Slavery of Faith: An Excerpt

by Leslie Monique Wagner-Wilson

Prologue

“Leslie, Leslie!” I heard a voice I had only dreamt about. As I turned slowly towards the voice, there stood my sister Michelle, “Where have you been?” I cried out. She grabbed my arms and pulled me to her. “We have been looking for you!” She whispered, holding me tight. Within her arms I felt safe and loved. Immediately the fear and pain I had harbored for years, left my entire being. Holding her and sobbing, I looked up at her and asked “Is it really you…how did you make it, where is Mom and Mark?” She grabbed my hand saying “come with me I have something to show you.” I took her hand tightly, scared to let go. We walked for awhile, not feeling my feet touch the ground. We came to a building with stairs leading downward to a door. She knocked a series of thumps, as if it was a signal and as the door opened, I immediately heard the music before I saw the choir singing, with their blue dresses on. I screamed, “Oh my God!” I could barely talk behind the flood of tears. The choir waved and continued singing. Looking further through the room, a woman was approaching me, “Mom” I shouted running towards her. From behind her came my brother Mark. The shock of it all dropped me to my knees and grabbing my mothers’ legs, sobbing, crying out “where have you been, I have been here all these years by myself!” My heartfelt whole again, life again, flowing through my total being, blood pumping into my heart finally, healing. Walking past me were three security guards in their black leisure suits, red shirts and black berets. I shouted at my first love “Why didn’t you tell me?” PF and I had reconnected years earlier. From the corner of my eye was movement. My head turned ever so slightly, there was Jim Jones, and surrounded by people I thought had died. He looked at me with his piercing black eyes, and nodded his head, his lips slightly curled in a smile. “My God!” screaming “it was all a lie.” As I opened my eyes, my husband lay next to me; I snuggled closer to him and with my lips near his ears waking him with tears still streaming down my face, I whispered, “Baby, I had the best dream.”

Chapter 1 : The First Attempt

Before long, Joe and I began having problems. He began distancing himself from me. My thoughts turned to ways of escaping daily, the problem was how? Every day, I prayed that God would open another door to help me. As they say, “from your lips to God’s ears” a plan began to emerge. Not clearly at first, but it started with a trip to Georgetown. “How can you get to the capital?” I thought. All of a sudden, it dawned on me! Hide your glasses and they will send you to town to get a new pair! I had been wearing glasses since I was 13. So I carefully planted my glasses deep inside of my trunk at the foot of our bed. As I planned, they approved for me to be sent to Georgetown to get a new pair. Since I had no plans to ever leave my son in someone else’s care again, the only way was to reach the U.S. Embassy and tell them what was really happening in Jonestown. Jim had spies everywhere, especially inside the government, but I knew that as I had sought God’s intervention, a way would be made. It was just as hard to trust your own family. My resolve was to be able to discern how the Spirit wanted me to move. So, feeling at peace with how I was to proceed, I readied myself for the journey. My faith was still strong and no matter what Jim said about him being God, I knew I had God in me also.

When the day arrived for me to leave, I kissed and hugged my son, Jakari. Right away a tingling went through me creating goose bumps. Déjà vu. This time I knew what I was doing. The ride to the boat on the tractor trailer was as always rough. The thought of getting back on that boat, was agonizing, and I did not look forward to the possibility of a rough sea.

