A Story of Deprogramming

Every time we were together – those that lived in the apartment building I lived in – I could not help but think that they were all among the unconscious, just as I was, now that I had escaped from Peoples Temple. There are many different meanings to “unconscious,” but I meant those who were a part of Peoples Temple, who didn’t have any realization about what was really going on in our country. People who lived day to day, working and getting together for a drink after work, before going out for dinner and dancing.

Jim Jones told us if we left Peoples Temple, we would die! So what could I do? I had to forget my beautiful loving family in the Temple and pretend that they didn’t exist. Then I had to rediscover myself and find out who I was, but in doing that, I joined the unconscious, found new friends within the apartment building I lived in and became a “party girl” who knew every disco, restaurant, club and bar in San Francisco. I knew the members of the Temple would not go into any restaurant or disco, but I always watched over my shoulder for them on my way in, and I always sat down where I could watch the door!

Sitting in a lounge a year and a half later, in walked Phil, one of our boys when I was in the Temple. He came over to me in shock, shouting my name “Neva! Oh my God!! Neva!!” I got him out of the lounge into the grassy area in front of the marina, so my new friends wouldn’t find out that I had been in the Temple. He told me that Jeannie and Al Mills were in the city and would love to see me. I had had no contact whatsoever with any of the members and didn’t even know that Jeannie and Al had left the Temple. We had worked together in the Temple’s publishing company and were like family, especially since we had worked 18 to 20 hours a day!

I was soooo nervous about seeing them, but excited too! How would they feel about seeing me? On second thought, how would I feel about seeing them? But then, Phil drove into the FBI Building. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Where are we going?” As though it was nothing, Phil said that Jeanne and Al were talking with the FBI. “I don’t think so, Phil,” I replied. “I’m not going in there!” He finally calmed me down and said it was okay, that I didn’t have to talk with anyone!

Jeannie and Al jumped up and came over to hug me. We were so glad to see each other and had a ton of questions for each other. Jeannie said they wouldn’t be long, and asked me to wait for them, to go home with them for dinner. I said I would think about it.

When they were through, the FBI agent, Gary, came over to me and gave me his card. “I know you don’t want to talk with us right now,” he said, “but if you change your mind, we would love to talk with you.” I took his card and looked at him sternly. “I doubt I’ll change my mind!” I said.

Jeannie and Al had started the Human Freedom Center in Berkeley, and I felt right at home as soon as we got there, but I certainly was not prepared for what was to come! After we had dinner, other members who had escaped came over. We started talking about various situations – actually, the lies – within the Temple. Every day another ex-member came over to join the discussions. Boy, did I get a shock! Every time I thought something was the truth, Al or Jeannie would pick up the phone and call an ex-member to explain the real truth to me! This went on for three days and two nights. I was in shock the whole time, growing increasingly angry at having lived a lie that so many dear people in our Temple family believed was true.

For example, the blind woman in a wheel chair: Sylvia and I took notes during the healings, and usually stood three to four feet away from Jim Jones and the person being healed. There was a sweet old soul in a wheelchair who was crippled and blind. Jim healed her eyes, and she could see, the whole auditorium went into joyful singing. Then Jim healed her legs, and she got up and began to walk, then run around the aisles, with everyone following her. I think I used a whole box of Kleenex on that one, it was such an incredible healing. So when Jeannie called Linda – who had left the Temple two years before – she said that she was scared to death that I would recognize her as the blind woman in the wheelchair, as we had worked closely together. It was all FAKED!!

For example, the rotten meat: When I was told about the chicken guts and fish entrails in a suitcase under the Jones’ house that were used as cancers for the healings, I couldn’t believe it! As I say, I had stood three feet from the healings! However, they put the nasty rotten meat in a tiny plastic bag, and while the nurse was removing phlegm from the mouth of the person being healed, this little bag was squeezed and the rotten meat inserted into their mouth, causing them to throw up the meat and anything else on their stomach! They thought they were healed. It was a LIE!

For example, shootings at Jim Jones: Jim would call us to get the security guards over to his house immediately. Someone was shooting at his house, he said, and he thought it was the FBI or CIA. We would send security over to Jim’s, then we called all the members to come to a meeting an hour later. Jim would be in a frenzy about the FBI or CIA wanting to get rid of us. He would exhort us to stand strong on our beliefs and fight back. He did this several times, before he began talking about having our own place. in Guyana!

The concern I had for my son Mark became very real, for up to that point, I thought that I was a traitor and that I left my son in the hands of the greatest cause on the planet. Now I felt he was in great danger. What could I do to get my son out of there? Jeannie and Al said they had a private investigator who could help me. They gave me his card, so I could call him, which I did the day after I got home.

