A rainbow of friends. Friends of different colors, nationalities. The innocence and beauty of children. Children I had the pleasure and honor of growing up with. We were special, adored, nurtured and protected. We were the future; we were going to save the world.
All gone. How unbelievably tragic.
I was first introduced to Peoples Temple at the age of eleven. I recall rising early Sunday mornings for the two-hour journey from San Francisco to Redwood Valley. Eager, full of anticipation, and joy, I couldn’t wait to reconnect with my friends. We’d greet each other with hugs, kisses, giggling. Playful innocent children, contagious laughter. I recall singing in the church choir. The pride of wearing my light blue choir dress with pearls at the neckline. I recall the communal lunch after Sunday morning service, swimming in the church pool, attending to the vegetable garden. No one had to tell me, this was Heaven on earth.
A multitude of questions: What does Peoples Temple believe in? Are you Communists? Why do you follow a white man? What about the struggle? Have you lost your mind? Please the consider the social and political climate of the late sixties and early seventies: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. Murdered. Convenient? Ironic? Planned? Jim Jones, teaching social reform, equality, love, justice, peace. He became our leader, our savior, father, and – for many – God in the flesh. A heavy cross to bear?
Jim Jones and Peoples Temple became bizarre, brutal, frightening. Love was replaced by beatings, humiliation. Relationships became distrustful, filled with deceit and dishonor. What happened to the goodness, the innocence, the beauty? It was gone.
I left Peoples Temple in 1976 at the age of 20. Alone, afraid, paranoid, guilty. A traitor to the cause. Ignored, ostracized by members whenever our paths crossed. Paranoid thoughts of being hunted down, destroyed, took over my mind. How do you rebuild your life, make friends? How do you begin to trust the “enemy”? Fearful, embarrassed by my affiliation with Peoples Temple. I never told a soul of my involvement. Too many questions to answer. Ridiculed, labeled, stares, fingers pointed my way…no way.
I now believe in God. He saved me from the hell of Jonestown. He saved me from being murdered. The majority of my childhood friends were murdered, the ones who were going to join me in saving the world.
The teachings, the philosophy didn’t die. They reside in me and those who are left to remember. Much good was done – and there was so much left to do. It wasn’t all madness.
It’s been thirty years since I had contact with former members. I treasure reconnecting with them. I embrace them, respect their lives and their journey. We remain family, entwined by a thread of love, justice.
My journey continues.
(Pinkie Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)