with Jim Jones to California and to take me with her, but my dad would have none of that, so he went too. They remarried when we got to California. My dad loved my mom very much, and he was going to make sure that I was taken care of. He was illiterate, though, and I believe that made him feel somewhat helpless. Going with us – first to California, then to Guyana – was his only way of helping the family. He was going to be a dad no matter what it cost him … and he ended up paying the ultimate price; his wife and younger son died in Jonestown, and he himself spent several years in a Guyanese jail.
As far back as I can remember, I was in the Temple. My brother Ronald was born after we arrived in California and – like myself – the Temple was all he ever knew. He was kind and adventurous for his 11 years of age. I miss him so very much. Losing my brother has left a big empty hole in my heart!
In Jonestown, my dad cleared the jungle and made shoes. He also went up the Kaituma River to get food and bring it back to Jonestown. My mom baked bread, did sewing and washed clothes all day as part of her work.
I have just come to terms with my life. I grew up in the Temple and lost my childhood friends in Jonestown so I don’t have any old friends. For years I would only speak about my time in the Temple to a couple of people. I was afraid to speak my mind and it was just too painful to let my mind go back to that time.
I just want people to know that what happened in Jonestown can happen again and again, anytime people put their faith in a person. Anyone can end up in a mess. Sometimes things start off good and then go astray. A lot of good people died for no reason, just one man’s ego and self-made paranoia. I hope people will read this and think for themselves.
(Thomas Beikman, who was also known in Peoples Temple as Thomas Kutulas, joined the Temple with his family when he was two years old. He was in Georgetown with his father on November 18, 1978. His mother and brother died in Jonestown. Thomas Beikman may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)