Lynetta Jones Interview 1
Tape of Lynetta Jones with Tish Leroy
Taped probably sometime in end of Nov. or December, 1977…
(As we were ending a conversation about the lands of Guyana and our own agricultural project – I saw she was drifting back as she sometimes did, and so I flipped on the tape recorder at this spot in our conversation.)
Lynetta: It was south of Rio… they just simply lit out like they did going across the plains. They just lit out and went to Brazil (talking about the first settlers of Brazil that farmed the country). They lopped a piece of jungle and (took) what else was granted by that government at the time, which was rocky enough… and they practically fed the nation of Brazil with their agricultural efforts. There was a period when they did. They never departed or went back to the states… they went there after the Civil War. They wouldn’t conform to any surrender. They just pulled out their families.
That just came out on the tip of my tongue, about that agricultural district there. It’s a city, São Paulo. In that neighborhood, and it is probably the most prosperous city in Rio [Brazil] itself. And it ran a– and all of a sudden their jungles go dry as a desert because they didn’t put back in the soil as they took out. They thought you could do it year after year, but you cannot do that.
If we make a mistake, we’ll end up on the rocks too. But I understand they are not, but they are studying the compost, and somebody’s making the compost.
(Part of tape, briefly, is not distinguishable… then she picks up again – about Jimmy Jr. She realized she had not given me a story about him, and wanted to recall something for Jimmy… she loved all of the children very much and was concerned to try to get something down for them… and she used to say that: “for” them, realizing that one day they would look to her words. However, she never quite got them all down, but she always expressed her love for them all equally…)
He (speaking of Jim Jones, her son – taking little Jimmy Junior, his adopted son, up to a resort area) took him up to Sugar Loaf. You heard of Sugar Loaf Mountain? It’s built like a loaf of bread. Had up there recreation for children… slides, and all that sort of thing. It’s a hard cadaver in the first place, and you can imagine, up there on that slide how much higher it looked to a little wee one. Well, he’s a hesitatin’ on takin’ off, because he’s be takin’ off right toward the big drop, you know… but no danger of reaching that far out. He must have been 3 ½ or 4. (Time lapse on tape) And from where he was perched it was looking more gruesome all the time and everything, and father… like all other proud fathers (Jim Jones, her son) was saying, “Go ahead, kid. Everybody else is jumping: everybody else’s sliding down; it’s real fun. You’re a big man now, son,” he said (to Jimmy Jr.). He turned around (Jimmy did) and he said, “Dad, I not a man… I a little boy.”
Leroy: Did he finally go down?
Lynetta: Yeah he went… Of course, he (Jim Sr.) could talk him out of his eye teeth. Big Jim would talk you out of your eye teeth, you know. He said that statement, he brought it over (put it across) two or three times: he’d try (Big Jim would) to make the challenge, you know, but he (little Jim) wouldn’t take the slide, then he would– at that time, he just turned around and said, “Dad, I not a man… I a little boy.”
Leroy: I’ll bet Jimmy was a cute little kid.
Lynetta: Yeah, he was. I used to get so mad at him. He aggravated me worse than any of them. (fondly) He’s a dear, though he tries something foxy just to get caught at it (at this point she was chuckling in recollection). Nothing else. He was just a chivester (?). God, he’ll have some well peppered tapes if I keep on saying bad words. (Conversation between us talking about the cussing)
(Talking about JJ’s concern for little Jimmy in the rearing of him) To see that he never got it in his head that he was discriminated against, and in the doing of it, I think he condoned perhaps more than he should have.
Then another cute thing he did (reference to Jimmy Jr.). One time I was holding him and he run his hand over my arm and he said… and then he ran his hand over his… he said, “Your hand is not like mine.” He said it kind of sad. I said, “Well, the only difference I see is a viewers is more beautiful… and nice and tall like that… mine are shaping up to a bunch of wrinkles, and they’re old…” and I went ahead to discourse upon the subject.
And he said, “Did I have a brown mommy?”
I said, “Yes, but you was fortunate among boys, you had a brown mommy but a white mommy also, later on, evidently who love to somewhat better, because she’s going to stick around for a while. It seems to me like– and I don’t know what the circumstances might have been with this other mommy, but anyway– it turned out to your advantage,” I told him, so that was the subject matter we discussed about his race.
And then Marcy had a cute song she sang about his cradle song.
Leroy: “My Little Black Baby.”
Lynetta: I’ll be doggoned. She made it up from scratch, I guess. Brown baby, wasn’t it?
Leroy: Black baby on the recording.