By the time I got back to my apartment, I was in shock and totally hysterical. The dream I was living in the Temple had all been a lie! All those beautiful people being lied to and being moved to Guyana! I was so thankful that Jeannie and Al cared enough to help me find the truth, because I live by the truth, so living a lie was totally counter to the person I am.

At this point I didn’t know what to think. People had been calling me at home and work for months saying, “We know where you are!” or “Do you really think you are safe?” They even called me when I was in a restaurant.

I went to see the private investigator, who told me he was trying to get several children back from Guyana. He said he would check and see if Mark were still here, because it would be easier to get him back if he hadn’t left. When I told him about the calls I was getting, he immediately took me to my apartment and checked it out. That’s how I found out the phone was bugged!

Later we found out that the private investigator was answering to Jim Jones. I was not able to rescue my son – or my husband or foster sons, for that matter – and they all died in Jonestown.


I can’t imagine how I would have reacted to Guyana if I had not been deprogrammed! I had enough guilt as it was, knowing everyone was down there. But the lies we were taught – the brainwashing we went through, because that’s what it was – would have kept us in that prison of the mind forever.

Stop and think about it. Every time Jim spoke to you, he made it very personal. He knew which buttons to push. Don’t for a minute think that you were not brainwashed! You were!

There is no substitute for being deprogrammed . NONE! Your family can’t do it, because they are too emotionally involved with you. You need someone who is a professional or someone who belonged to a cult. and Peoples Temple was a CULT!

Please do not misunderstand. I am definitely not for deprogramming when it is not voluntary, because I feel that every soul has its own role to play and we all have a right to fulfill that role! However, voluntary deprogramming is essential for a clear mind! How else are you to know if your thoughts are your own, or something you learned through brainwashing?

About the time I went through the Human Freedom Center with Al and Jeannie Mills, the ACLU took a formal stand against brainwashing. In March 1977, the organization adopted a statement “which deals solely with what we regard as a violation of constitutional freedoms. ACLU opposes he use of mental incompetency proceedings, temporary conservatorship, or denial of government protection as a method of depriving people of the free exercise of religion, at least with respect to people who have reached the age of majority.”

Part of me agrees with that, because I do think we need to fulfill the roles we have chosen in this life. However, I also feel that if my family had been kidnapped and deprogrammed, perhaps we would have some residue of bitterness toward our kidnappers and perhaps toward the cult, but my husband and son would be alive with me today!

“Violence begets violence.” I do believe that! Violently attacking someone, be it physically or through sleep deprivation, or placing ice packs put on their bodies; mentally belittling a person for accepting such beliefs or accusing them of turning against their family; spiritually telling them they are going to hell for joining the cult or they will live forever in purgatory. no one has the right to do such things to another person! It is not right, even in the context of deprogramming.

But there was no violence in my deprogramming, nothing but love and understanding. Everything was corroborated through the witness of other ex-members, people I trusted!

Okay, maybe you think you don’t need to be deprogrammed? How many lies did Jim Jones tell that you were aware of? How many times did Jim Jones tell you, “The end justifies the means”?

Would you allow your child to be in a boxing match with someone bigger than him? Is that how you punish your children?

When you accepted Jim Jones as your “Father”, did you accept him as Jesus reincarnated, or as GOD?

Did you think Father Divine spoke through Jim Jones? Because that’s what he told the dear seniors from Father Divine’s group.

What excuse did Jim give for placing public address speakers throughout the camp in Guyana and for preaching constantly? What was his reasoning? Did you agree with it?

When the meals became sparse and people were just eating rice, did you think that was okay too?

Did you know that Jonestown was once a marvelous commune of happy, joyful people who worked together as a family while they whistled or sang songs? That was before Jim Jones moved to Guyana, before it became like a concentration camp. Were you unable to see how “Father’s” state of mind was becoming more and more paranoid? Were you getting paranoid too?

I don’t think you have to be deprogrammed by a ex-member of the cult, although I do think it helps. There are many programs where one can search their mind for what they believe, through a group, with a ex-cult support group, someone you trust who can tap the inner workings of your mind through Balancing the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical parts of you. But you must remember, brainwashing goes deep into the subconscious and becomes part of your thinking process, so you have to examine everything carefully, to be sure that your thinking patterns are yours and not Jim Jones.

(Following her departure from Peoples Temple, Neva Sly Hargrave spent several years volunteering for the “Hot Line” in Reno and counseled adults and children who had been abused. She is a minister and teaches metaphysics and healing techniques. Her complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. She can be reached through this website.)