(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 collected works on this site are here. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I immediately felt as if I was being judged when I entered the hall to face angry church members. No greeting or smile from anyone.
They were the only words I heard. A stern looking woman approached me, asking the same question. Jim was unavailable, so I was attending the church overview on his behalf, to represent him and what he would have said.
“Jim obviously trusts you…” Her voice tapered off.
I ignored her and walked with confidence to the long table where many people were sitting. I’m in charge, I told myself. Everyone had miserable expressions dressed in grey or black, so I felt as if the spotlight was on me in my chartreuse trouser suit.
I began to speak about various issues, but my words were met with whispers and muffled sounds of disapproval. They tried to talk over me. I went on to tell them I have many important things to say if they would just listen, instead of going against me for no reason. Their jealousy showed. No matter the powerful position, people usually stood a few steps behind Jim, not level with him. They didn’t like to see shared leadership, just the two of us.
I finished my speech without backing down and left them in their frustration.
The Temple entrance and exit area stretched out in front of me, becoming more open and empty as I walked through. I made it outside just as Jim’s bus pulled up. He was carrying a white robe to change into before the service. He asked how everything went. With the responses I received, I could have easily said it went badly, but when I thought about their reasoning behind those reactions, I smiled and said it went very well.
* * * * *
In his Jonestown bed, Jim wanted to share with me that he had “seen things” while living in Jonestown, and prior to the move. He said they were possible premonitions of his own death and other deaths. He described a scene of a purple flower field stained with blood, and he was below the flowers, like lying in a grave. Then from a third person point of view, he saw blood on his face. The grave turned into water. The flowers were in the sky looking down, before wilting and fading, leaving the water to cleanse him and wash the blood away. He was left in an ocean floating with the tide.
“My sins were erased,” he said.
Another description involved a purple diamond melting in the sun, the liquid from it sparkling and appearing to be endless. Everyone who believed in Jim would drink the jewel potion to obtain the desires they always wanted in death instead of life. It would be painless for them because of their belief. Non-believers would feel pain while drinking it, receiving nothing in the end.
“What about us?” I asked.
“We don’t need to drink because we already have everything.”
I felt it was his own way of telling me about the plan for the mass deaths and how it might happen. Then he placed a vial of semi-clear liquid in my hand. It was poison.
“But… just to be safe…”
* * * * *
On a shelf in the medical department was a vial of cyanide labelled “Almond Blossom.” A glamourised name for something so sinister. Jim had told me to use it in an emergency if a gun was not readily available, whether it was during a White Night or another moment where there was threat of danger or a prolonged death. He said this particular pre-mixed batch would be more potent and fast acting than any other cyanide available. I removed it from the shelf, concealed it and carried it to the pavilion.
With everything in place for the final White Night, I gazed straight ahead, unfocused. Jim’s voice mixed with the background noise of jungle life. Others began gathering with materials for the potion. I stood with feet slightly apart, hiding a syringe behind my back. What was I doing? Was I seriously ready to force someone who was non-compliant? I kept my feelings neutral.
I turned to Jim on his throne when he was speaking to the crowd. Keep a close watch by the side of the pavilion, he had said. With the syringe still out of sight, I edged to one side. A woman glanced at me suspiciously while everyone was fixed on Jim. I remained emotionless with a blank expression, until the screaming began.
“They killed her! It’s real! It’s really happening this time!”
The woman was frantic, jumping up and down, pointing to her dead child nearby. Over and over again she exclaimed that it was real. I grabbed her arm and told her to be quiet, whispering at first, but it didn’t work. I raised my voice the second time. By now I was pretty much jumping up and down with her. She was still hysterical, her words inaudible as she cried.
I shook her arm. “Shut up, just shut up!”
Three people stormed over to restrain and inject her. I dropped my syringe. They let her fall to the ground as she stared at me, like it was my fault. All the time she was mumbling, “I don’t want to die.” I turned to Jim again, breathing heavier, panicking. He said nothing.
At that moment, I put my hand in my pocket and remembered the Almond Blossom vial, but it had disappeared. It must have dropped out during the struggle. I didn’t search for it – there was no time at that moment – but I did look around for signs of life. Many people were dead or dying. Jim walked towards me, unsteady on his feet.
“This is not what you expected, is it…” I said quietly.
He ignored my comment. “Let’s go and help them, put them at ease.”
We walked through the small crowds of people who remained. He talked to them, still trying to charm them and gloss over the awful situation. Some were already calm, accepting death. Someone pulled at me before taking a sip of the potion.
“Don’t let them pull you,” Jim frowned. “That is not right.”
He was concerned about someone pulling me for reassurance in their panicked state, but he saw nothing wrong with the deaths of nine hundred people in a mass murder-suicide.
I spotted a young girl stretched out a long way from the other bodies. I held her head. She looked asleep, or at least that is what I told myself. Next to her body was a shiny object. On closer inspection I realised it was Almond Blossom. Tears formed in my eyes. There was no time for emotions, but I couldn’t help picturing how it happened and why I didn’t spot her sneaking my vial. It was inevitable that she would have died anyway, with or without it. Still, it was hard to think about. But if Jim was right when he said that particular cyanide was more powerful and acted faster, then there was some consolation. I could only hope she had a pain-free death.
* * * * *
A special event for cult leaders was held in a building resembling a church, complete with stained glass windows and marble cross decorations. Down the candlelit corridor, a notice board announcement read: Cult Leader Awards Ceremony. At the reception, people were serving grape juice with almond flavouring against a purple backdrop. It was a Kool Aid joke for Jim’s arrival and for a second it made me question my choice of a deep grape-coloured gown with an amethyst tiara, but it wasn’t an issue really. Jim looked confident in his priest collar, a rare choice of accessory for him.
Mingling in the crowd I spotted more joking backdrops aimed at the other dead cult leaders in attendance. They didn’t seem to mind, but most of them were not so enthusiastic or well-dressed like Jim.
The cult leaders gathered around separate tables ready for the presentation. It was like a bizarre version of the Oscars. I was the only one with Jim at his round silver table, but many people were starting to talk to him, hoping for an exclusive interview. He decided not to comment because he felt he had enough publicity in the “real world” after all these years, never mind this place.
The votes were still being counted at the last moment. I knew he had a great chance of winning a few categories. He remains the most memorable cult leader for many reasons. There were too many nominations to mention, but “highest death count” and “most interesting cult leader” were two accolades Jim took away that evening. His speeches were relatively brief, which may have surprised people given his preaching reputation.
The award for highest death count was met with some backlash, but Jim is able to view his past objectively. Each and every person he had known on earth are just figments. He is distanced from everything as mere earthly illusions, including the scene of the crime.
The nostalgia of this event could have been reminiscent of ceremonies when he accepted the Humanitarian of the Year and Martin Luther King awards. But this time he was being reminded of his tainted reputation after the fact, instead of the more admirable work he achieved. Still, he was not fazed.
“I accept my reputation but I’m detached from it.” He whispered, as he held the most infamous statue.
Another reason he accepted this invitation was most likely for the photo opportunities and to show off as usual, despite stepping back when it came to interviews. With vanity strongly in place, he did seem to be proud of winning the most accolades that night, even if some of them were controversial. Apart from a few instances of booing and the Kool Aid mentions, he received exceptional amounts of applause and even a standing ovation, like the old days.
One award you can guarantee he didn’t receive was “most boring cult leader.”