Lynetta: Well, that was after his cradle song, and he couldn’t hardly have found any fault with his makeup or his coloring or anything of the kind when she sprang that one on him, because it was really beautiful.
I think the other boys figured they was slighted for not being a brown baby. I know I’ve heard them sometimes remark to that effect, when they were smaller.
When I was a top authority in Indiana’s women’s prisons, they always like to get you involved – both sides were like that – try to get too involved in the raise questions to see what kind of a living goose they could make out of you, I guess, and I was much too danged smooth for them. There was some of them would start into a deep emotional spasmodical– all the trouble with this race problem. This prisoner who was absolutely prejudiced against the black race. I threw up a hand and boy, I suppose I was the only one that ever did say anything – (tape not clear) – rest of them were kind of mealy-mouthed, you know, and I said, “Shut your mouth. Goddamit!” I roared. Prejudice is not peculiar to one race. You got as much damn prejudice as any other rest of them. The white race has got it, you’ve got it… and you both better get rid of it! Boy, that was all I heard about prejudice…
This has nothing to do with the book, but it’s another thing that happened too. I was steeped in adventure up to my neck all the time. In the state, bad gals– they thought they was really tough, till they had some run-ins and experiences with me, and then that’s the thing that sold them on Mabel. I didn’t skeer for nothing.
And they’d never seen anything that wasn’t skeer of them, you know, and I’d play with them just like they was a bunch of kids, too. I got carried away and never did get my book written that I went there to write.
(An aside on the tape: Lynetta was watching Esther [Mueller]. “Now she’s not saying a word. Esther was reading a typed page.”)
It was really adventurous. Every crying thing they’d think of, I would think a one better. And mainly there was no stupid gal, even if they was prisoners. They had to be sort of keen to stay out such as the time they did, but they was always returning till I went there, and that just about put the cadaver on that, because I’d fix them up with such a desire to want to set the world afire that when they’d go out, they wouldn’t never want to break parole, and there was a scandalous turnover before I went, and for years it was just something they expected. But I didn’t expect them to return.
The first thing, I didn’t know from goofus about the prisons, except what I’d read, except I’d thought that some time in an idle moment, I’d go around and look into it and write something in the book, you know, so I came to the point of where I was ready to do that. But in order to do it, I wanted to be where I’d be in direct handling of prisoners, so that there wasn’t no guards around the edges and all of that. You was there and your wits had to be what took care of your situation, you know.
And so, I was writing away on something else– I just sit there at the desk and these two gals seemed to be in a heated argument, you know, in the recreation room. I thought, well, when you flatten each other, well, I’ll get up there and see why you did so. And it just kept getting hotter and hotter, you know. Every once in awhile I’d say, you got some slight argument you girls? Well, ask me and I’ll tell you the straight of it – kidding them – all you got to do is ask me and I’ll tell you who’s right.
Well, I didn’t anticipate they’d take me up on this, but they did. They come easing up, you know. They said, Mrs. Jones, we want you to answer this for us, ‘cause we’ve argued for months if not. And I said, “Well, what’s the question?”
They said: is it more of a sin to kill you husband when he’s looking at you that it is to kill him when he’s asleep? Well, I want you to know that for a minute, that was normally, that if I gave it two scoops of thought, that it would have thrown me for a loop. Finally I said: well, he’s no less dead for all of that, is he? Either one of them? Well, that cooked their argument right there. I said, now the way I see it, he’s no less dead for all of that. Neither one of them is.
Leroy: How did you happen to take the prison job?
Lynetta: Well, I just resigned from a job I’d held for 17 years and I thought that 17 years was long enough to work at the same task. That was the corporation. I’d organize their unions when they said it couldn’t be done, and hadn’t been done for years, and they was about the only unorganized, privately owned corporation, I guess, family owned, and my mind just suddenly made up to organize that union. And boy, I mean I did it single-handed – (tape not clear – three points or something)… I did it single-handed, practically. Of all the skeered people, they were skeered. Boy, when they’d see me twist the tiger’s tail, and everything, and when every time I showed there, they’d stand for me like an iron wall. They had a great respect for me, you know, and even if the union spoke a little hostile to me, they get up and file out of a bargaining at contract time, which is the most important time there is. And when they got a mule in from Kentucky one time, he thought he was the top of the pile. He was with the international, you know, in the union, UAW-CIO, and he said, Jones, you’re a damn little Hitler!
They proposed something, and I said, I won’t go for it. He said, you’re only one. I said, “Today, I’m forty. I still won’t go for it and you can’t make it through without me,” and I just grinned, you know. And he says, “Why wouldn’t you?” You know, that’s of course taboo, you know, to ever disagree, you know, in front of your corporate factor. I said because it’s wrong, and you know it’s wrong, and I won’t have it.
