(Jolene McDonald is an admin of the Facebook group Jim Jones Cult Leader created in February 2018, and the creator of a blog – the Jim Jones Information Blog – to share some of the informative posts from the group. The posts from the blog also appear here. Her other writings for this year’s edition of the jonestown report are Morphine Messiah: My Own Holy Book and The Jonestown Death Dreams. Her collected works on this site are here. She may be reached at email@example.com.)
(A contextual note to accompany these stories can be found here.)
We touched down on the hot ground and entered the Promised Land. One reason for our visit was to witness how all the hard work was coming along, but the main reason was to promote the settlement as an ideal place to live.
Jim began unstacking crates with the young men already living there, while I explored the other side.
He came to me, wiping his forehead. “Do you like it here?”
“I do, but it’s too hot!” I replied.
“Well, it’s the jungle, what do you expect?”
He asked if I would like to look at any of the wildlife, and my first response was to see the two macaws resting on a fence.
“Your makeup looks like a parrot.” Jim said, referring to my bright eyeshadow. I was curious to know if he liked it. He said yes.
“What about makeup and styling supposedly distracting from the cause?” I asked.
Jim shook his head. “Hell, if I ever made a statement against those things, I had to say it to please the crowd. To make them feel equal, on the same level for the damned cause. I rarely practice what I preach. You know I admire a little vanity…”
With his image and sensuality, I suspected Jim must appreciate glamour in a woman, even though there was no talk of its value in the Temple activities. I certainly knew Jim was vain about his grooming and style, even though he sometimes pretended not to be. How could he pretend when it was obvious he used dye on his greying hair and enhanced his sparse sideburns with pencil! Perfectly pencilled as they were, they were beginning to melt in the sun as one of the men recorded a promotional film. We would take the footage back with us, to show off the progress and beautiful way of living for the future.
Jim praised the fruit and other food as better than anything back at home. He showed the array of animals and talked to various residents. His brilliant-white shirt looked striking against the green background. As he walked around, the two macaws caught my attention again. They were like guardians of the jungle, watching everyone.
Into the evening we all gathered around. Members of the commune gave their testimonials. They appeared excited to be sharing details about a real life Promised Land.
Jim was sitting in the middle, speaking to everyone. From behind a curtain, I pulled out a tray and distributed drinks through the crowd. When I came to Jim, I caught the last part of the conversation he was having with a man next to him. Quietly he said: “Jolene knows.” At that moment he had broken the promotional “character,” and I felt as if we were the only two people there. He looked at me as if to say, you know exactly what I’m talking about. No one seemed to notice the break in the conversation.
“What do I know?” I whispered, to no reply.
It was darker and the same birds from earlier fluttered past us. I called to Jim and he grabbed my hand as we strolled to where we would be sleeping for a couple of nights.
“What were you talking about earlier?” I asked.
He answered slowly. “They were guessing how this place will end. Some said it will never end, but if it does, there will be total freedom. Another suggested a person here somehow knows the answer already… and it’s you. You know how it ends.” He leaned over me, “I know how it ends.”
A strange feeling hit me. Once again, he had broken the timeline by showing awareness of events that were not supposed to have happened yet. The end result would obviously be tragic – with those parrots, guardians of the jungle, watching over the dead bodies in the infamous photos – but the people had no idea how their futures would play out.
An intimidating building loomed over us. It was the place where Jim would make a speech for an important event. It was also a chance to meet a politician with a special connection.
Linking arms, we were having a chat regarding what to say, who we should talk to, how low our profile should be, and whether he had chosen the right suit for the occasion. I reassured him, just as four sniffer dogs greeted us at the entrance. My mouth dropped a little. I was carrying a selection of Jim’s drugs in my handbag, never expecting the canine detectives in the doorway. Jim told me to stay calm, act natural.
Luckily, the politician’s wife was fond of Jim. She found him highly respectable as a reverend and political influencer. She was smiling at the dogs’ overenthusiastic nature, without suspicion that illegal substances would soon be on her premises. She said their excitement during the greeting was down to Jim’s affectionate aura. His love for animals caused all the excitement, apparently…
I was relieved when we made our way out of the reception area and into the dining hall. The high pitched sound of the dogs faded as the loud conversations could now be heard. Jim was acting nonchalant but I couldn’t take my mind off the close call we just experienced. I was nervous, standing slightly behind him. He kept linking my arm to move me forward so we would be standing together during conversations. After the endless course dinner, a few speeches and drinks, we were ready to meet the politician. His wife assured us he was coming along soon.
At that moment, the dogs found us. They began sniffing around the corner. Jim and I faked a smile at the same moment.
“Still so excited to see the reverend,” she laughed. “I don’t know what came over them tonight.”
Jim was dragged into an unwelcome conversation while I stayed there, awkwardly smiling at the woman, trying to keep my mind off the dogs and their wailing.
A security man looked my way suspiciously. It was time to shout “Jim” and run away. I had a terrible sinking feeling that they would ask to search my bag. He whispered to the woman, while she stared at Jim saying goodbye to people.
Her frustration began to show. “Take those dogs away from this room!”
