Letter from Stephan Jones

Dear Mr. Haulman and Mr. Kamphausen,

I’m long overdue in thanking you for the compassion and courage you’ve shown from the start. Thank you for making a place where my loved ones could be laid to rest and their loved ones can come to pay their respects. It’s clear to me that you’ve extended yourselves and your resources purely from the goodness of your hearts, without concern for any praise or ridicule that might come your way.

You have my admiration and gratitude.

And now to finally see a memorial in place, a simple and lovely remembrance of each individual who died on November 18th, 1978…I don’t know how to say what I’m feeling right now. This means so much to so many. For people to see their names, their ages, their diversity…I am so happy.

I will be there on the 29th, for sure, to celebrate this with friends and family.

I can’t thank you enough. If there’s anything I can ever do to help you, please let me know.

To that end, despite a huge part of me that wants no part of it, I’m going to weigh in on the controversy that has been ignited about my father’s name being included on the memorial.

Honestly, if Jim Jones’s name had not been included, I would not have lifted a finger in protest – it’s not important enough to me to foster any ill will over it, but now that it has been included, I’m glad. From the first mention of a memorial wall some 30 years ago, back when I was still enraged at my father, I felt it was best to include his name on any memorial. I have a number of reasons for this that I’d like to offer here in support of your efforts.

Although it’s clear to me that the deaths in Jonestown would not have happened if Dad weren’t in the picture, everyone agrees that he didn’t get it done alone. Setting aside the many contributions of others to the climate of fear and despair that so pervaded Jonestown long before its final days and just focusing on that dreadful final night, we all know there were shooters at the airstrip, mixers and injectors of poison, armed guards, and other who facilitated the deaths, the killings, including those who physically restrained and forced…I think I’ve made my point. Who can judge who was a killer? Where do we draw the line? Who determines who deserves to be on a memorial and who doesn’t? God, there are people who hold the U.S. Government and the press and the Concerned Relatives responsible for what happened. Should Congressman Ryan, Patti Parks, and the members of the press who died be left off the memorial?

And why don’t we talk about those people in Jonestown who helped with the killings? Why don’t we rail against them? There is no one reason, of course, but I would argue that two main reasons are compassion – understanding that people lose their way, get swept up – and respect for their loved ones and family who have survived them. Well, like it or not, Jim Jones has surviving family. Forget me, forget my brothers…my sister. Jim Jones has grandbabies…and he will have great grandchildren and the burden of his legacy will likely not stop there.

Another reason to include Dad on the memorial, as I see it, is that if we continue to demonize my father, to speak of and show only his ugliness and his wrongs, most people will continue to ask, “How could anyone follow that guy? Why would they listen to him for a minute, let alone devote themselves to his movement?” And they will rest easy in their belief that it could never happen to them. How in the world is that of service to anyone, especially the people of Jonestown?

I once was gently asked, “How can you ever be proud of your father?” Right up to the moment that question was asked I thought I hated my father, but the words that came tumbling out my mouth in reply were “I don’t have to be proud of him, I just need to love and forgive him.” I knew those words were true the instant I heard them and I set about doing whatever was necessary to reach that ideal. I won’t bore you with what that was, but the most important thing I learned was the absolute power of love and understanding. And in close second was the realization that when I let go of being Dad’s victim – and of all the hatred and blame – and I really got him, really understood him, I was free of him and far more effective in standing up to people like him and to institutions and organizations like the one he started and destroyed. I was free to deal with me, to learn from ALL that has happened in my life, to be aware of and work to transform those frailties that make me vulnerable to men like my father and that might even lead to me becoming one, on some level.

And I was freed to truly honor and celebrate the loved ones I’d lost…to do what I could to make the very best of – to help us gain the most from – their sacrifice.

So, that’s what I’m trying to do here with too many words.

We have gone from being viewed as a bunch of crazies who dutifully lined up to “drink the Kool-Aid” to being hopeless victims who were tortured and murdered by one evil madman. When will they let us be human, landing somewhere around the messy middle, like the rest of our magnificent species?

With warmest regard and utmost gratitude,

Stephan Jones

 

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 9th, 2013.
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