One of my very best friends in Peoples Temple was Alice Inghram. Our friendship began soon after I joined in May of 1970.
When I started going around Peoples Temple, I joined up with Chris Lewis, who lived about 10 blocks from where I was living in San Francisco. Chris had recently been released from prison and had become a member of Peoples Temple after overcoming a heroin addiction with the help of Jim Jones. From May until September, I continued living in San Francisco and dating Chris. He lived in an upstairs room of his aunt and uncle’s home on Laguna. I moved in there also. His aunt, Luedella Duncan, owned a hair salon where both she and Alice worked. We saw both Alice and Luedella frequently.
Around September, Alice, her daughter Ava, and I moved up to Redwood Valley. Alice’s husband stayed working in San Francisco and came up on weekends. We continued to have a close friendship. Alice took over a board-and-care facility for disabled youth. I spent some time with her, and also covered the home while she did errands or came to Redwood Valley meetings. Her niece Vera also spent a lot of time in Redwood Valley before she left to live in the Santa Rosa dorms where some of Temple students went to study.
I just loved Alice. When she was determined, you could forget about changing her mind or distracting her. And when something was funny, she was the first to break into a belly laugh. She was not one to gossip or chitchat, but her outspokenness was refreshing and entertaining.
I remember one evening when she went to a service, and I spent the night there, covering her home. In the morning, I quickly showered and washed my hair before going to work at the local welfare department. Unfortunately for me, I had used hair relaxer instead of shampoo on my fine, straight hair. The result was that I looked like I had dunked my hair in olive oil. I kept thinking my hair would dry or somehow be okay. Once I got to work, I went into the ladies’ room and washed my hair with hand soap under the faucet. After drying my hair with paper towels, I stayed in the bathroom until I thought I was presentable. It was another example of Temple members underestimating the intelligence of members of the Ukiah community. Often, we thought we were very slick indeed. In this case, I’m sure the “presentable” never did happen.
When I told Alice about it later on, we laughed long and hard. She was just wonderful to share a joke with. Once we shared some of these moments of hilarity, these pretty much became the basis of a much deeper friendship.
Alice and I had some responsibilities we shared in the Temple. We were both on the Planning Commission, both counselors in Redwood Valley, and both greeters at the doors of the different Temples where we were having services. We also shared good friends in San Francisco, where we stayed when we needed housing. We also had compatible personalities so we would catch time together as we could.
Alice and Ava didn’t go to Guyana until nearly a year after I went down. She immediately went to work in the community store – it was called a “store,” but all things were free – and maintained all the supplies from toothbrushes, to underwear, to towels. When a new person arrived from the US, Alice would store the extra supplies that the arrival brought with them. She would let Jonestown residents know what to ask for on their “wish lists” that they sent to family members back home so that the store would be well-stocked.
At the end of October 1978, when Jim sent me back from Jonestown to Georgetown for what turned out to be the final time, I remember going to get supplies from Alice at the store. We talked for a while, and we were both excited that I would be getting my old job back in Guyana’s capital. As always, she gave me some dress clothes and all the other supplies I might need in town. That was the last time I saw her.
I often talk about the contributions that members of Peoples Temple could have made if they had only survived. Alice is at the top of my list. She could kick butt, and she could see through phoniness. I not only miss her on a personal level. I miss her on a mover-of-mountain level. She was a fierce advocate who protected the voiceless, and the infirm. She was “Mrs. NO-Compromise,” and I loved her for that.
(Laura Johnston Kohl, who had lived in Jonestown but was working in Georgetown on 18 November, died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. Her writings for this website appear here.)