Letters to Dad

Among the papers which the FBI recovered from Jonestown in 1978 were hundreds of letters and notes that residents wrote to Jim Jones. Some were letters written in response to assignments from the Jonestown leadership: confessions of secret crushes which the writers had on other members (of both sexes) within the community; admissions of sexual fantasies involving Jim Jones; reactions to “Dad’s pain” and how it could be alleviated; and descriptions of actions they would take during a White Night.

Others were seemingly more random, and ran the gamut of concerns. Many were letters of appreciation to Jim Jones for getting them out of the fascist, racist United States, the land of concentration camps and Ku Klux Klan rallies. Others offered suggestions for improvements for living conditions in Jonestown or – more rarely – complained about food or particular living conditions. Still others reported on the poor behavior of people around them or, just as often, about themselves.

Beyond the self-criticisms, however, a number of the letters present false confessions to outrageous crimes, offer to demonstrate loyalty to the cause by committing an act of personal peril or self-sacrifice, and confess to failings as a socialist and/or a productive member of the community.

Most of the letters were undated.

These letters are not unique to Jonestown. Peoples Temple members had written confessions to various atrocities while living in the States and filed false affidavits alleging similar atrocities involving the church’s enemies. They also signed blank pieces of paper which could be filled in at a future date.

If there is a major difference in the two sets of letters, it’s in their form: the “Dear Dad” letters from Jonestown are almost all in the handwriting of the resident (as opposed to being typed), many are written on scraps of paper (as compared to the uniform letter-sized paper from Temple files in the States), and the organization of them seems more random. Many also seem more spontaneous or unrehearsed – both in tone and in content – than the repetitious and stylized confessions written in the States.

Letters to Dad (Part 1), RYMUR 89-4286-N-1-A, selected pages.

Letters to Dad (Part 2), RYMUR 89-4286-EE-1-AB, selected pages.

Originally posted on February 17th, 2013.

Last modified on October 22nd, 2013.
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