I was very close to my grandmother, I called her Mama. She was my protector. Growing up in a household with my abusive father, I knew I could always turn to her to rescue me whenever things got really bad. One of the first memories that I have as a teenager is that soon after my grandmother passed, I was angry. Very angry and hurt. How could it happen, I wondered, that she died from the cancer that Jim Jones surpassingly cured her from. I was mad at Jim Jones for lying and I was mad at God. As I think back, in my mind, Jim Jones and God were one in the same to me back then.
My junior high school was located on the main strip leading up to the UC Berkeley campus. During those times, the love, sex and rock and roll movement among the hippies who hung out in the area was very much alive, along with the more political Vietnam anti-war protests of the era. I remember walking home from school one day, and a young hippie kid walked up to me and a friend of mine. He asked if we wanted some “acid.” “Acid? What’s that,” I replied. “It will get you high,” he said. “High? What’s that?” He then said what were magical words to me: “It will make you feel better.” And boy, did a dose of “feel better” sound good to me.
At the age of 13, then, without knowing anything or ever even hearing the word marijuana, without ever had taken a drink, my first experience with drugs was LSD. And boy, was I in for a surprise. I had what I could only call a bad trip. You’d think that would have been it for me, but it wasn’t. I soon started drinking cheap wine with my friends. We would get one on the local winos to purchase a bottle for us from the corner store near my house. Soon afterwards, I smoked my first joint, and I remember, thinking this is so cool. All of the pain, fear and anger that I had locked up inside from abuse and the loss of my grandmother, the weed took that away. It became my escape. From the ages of 13 to 18, I smoked weed almost daily.
I dropped out of school. If I wasn’t committing burglaries to support my weed habit, I was hanging out with the hippies on Telegraph Avenue. My parents had no idea I wasn’t in school until I was arrested and charged with 36 counts of burglary. My two friends who were arrested with me were a few years older and both were sent away to a juvenile detention camp. Because I was so young – I was still 13 – the state had no facility to send me to, so I was placed on probation until the age of 18. I remember someone saying that I was possibly the youngest person in history in the State of California to be charged with so many felonies.
On my 18th birthday – the end of my probation – I celebrated (if you could call it that) with my first hit of cocaine. This would begin my journey into the world of addiction that would last to the age of 30.
The weed was good. But the cocaine was even better. I felt like I had had a voice inside of me that sixth sense, gift or special perception, whatever you want to call it – which had allowed me to sense something was terribly wrong with Jim Jones. That gift had stayed with me through my teens. And the cocaine shut it completely down. For years, cocaine worked. It made me feel “normal.” It took away my victim identity, the anger and my fear of people. In a word, I found my escape from the reality that I didn’t understand and wanted so desperately to avoid. In cocaine, I found empowerment. During my early years or using, I use to think that cocaine actually made me smart, philosophical, and intellectual. It helped me develop my belief that there was no such thing as a god, and that all religion was just a sham created by the CIA to keep black folk, the poor and the weak-minded in check.
But it was even better than that. The girl who had given me my first hit of cocaine, also gave me a pocket full of cash. She was a prostitute. I had found myself, so I thought! I was a king. I was special. I quickly became a “star “in the ghetto. Because I had witnessed mind control and manipulation first hand, I knew the “game.” Tell the people (for me, “people” meant women, of course) what they want to hear and need to hear, offer then hope and a shot at success, become their everything, and you’ll find success! And this I did. Women, cars, money, drugs, I had it all. By the time I was 19, I was running my first real business, a escort service with six fulltime employees/girlfriends. I had a brand new BMW and my own apartment directly across the street from a high school in Berkeley, the place where all my younger friends who looked up to me and admired me for my “success” would come and hang out and do drugs with me all day.
The lessons that I had learned growing up – on how not to get my ass beat, on how to lie, no matter what – the whole game of being a pimp, all of it was about mind control, and this I had learned well from Jim Jones. Religion, street game, all the same.
I recall the day that the news reported the Jonestown massacre. The thing that I remember most after watching the news on TV was “See, I told you.” I felt nothing for the victims. I was so coked up, I had no feelings. All I could remember thinking was that everyone killed was weak-minded and had fallen for his game, and this was the price they paid for being so stupid.
At the age of 23, that voice/gift/whatever it was, started to come back. It started convincing me of my chosen occupation and lifestyle. Along with the rightful teachings from my mother and grandmother as a child, I started feeling that what I was doing was wrong. Then, just like that, one day, I woke up and told my main woman, I was done! I walked away from making at least a thousand dollars a day, to nothing! I had been convicted within my spirit and I could not go on one more day living this sinful life.
