I have been told many times by therapists and support groups that I should tell my story. How my three years with Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, beginning when I was seven years old, has led to 40 years of a difficult life.
How the most apparent effects of brainwashing may be temporary on the human mind, but how they will dampen the abilities of young minds to learn and how that will affect them the rest of their lives.
How the mysterious death of my mother while in the Temple is still unsolved.
How I got out of the Temple and straight into the hands of an evil stepmother, with whom I spent eight years of being belittled and called dumb and stupid, my hair pulled and face slapped on almost a daily basis, terrorized throughout my life with threats of how her birth son Terrell was going to kick my ass some day.
How I joined the Army on the delayed entry program six months before I got out of high school, and, after graduation, how I spent seven years in the military – luckily – without seeing combat action.
How I struggled through life as an alcoholic, got sober for five years, got married, and fell off wagon. I am now sober, and I stay sober without A.A.
How, for many reasons, I can’t keep a job at any one place for longer than two years.
How I’m intelligent but not educated.
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My name is Daniel Eugene Harpe.
I was born May 15, 1960 in Willits, California. When I was six, our family moved to a yellow two-story house in Boonville across the street from the Anderson Valley elementary school. We had two Shetland ponies named Mike and Pat.
My bed was upstairs in the attic. On the floor next to my bed was a small hole in the drywall over the kitchen, and I could see and hear my parents arguing about us kids. When they divorced not long after that, I wasn’t surprised.
My mom, my sisters Cathy and Debby, and I moved into an apartment in Boonville next to the fire department. It was there my mom told me about a church called Peoples Temple, which she heard helped people who were down and out.
The church building was not yet built, so the preacher, Jim Jones, held his sermons in the carport of their house. I remember standing there watching the carpenters hammering nails into the frame of the building as it was going up. There was a light mist of rain leaving a rainbow, and I remember feeling happy.
Pretty soon we moved to a house on the west side of Ukiah and were going to the Temple quite often. My mom gave our ponies to the Temple. One Sunday all of these kids were in line to ride Mike and Pat. I went up to pet my pony and was told to get away and wait my turn. I was really hurt.
Our first Christmas at the Ukiah house, my mom put up a tree, and every day when I came home from school, there were a few more packages under it. Then one day just before Christmas, all the presents where gone. I asked my mom, what happened to all the presents? She said that we had to give them to the Temple – that way kids who didn’t have a present would get one – and that on Christmas day we could go up and get one present. But what about the presents from my aunt, I argued. I knew there were some clothes for school.
On Christmas Day at the Temple, I grabbed the biggest box I saw. If I was going to get only one, I would make sure it would be a big one. Inside this big box, though, was another box, and inside that box was another box, and inside that box was some wadded up newspaper and a couple of rocks. I thought, what kind of gift is this. A black man standing next to me said, look around some more. This guy was more excited than I was about opening this present, so I figured he was the one who made the gift. I asked, what about the rocks? He replied that his dad did that for him as a kid. When you shake the box, it would sound exciting. He thought that was the greatest thing ever. And besides, the box inside a box inside a box meant I got to open three presents instead of one. I removed some of the newspaper and found a bottle of bubble maker and a pink hair barrette. I felt disappointed three times. It was the worst Christmas ever.
I didn’t go up and get a present the next year. And my aunt didn’t send anything, knowing it would be taken away.
A lot of the time we would hear Jones preach about his past healings, and how someday there was going to be a nuclear war. There were other times when Jones would call up the children, and we would have to give him hugs and kisses.
We eventually moved again to a house on the north side of Ukiah. Soon afterwards, my mom got sick and went to the hospital for a few days. I was listening to Jones preach on Sunday, when I looked across the church and saw my mom sitting there. I ran straight to her and don’t remember anybody being in the way, even though there were rows of people between me and her. That’s when Jones started preaching about the love of a mother and her son.
We were strict Temple members, going to church events day and nightly. At strict Temple meetings, we were not allowed to talk, go to the bathroom, or fall asleep. There were these men walking around keeping people awake and moving people who were talking. These men also wore guns on their side. We were told it was for our safety. These meetings would go on all night, several nights a week, with locked doors, no one in, no one out. I once saw a grown man pass out and piss all over himself. I would be like a zombie in school. Totally out of it.
Sometimes it wasn’t exhaustion but daydreaming that got me in trouble. I developed the habit of daydreaming instead of listening when Jones talked during those many nights in Temple meetings. It became a problem when I was in school. As soon as the teacher started to talk, I would go into my dream world. I wasn’t able to concentrate in school, and I couldn’t remember what I just read. This has been a problem for me all my life.
On some nights, a group of ladies would get together and baby sit while writing hundred of phony letters to the governor’s office. They would use different handwritings and take a name from one page in the phone book and match it with an address from another page.
If you got caught chewing gum at a strict meeting, you would be automatically thrown into the church’s indoor swimming pool. One day a black man wearing a suit got caught chewing gum, and he got thrown into the pool. A couple of months later, an old lady got caught too, and she got thrown in, but they let her put on a bathing suit first.
The pool was used for other things besides baptisms and punishments, though. An ex-Navy SEAL taught me how to swim. The first swimming class, he splashed water in our faces and let us play in the water. The second swimming class, he taught us how to swim like a frog. The third week, he covered half of the pool with a tarp and made me swim under water across the pool and back. He told me if I tried to come up for air, he was going to push me under. But he let me wait until I was ready to swim back to the other side. And I thanked him for that.