Well, they was going to strike. I guess that was the issue itself: they was going to strike, but they wanted to strike only the foundry as they’d done for years, and let that one corporate body be one body with any corporate strain. Blend that suffer and starve, while the others, you know, without unemployment benefits… and I said, if we strike one, we strike all. That was a blow to the corporation, you know that. They said, this is ridiculous to have them all starving. It ends the strike quicker, I said. You put somebody out there that knows how to get unemployment benefits, and I’m that somebody. They’re not gonna have to starve with me out on the street. And, as it stands now, they’re all gonna pray they do, and I mean, I’m going to have unemployment benefits for all of ‘em out there, and they don’t belong to the union, or if they do… it’s all the things difference to me. And under the law, I think it construes as being involved in labor disputes, and that’s all the further you have to go. “Oh, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
And I come right back and said, well, I’ll never vote for it. And he said, Jones he said, you’re a dog damned little Hitler… and when he said that, the company sprung up, the company did, and mind, there was three plants represented there, you know. Many men on each plant bargaining crew. They raised up and filed out. Old Bill says, where the hell do you think you’re going? He said– they was educated people, you know, and he was a hillbilly (chuckling)…
Let us know, he said (apparently referring to the spokesperson), let us know when you get ready to speak respectfully to “our” Mrs. Jones, and we will return to the bargaining table.
They offered me every job they had in the area, from public relations to– they was really briefing me with elections, you know.
Leroy: They wanted to out of the union, out of their hair.
Lynetta: They wanted me out of the union and furthermore they do anything, any damn thing they could for me.
Leroy: Did you elect the prison position yourself, or did they offer it to you?
Lynetta: Well, this had nothing to do with this outfit that I have worked for for 17 years. It was– the only connection that we had with a prison was that the outgoing custodial authority was– had been a congressman and then, being on the wrong side of the political fence to what I was… and Jim and her were acquainted. But I don’t recall for the life of me whether it had anything more to do with them just an introduction between us whether he did anymore for her… not normally– we did not. We stood on our own merits, both of us, and… so I don’t know but anyway that was a shock to the whole collection of society when I went in there to write, but the gals in their didn’t even keep me (unintelligible) and all this, and then boy–
Whenever I’m having a tilt with them, I’d just out-tough them, you know, and they thought that was keen, the gals did, but the old woman that had been piddling along with it for years, why, acting as officers you know, because I hollered and fired the officers, you know, they thought that was– had to be done by routine, but it didn’t. This whole outfit finally had– on the outside of the city was correctional institution. And I said, told them to take it down, and I tell you, they’d burn down that thing on an average of once a month, and then they hauled them into me at all hours of the night. They’d come in just barreled up and madder than a hornet.
I didn’t say anything. I just received them, signed in, you know.
She said (referring to one of the prisoners brought in), “You’ll find out what tough is.”
I said, well, they’ll issue a diploma when I get through educating them and that… but they generally get theirs with the hot places when I get through with them. And I just laughed in their faces. She was mean, she was mean as she could be. But I said in the meantime, “Go to sleep. In the future we can solve this because it is now midnight and I wouldn’t mind sleep. How about you?” Well, she’d like to, and that no matter what they wanted– shoot their mouths off– about, well I was always there with more, you know, and seemed like the answers just came out of the– in the palm of my hand, you know, as if they were written there all the way.
Leroy: Did Jim come out to do a service as chaplain of the prison?
Lynetta: Um-hmm [Yes.]
Leroy: Did he do that regularly or just one time he came out?
Lynetta: Well, he was going to do it regular and I talked him out of it. I said no, they will try to criticize you for what I do, and try to cross you up with what I do, and aggravate the life out of both of us, so what the hell, we never did work together. We generally work separately, because I talked him out of it, because I could tell as soon as I hit the deck, you know, that some of them would like to do us both in. One year’s time I was at the head of it, you know, of the custodial position, and everything inside the fence, and they had a head up there at the correctional institution that thought she had it right on to the facts, that she was on an in moreso than I was with the politicians, and I hadn’t bothered to be in with them, and I never did. But I just stood my ground on every damned issue and I never did have anybody in my corner particularly, but I’d go into the union rooms in the courts and anywhere else, and without a lawyer or anything else, and I never lost anything out of it.
Tape ends around #480. The broadcast over which the tape was recorded continues on – was a KGO tape. I have been auditing a program for Sandy in SF. We were listening for news blurbs about JJ or Temple.