When we arrived at the dock, the “Cudjoe” was as I remembered, all wood and worn from her journeys. Pt. Kaituma was surrounded by trees, and as my eyes scanned the little town, some of the Amerindians were watching us. I wonder what they think of us. Michael told us to unload and as I jumped from the tractor trailer, the rest of the crew began unloading trunks and boxes walking up the plank to put them inside the Cudjoe. As I gathered my suitcase, I stretched my legs, and got on board. The bright light of the sun, cast down, shadowing the boat. It was surreal. Boarding, I looked around for a place to sit. Holding on to my sleeping bag, I chose a spot close to the back of the boat and sat. The others on the boat were talking a lot. My mood was not conversational. How would I reach the U.S. Embassy is the only thought on my mind. My thoughts were interrupted as I heard the bang of the engine, and the noise it created. Holding, on I turned to wave to my fellow comrades at the dock. “See you when you get back!” someone yelled. Smiling, I waved although inside I was frightened. As the boat rocked and swayed moving slowly up the river, I began a conversation with one of the other passengers. Angela was going into the Capital to relieve someone who had been there for a couple of months. She chattered away, and inside I knew that she was glad to be getting a break. At least at Lamaha Gardens the name of the Peoples Temple house, she could take a hot shower, use a real toilet (with real toilet paper) and enjoy some privacy which was lacking in Jonestown. The group in town would be rotated, bringing workers back into Jonestown and sending replacements. There was not a hope that they would allow me to work there. And honestly, I did not want to be far from my child. As she continued to talk, I glanced ahead as the boat left the mouth of Pt. Kaituma and headed out to sea. I searched for the separation of the waters color as I witnessed on the first trip to Jonestown. It amazed me to see Mother Nature at her best. The water went from a muddy, reddish looking color to a beautiful teal blue. As hard as I looked I did not notice it. I opened up the book I brought and tried to read to take my mind off of what I had to do. My stomach began to gnaw with hunger pains and I suddenly heard someone say, “Supper is ready.” I steadied myself as I stood up and walked to the galley. There were only six of us going into the Capitol. Someone handed me a plate of wonderful peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Living in Jonestown, I had learned to be thankful for whatever food we were given. As we gathered together we talked about Jonestown and our families. Later, after dinner, I went back to my spot and opened my book back up. I read, feeling the rocking the boat and as the sun began to set, the beauty of this almost moved me to tears. This is beautiful I thought why couldn’t the circumstances be different? Why could I not just go along with the program I thought? My eyes began to get heavy as the swaying was making me sleepy. When I awoke, the moon was high in the sky and the swishing of the water against the side of boat, giving me some peace. The quietness was beautiful, for tonight I would not have to hear sirens wailing, or Jim on the intercom telling us to get to the pavilion. Suddenly, sadness enveloped me as I thought about my child, and the others, possibly being awoken in a shroud of fear. Somehow I have to get him out. The seasickness did not visit me again. As I laid there looking up, the stars shone brightly. I thought of Harriet Tubman, leading her people out in the dark of the night, with only the moon as her guide. At that moment, I could feel the desperation they felt. Not knowing if they were going to make it or not, but trying for freedom was worth dying for. My eyes began to get heavy again.

When I awoke it was the blaze of the sun beating down on me. Stretching, as I did every day as a child, I held on to the side of the boat, glancing around saying good morning to those that were awake. Steadying myself I went to the latrine. Splashing water on my face, I looked in the little mirror and thought I looked old and tired. Brushing my teeth, I finished washing up and went into the galley. The cook was standing over a pot boiling. Rice, I knew. Well, at least we were eating. Suddenly, I smelled what I thought were eggs. No way, I had to be dreaming. Did I remember what they tasted like? “What we have eggs?” I asked. He turned around laughing, “How do you want them, scrambled or sunny side up?” “Really?” I asked. “Sure, how do you want them?” “Can I have them scrambled hard?” “Of course, they will be ready in a minute.” Scared to miss out or wake up from the dream, I stood watching him, beating the eggs in a bowl, and throw them in the skillet. The smell was divine. As he finished, he put them on a plate and handed it to me, “Here you go.” “Thank you, thank you” taking my plate looking at the rice and eggs. “Look at this I told my comrades!” they smiled and got up to get theirs. As I sat down to eat, a guilt washed over me. No one in Jonestown is eating this I thought. My appetite was suddenly ruined, and now I ate in deep contemplation. This was not Socialism; some having and others not. What the hell was this? I finished my meal, my stomach finally full and took my plate in the galley. “Need some help washing these?” I asked. “No thanks” my cook comrade responded. “Relax, you probably need it.” He knows too, and probably feels the way I do and so many others. Going back to my space, I looked for shaded spot on the boat. I headed towards where the others were and opened my book reading.

During the trip, I slept more than read and conversed. I did not know how tired I really was. Most of us slept and just enjoyed the quietness and the calming of the sea. As dusk settled in I knew we would be there in another ten or so hours, as it took 24 hours to get to Georgetown.

Finally, we could see the port up ahead. Even for the time of evening, it was still warm. As the boat moved slowly to the dock, I saw some familiar faces. They greeted us with smiles, “Welcome!” As my feet touched the earth, it felt very good to be on solid ground, even though I enjoyed the ride. We gathered our things and they unloaded the boat. There were two vehicles a land rover type vehicle and a truck. We got in the Landrover and the others unloaded the trunks and boxes into the van.

As I sat in the vehicle, I began to view my surroundings, it looked as it had. Neighborhoods with houses built on stilts. I always thought this was weird. As we maneuvered from one street to the other, I saw people mingling about, talking and once we got up on them, felt their staring at us. I was sure everyone in Georgetown knew about the group living in the jungle. Evening was upon us and once we arrived at the house, food was being prepared. We were assigned a place to place our things and told some will have to sleep on the floor, we are kind of crowded. No problem, I thought, at least this was a real house.

