What were the disciplines and punishments in Jonestown?

The description and nature of ways of handling malcontents, dissidents and those who disobeyed Jonestown community rules is fairly well known. The real question – which may be unanswerable, since in large degree it depends upon perspective and recollections of the people who attempt to answer it – is the extent to which the punishments were exercised.

This much is known:

• The Learning Crew was the work detail for people who committed minor infractions – being consistently late for assigned tasks; back-talking a superior (or a senior); exhibiting racist, sexist, elitist or other types of behavior associated with capitalistic habits learned in the US – and consisted of such onerous chores as cleaning latrines, clearing fields after a harvest, and draining ditches of stagnant water. Jim Jones often followed the recommendations of people who made the reports, although he sometimes extended a sentence for a repeat offender or reduced it for someone who showed a good attitude while on the assignment. Many of the notes of these assignments may be found in records of Peoples Rallies.

•  Group punishments were meted out during community meetings to handle crimes and unacceptable social behavior against the community. Perhaps the most complete example of this may be found on Tape Q 734, during which a woman is slapped for committing several minor infractions, a teenager is beaten several times for shoving one woman and mouthing off to three others (including Marceline Jones); and another teenager is more severely beaten a half dozen times for the crime of child rape.

• This same tape also demonstrates evidence of the use of “The Box,” which was a six-foot by 4-foot underground enclosure used as a sensory deprivation chamber. Discussion of the use of the box also appears on Q 597Q 743, and Edith Roller’s journal for March 1978.

• Less quantifiable was the use of terror. Certainly Jones’ threats and decisions to tie people to a stake near the jungle so “the tiger” could get them – as in Tapes Q 781 and Q 743 – would qualify, as would forcing a woman who is deathly afraid of snakes to endure having a snake crawl over her (also on Q 781).

• Finally was the use of drugs to sedate and quell dissenters, often – but not always – administered in conjunction with isolation the Special Care Unit. There is little agreement on how many people were handled in this way, although there is no doubt that both Shanda James and Eugene Chaikin were subjected to this treatment. Even for the latter, it is debatable how often or to what degree Gene was incapacitated. While some have suggested that his increasing and more vocal opposition to some of Jones’ decisions resulted in him spending much of the last six months in a drugged haze, his work for the Jonestown community assisting Mark Lane in September and (likely) October-November belies that and suggests he was drugged mainly when outside visitors – with whom he might otherwise have interacted – were around.

 

Last modified on May 24th, 2014.
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