Strangely enough, when I walked away from the sex industry into what I thought would become a new life, I got involved with what I can clearly call a cult: The Science of the Spoken Word, The Teachings of the Ascended Masters, The Great White Brotherhood were a few of the names they were known by. Their spiritual leader – Mother, they called her – was Elizabeth Clare Prophet. My brother and sister were already deeply involved with the organization and introduced me to it. My girlfriend joined ranks with them first, and I soon followed and joined the church too. It didn’t take long for me to see – once again – that something was wrong. However, I wanted so badly to know God that I gave it a try, for two years.
When I left the “life” and joined the church, though, I had some extra baggage: My addiction to cocaine followed me. Through this church I was desperately searching for God and wanted so badly to believe in something. As time went by, though and I began to see that most of the emphasis was on “Mother” and not God, I decided to leave. Once again feeling that all religion was a sham. But I still had my baggage with me.
In the mid 80’s, I found myself with a $200 a day cocaine habit. Although I had left the “game” years before, I had a new game: white color crime. I became a black market travel agent. No matter where you wanted to go, anywhere in the world, I could get you a ticket for half price! This was my hustle, and this supported not only my drug habit, but it also gave me what I thought was a normal life. I was making money, I was successful at what I was doing and had all of the toys to prove it. I was a functional addict.
And then came crack cocaine! Crack took me down in about two years. I went from a lavish lifestyle, to street life. One month I was driving a brand new Porsche, the next, I was walking the streets. If you have ever driven through the inner city late at night and seen the living dead walking around late at night searching for drugs – the zombies, as I call them – that was me. That is what crack did to me. I found myself living for and loving something that I hated. I found myself crying out for help to a God that I didn’t believe in. I had gotten so bad in my addiction, that every time I got high – and I did it daily – I overdosed. I called myself getting smart, so on the days that I had a lot of money and really wanted to get real high, I would drive to the local hospital and sit in the parking lot, thinking that if I overdosed and had a heart attack, I would be right there and all I had to do was run inside for them to save me. Towards the end, this became my regular ritual.
And so it happened. I remember one time running inside the hospital and telling them I had overdosed on crack and I couldn’t breathe. They gave me oxygen – which I would later learn was a no-no for crack overdoses– and my heart rate shot up to a 180 beats per minute. Then they told me there was nothing they could do to bring me down. I asked them if they could just let me drink a can of beer or pop me some valium. That would help to bring me down. It always had. They told me that if I went into cardiac arrest, they would put me on life support and hope that I would come out of it. That was all they could or would do. I was so sick in my addiction that I remember thinking, boy, I will be glad when this rush wears off so I can get back to doing the rest of my drugs….
In 1990, I found the 12 Step program. Actually, I had been to a few meetings before, and I had been in a couple of rehabs for a short period of time, but this time when I walked into a meeting – instead of feeling like I was an outsider and that these addicts who looked like normal people could not possibly be related to me and my pain, I decided to give it a try. The 12 Step God was not a man. They told me God could be whoever or whatever I wanted him to be. I liked that concept. No lies, no manipulation. No one asking me for money or telling me I was going to hell, if I didn’t believe what they believed in. I quickly and desperately grabbed a hold of this concept and I allowed the group, the meetings to become my god. I have been what they call clean and sober for 22 years, as of this past August 23.
Through my maturity in the 12 Step programs, I began to seek what I call the real God of all. Through the years, I have found and established a relationship with him that allowed me to really live a normal life. Even though I dropped out of school in the 7th grade, I thank God today for allowing me to hang out with the hippies of the 70’s who were not bums or homeless people, but mostly highly intellectual students who had dropped out of mainstream life and chosen an alternate lifestyle. My education, I believe, came from being around smart people with great minds. I have owned or controlled not one, but three multi-million dollar corporations in the past 22 years, one being the largest private-practiced HIV client in the US, where I was the Vice President and CEO. I use to sit in my office and laugh thinking, if these people only knew….
Two years ago, my mother suddenly passed. Her passing became another major turning point for me and my life took on a new meaning. I decided that no longer would I chase after money and worldly success as I had done so even in my sobriety. Now, instead of chasing success, I am going to chase my dreams, money or no money. As I have begun to do so, my focus is to live a godly life and to seek and follow God, no matter where it takes me. I have been broke, homeless and even greatly depressed at times. But no matter what, today I choose to hang onto God and seek only His will for my life. And as I began to do so, I still find that even though I do have a relationship with God today, it is still so hard for me to really trust and believe in Him. I am trying though. He is all I got, and I find a bit of contentment in this. But still, my relationship with God is not where I want it to be, and even though my heart cries out for Him, my mind still questions Him. Is God really real?
(RP is a former member of Peoples Temple. His other article in this edition of the jonestown report is Damn You, Jim Jones!)