As she became distracted, I managed to get Jim’s attention and we left as quickly as possible, never meeting the politician.
I approached the cabin. Jim was leaning in the doorway, hand on hip. I had been a long time at the other side of Jonestown, but we still had a while to relax before visitors arrived.
The cabin smelled of cologne and chemicals, but Jim was not high yet. He combed his hair, checking his reflection in the mirror. Handsome devil.
After spending time in the cabin, we were ready to greet each visitor on the autumn afternoon. Jim introduced himself as Executive Officer and I was the Personal Executive Assistant. Then the “army” came along; his bodyguards offering protection. No guns were on display.
We ate together on the pavilion. Shark, pork, several side dishes. The constant conversations and everyone talking loudly was becoming boring today. The meal tasted awful and I wanted to go somewhere quiet.
The visitors were shown around the other areas, then back to a hotel in time for the evening. Jim changed his outfit and I had a task to do.
Every member of the commune was in line. The queue stretched on and on. It was my job to walk past the people and observe what they would say about him. He always chose me because I was the only one he could trust, and I was fast on my feet. Would they say “Thank you, Dad”, or something else? Would they bow down as they praised him? If a person was not so enthusiastic, he would want to know.
Moving briskly down the wavy line, I noticed a couple leaning against a building with their arms folded, blank expression, saying nothing. One of them saw me, but made no effort to praise the leader. I let them be for the moment.
Finally, I approached the king on his throne, which was placed on a sturdy plinth. Beret in place, he was slumped awkwardly and high on his chemicals at last. He had no cares at this moment, except for the feedback I would give. He asked me how grateful they were, and I said everything seemed satisfactory.
It was now time for them to file past their leader for a treat. When it came to the couple with the folded arms, I was tempted to let it go by, but guilt came over me. I felt as if I was betraying him if I allowed them to take the treat without telling the truth. He was relying on me. As he handed over the packages, I touched his arm, explaining the situation. He thanked me, making an effort to reach under his throne. He failed, so I did it for him. I found two more packages, in make-shift gift wrap. He wanted to give them these instead.
“With my psychic abilities, I predicted there would be two ungrateful followers tonight.”
I raised my eyebrow. Their expressions were now of horror, not of boredom. He handed over the packages surprisingly calm. The pair looked confused, reluctantly taking them from Jim’s hands. He let them walk away.
“They’re gonna get away with all this?” I asked. My shock was apparent.
Easing himself from the throne, he watched them out of sight and laughed. “Well, I never said what’s in those packages…”
Rain in Heaven
The 18th. November of destruction. Reporters crowded Jim. It was an interrogation, not an interview. When it was over and he could breathe for a second, he motioned to me. “Talk to them,” he said calmly. “Tell them you know there is nothing but love in my heart.”
He was right; I knew from experience what his thoughts, intentions and feelings were, at least towards me. But I couldn’t speak for a thousand people. I told the reporters wonderful things and praised him during the party for Congressman Ryan last night. I was sitting with him at the head of the table. I’m sure my elation showed. All of them saw this, but my experiences with him do not paint a picture for everyone. Their perspectives are more important than mine, because they have had negative experiences. All my experiences are loving and positive.
A random downpour of rain, like Heaven itself had opened, intensified an already eerie atmosphere.
The whole place was filled with anxiety by now. Jim realised it was too late. I felt like speaking on his behalf, but he wanted to prove he still had power and control over the situation. He stood out – as usual – leader of the conversation, trying to persuade a group of followers to stay. Pale and clearly nervous, anger was showing too. I also detected sadness and pain behind his tinted shades. Everyone was betraying him, or at least that is how he viewed the situation. With a raised eyebrow, his eyes fixed on the “enemies” yet looked straight through them. He wanted me to fetch a couple of pills. White ones. Anything to keep him stable.
I walked away for a few moments. When I turned around he was sat on a chair, away from the crowds. Head down, staring vacantly at the floor. He looked like a red cloaked apparition. The persecution from outsiders and the behaviour of the defectors was destroying him. I could read his mind. He was thinking: enough is enough, I can’t cope, I need protecting. He could not admit that to people there. I wanted to hug him, but that could reveal his vulnerability. I put my hand on his shoulder, reassuring him discreetly and asked if he was okay. He just looked at me.
As the potion was being prepared, I couldn’t take it in. I considered our final moments. Jim took my hand, whispering something about the cyanide. I tried to argue with him about the decision. I suggested we could escape. Leave everyone and everything behind. No one would find us. We would live our own paradise. I told him I wanted to go to Hawaii again and explore all of the world with him. He shook his head. “Impossible now.”
“Come on,” I said firmly. “Let’s do it. Let’s go.”
Bluntly he said the words, “I’m dying.”
He reassured me we could be together and see Hawaii and even better places in another life. He was too calm about dying. My mind became blank.
I hope it doesn’t rain again, I thought, picturing the downpour from earlier. But nothing could ruin this moment, especially the weather. I convinced myself I was ready.
Before he spoke into the microphone for the death sermon, he smiled at me. The strangest smile. I could see rain inside it, like the downpour. And in his eyes I could see a black-haired little boy, lost and lonely in 1930s Indiana.