Jones had bought out the center part of Redwood Valley. He was trying to buy out Redwood Valley and change the name to Temple Valley. People who wouldn’t sell to him ended up dead, made to look like a suicide.
We moved again this time to east side of Ukiah. I don’t know why we had to move so much. We didn’t eat much and we never had any food at home. I was malnourished and had real bad ear aches. My mom couldn’t pay for me to see a doctor, but someone told her to have me chew some gum. And that helped. I did get really sick one time while we were living in that house. Whether it was the house, or exhaustion, or lack of food, I don’t know. But I remember waking up feeling really sick and I couldn’t breathe. It lasted for a couple of days.
It wasn’t long before we moved again, this time to Talmage, a small town east of Ukiah. There my mom said that we had to drink warm water and vinegar ever morning, by orders from Jones.
One day, a man came over and took us on a picnic up in the hills south of Willits, where he said he wanted to build a house someday. About six months later I went on these day-and-night training exercises with Jones, and it was the same place we’d been on the picnic. There Jones and the ex-Navy SEAL from my swimming class told us what to do if a nuclear bomb went off. We ate some military C-rations. And then we were paired off into groups to try and catch the other group at night time. I remember laying there in the woods while the other group went by, trying hard not to cough or sneeze.
About this time Jones started buying buses, and we made a bus trip to a Sacramento church. Jones did a healing at this church that I didn’t believe. A lady in a wheel chair came in, and he made her walk. But she didn’t look crippled to me. I also thought that I’d seen her at the Redwood Valley church.
There were a lot of healings, and stories of healings. There was this one healing at the Redwood Valley church that I remember Jones’ wife Marceline helped with. There was an old lady there who supposedly had cancer. Jones was preaching and all the people were singing and waving their arms, while Marceline took the old lady into the women’s bathroom and turn off the light. Pretty soon Jones said he had removed the cancer from the woman, and she and Marceline came out of the bathroom screaming with joy, and Marceline went around the church showing people the cancer that the old lady had thrown up. I didn’t believe it at all. It looked like hamburger and dog food mixed together.
But you didn’t speak out. There was a boy who spoke up at one time, but he ended up dead, poisoned. Jones said people from the outside poisoned our water supply, and that’s how the boy died. When I looked at the water fountain, Jones told me that it had been fixed. I didn’t believe it. How could they clean the poison from all the water, I wondered.
A few weeks later, some other kids and I were wondering about the boy who died. An old black lady heard us, and she said to us quietly – but with a scared look on her face – “That boy Curtis B. died from rat poison in his coke. And that’s how the boy died.”
At the end of 1969 there was a party at the church in Redwood Valley, and a lot of people from the San Francisco church was there. They were serving lime Kool-aid and hot Dr. Pepper. When everyone was sitting at the tables ready to eat, Jones asked everyone to make a toast with the lime Kool-aid. After everyone took a drink, Jones said everyone was going to die. I didn’t know what to think. Some people gasped out loud, others thought he was kidding, while others seemed to calmly accept their fate. He was testing his followers.
One Sunday my dad picked up my two sisters Cathy and Debby and me. He was supposed to drop us off at the Temple at 9:00 pm. That night, as we walked up to the glass doors of the Temple, we could hear Jones preaching real fast and loud. My dad knocked on the glass door. A man came and unlocked it and let us three kids in, but stopped my dad from going in. As I was led away, I remember seeing my dad beat on the glass door twice and call out, “What kind of church is this if you won’t let someone in to see what it’s all about?”
One morning our mom took the three of us on a trip back to the yellow house in Boonville. We went for a walk down to the river behind the elementary school. There I found this beautiful rock with special notches. My mom told me that the Indians used that rock to scrape deer hides. I was proud of my find. When I took the rock for show and tell at the Redwood Valley school, a teacher, Mary B., the sister of one of Jones’ finance secretaries, took it from me and would not give it back. That rock was very special, since it was the last thing my mom and I found together.
After a while, my mom wanted to get out of the Temple. But it was hard to do.
One morning in March 1970, we woke up before dawn and our mother wasn’t there. Her purse, her jacket, and her car were there, but we couldn’t find her. She had gone to a party the night before and let me have a friend from the Temple stay that night. His name was Tommy, a black friend of mine. When my sister Debby went outside calling for our mom, she heard our mom’s voice coming from the garage saying “I’m in here.” Debby slid the door open and saw our mother hanging from the rafters. She had been dead for hours, but I strongly feel that my mom, Maxine Harpe, did not kill herself!
Jones was going to adopt us into his family, but the authorities found my dad, who had remarried. He fought the Temple and got us out.
My sisters and I lived with him and his new wife in a house a couple of miles from the Temple. My stepmother was very abusive, calling me names and slapping me almost daily. But she did send me to special ed. classes and educated me about drugs, and I feel that helped me out in life. Six months before graduation from high school, I went into the Army. I was home on leave in November 1978 when everything went down in Guyana.
I have lived a difficult life, medicating my depression with alcohol, and numbing my mind with marijuana. I am sober now for a few years, trying to repair the wreckage of my past.
(Dan Harpe can be reached at email@example.com. His complete set of writings for this site appears here.)