Were people happy in Jonestown?

This is a difficult question, mainly because most of the people who could answer it died on November 18, 1978.

The survivors give different replies to the question. Some have described their time in Jonestown as the best years of their lives. One said he envisioned Jonestown as a multi-generational effort, that he thought he would return many years later to see his grandchildren down there. Others have expressed both their heartfelt conviction that their community died that day and their regret that they weren’t in Jonestown to die with them.

Others paint far bleaker pictures of life in the jungle community. More than one has said that they understood the depth of their mistake in going down the moment they stepped foot in Jonestown. For others, the disenchantment came over a period of time, as they understood that the conditions, which they hoped would get better, only became worse and showed no prospects of improvement. Still others just seemed to wear out under the relentless strain, as Jim Jones’s daily mantra urged, of “stepping up production.”

Indeed, if there is a single conclusive answer one can make to this question, it is that the overall happiness within the community took a precipitous drop with the arrival of Jim Jones for what would be his final time in August 1977, and only declined from that point on. Reports from the previous years – the years that the Jonestown “pioneers” built the community – were of long hours and hard work, but a commitment and a satisfaction that led the workers to vote to extend their own hours of labor. Following Jones’ arrival, which coincided with the arrival of more than 700 Temple emigrants, the existing and new workforce could barely keep up with the demands made upon it, both by circumstance and executive fiat. Finally, as Jones’ physical and mental condition deteriorated, his growing sense of paranoia began to infect the entire community, especially the leadership, and the residents’ expressions of their willingness to die – whether heartfelt or merely mouthed out of an understanding that it was expected of them – were increasingly part of Jonestown’s community meetings.

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