Showtime

by Eugene Smith

The music is dying down, clapping is slowing, and folks are looking at us. All one hundred, plus. I’m holding Ollie’s hand and waiting. Jones starts to call names. Man, I don’t fucking believe it. I thought this was to have ceased stateside. No more discipline, at least publicly.

I’m in a tight situation. My Mom is much too acclimated, Ollie is eight and a half months pregnant, I have no map, no compass, no passport, no money. However, I do have a pocket knife… and the reality of the situation has just sunk in very, very deep. Let’s weigh everything. Uh-oh. Jones is getting worked up. He is beginning his (LET ME SET YOU STRAIGHT) speech.

What we have here is a strange moment in time. It’s that fight or flight moment, that moment when you feel rubbery the adrenaline is starting to flow your legs are twitching tunnel vision sets in you can hear and feel everything around you.

My palms are sweating. Ollie says I am holding her hand too tight it hurts. I let go immediately. I start to scan the pavilion with no idea what I am looking for.

There are three men and their wives and children in front of the audience. Jones is berating the young men about their transgressions on the bus trip across the U.S., from San Francisco to Florida and further escapades in Georgetown, Guyana. I will not mention their names here. They are all dead and can offer no defense. Whatever mistakes they may have made were and are benign mistakes in comparison to the price they will have to pay. The price we all had to pay.

Two of the men have to work straight for the next twenty four hours. The last one really set Jones off, and he gets a ass whuppin by a couple of the guards.

Jones proceeds to tell us that there is a spy among us, and that all cassette tapes will be confiscated immediately. What? Bullshit!

This was a real stickler. I had three-hundred and sixty five, ninety minute tapes in my dufflebag. I wasn’t returning to the U.S. I needed to have my music.

And what’s this bullshit about a spy about anyway? Who would dare?

Now I’m paranoid. Supposedly the spy was to pass the information via a cassette tape. For the next few hours it is paranoia, defense of the homeland, ferreting out of the supposed spy. Then, to top it all off for the night is a dire warning and commentary from Jones.

  1. He had already caught a spy.
  2. The spy was being kept in the banana cellar in a box.
  3. Do not make any noise when you pass the box he was being kept in.
  4. This was necessary!

At this point I have had it, sensory overload. I’m not finished. A WHITE NIGHT is declared. What the hell is a WHITE NIGHT? Men are running it’s frenzied again folks are being told to stay calm. From the stage, Jones tells us, If they come for one of us, they might as well come for all of us. He is directing everyone to sing and yell as loud as we can.

I didn’t sign up for this. My family’s life is in danger and there is little if anything I can do to change the situation. Our enemies are in the jungle. Their intention is to kill us. My friends have been sentenced to work twenty-four hours straight, I have seen my first Jonestown ass-whuppin, it’s a WHITE NIGHT, we are under attack, my wife is eight and a half months pregnant, we are in the middle of a jungle, which is so dark I can’t see it, I have no exit plan. In fact where is the exit? I have no idea who is friend or foe…

However, I do have a pocket knife.

(Eugene Smith joined Peoples Temple in 1973 and lived in the Temple’s San Francisco commune before leaving for Jonestown in fall 1977. He was in Georgetown on November 18 clearing items from customs. Numerous members of his family – including his mother, wife, and infant son – died in Jonestown. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. He can be reached at eugene.e.smith@gmail.com.)

Last modified on January 14th, 2014.
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