We were shown where the bathroom was, and each of us took turns washing the sea salt and smell off of us. When I entered the bathroom, I noticed a lock on the door. Wonderful, I thought. As I got undressed, anticipating the feel of warm water on my body, my thoughts once again turned to those at Jonestown. Stop worrying, I told myself, they will all be able to experience this again…those that want to. Just do what you need to do. After I got out of the shower; we were instructed only a two minute shower (well some things don’t change I thought), however, still grateful that God shone his Grace and allowed me these luxuries.

When I came out of the bathroom, I was told I could fix my own plate of food. As I ventured into the kitchen, there was fried chicken, eggplant and rice. Chicken, I thought. Wow… thinking about the last time I had chicken I had sat my plate down to grab my drink and one of the dogs grabbed it. Chasing him, I finally caught him and yanked my chicken breast out of his mouth, brushed it off and ate it. I fixed my plate with small portions, wanting everyone to have enough, and sat at the kitchen table. One of the people who had been there for a while, sat with me. “How are you doing in Jonestown?” Why is she asking me that I thought? Did she hear something about me…? “Fine” I responded. “I love it.” After all this was what we expected to say. “Good, where are you working?” “With Larry Schacht and two days in the fields” I said smiling. “Oh that’s good” she said. After I finished eating, tiredness enveloped me. “Where do I sleep?” I asked. She told me to follow her and I ended up in a room with a couch. “Thanks I said, I took a place on the floor there were three others already in the room. Unrolling my sleeping bag, I thought about what tomorrow would bring. Exhausted, I laid down and before I knew it I heard someone shaking me, waking me up. “It’s time to get up” they said. Thank you God, I prayed quietly, not on my knees but laying down…Thank you God for giving me another day. Please give me the strength to do this, please give me the courage to move forward, and please keep my child and those I love in Jonestown safe. Thank you for loving me. Amen.

My stomach was quivering, not from hunger but from anticipation. Today is the beginning of my mission. Find some way to the US Embassy, I kept thinking. During breakfast, we were told what our jobs would be. “Your eye doctor appointment is tomorrow Leslie.” “Oh, good” I said. “Today we will be going into the marketplace to ask for donations.” What the hell are we asking for donations for? I wondered. After being given instructions on what to say “Tell them Jonestown is a wonderful place and you are of course happy to live in their beautiful country, things of this nature. Don’t share anything that goes on there. We have spies everywhere!” Here we go again, everybody wants us to die, I thought. This is messed up. All of us knew enough to know everything had to be positive and vague.

As we entered the vehicle, we headed towards the marketplace. We entered an area where all you could see were pavilion like structures, covered tents and lots of tables. A sea of bright colors as I saw women with bright head scarves, color blouses, golden bangles around their wrists, speaking quickly in other languages besides the Kings English. It amazed me. All these people of different hues, selling their wares making a living. Why are we begging I thought? It must be to put a front up to the government, pretending that we did not have anything. As one of my coaches stood by, she told me to listen to what she says. She must have witnessed the apprehension on my face. Skilled at begging I followed suit “Good Morning, anything for the missionary work?” “Sure ting hone” and I could feel the weight of something in my basket. Approaching another vendor, another gift and so on. The Guyanese people were wonderful, always smiling and very friendly. I was offered a Coke (they are in every third world country) that I had not had in months, of course I accepted and drank it slowly, savoring the taste. Looking at the vendor who gave it to me, I wondered could he be trusted with my secret? Second thoughts entered my mind and I decided against approaching him. As I kept begging, I searched the eyes from which the gifts came from, looking for a special sign of trust. I procured cassava (like a potato but more bitter) and eggplant, mostly, a bunch of bananas here and there. The women were smiling all the time, happy to be alive. As I looked in their eyes, some showed wisdom, some reflected tiredness. All the while seeking that special person God sent for me to confide in. There were a lot of men, looking at me… and I immediately decided it would not be a man; they may have other things in mind. We were warned to stay close to each other as people were known to disappear and as Americans we could be targets. My mind attempting to devise a plan that would put me near a phone to call the American Embassy.

Suddenly, I heard my name being called. I looked up and across the marketplace my coach was waving to me to come towards her. How I got on this side, I wondered. I smiled and waved back and headed towards her. Saying excuse me as I maneuvered through the crowd, I finally reached her. “You okay?” she asked. “Oh, yes, this is incredible.” “Well” she continued the van will be here in a few minutes. Let’s sit down. The rest of the group was under a tent fanning themselves. It was stifling. Feeling sticky and filthy from all the dust generated from the cars pulling up to the marketplace, a warm shower or cold for that manner, was an appealing thought. We continued small talk, until the vehicle arrived. We threw ourselves inside and again my thoughts turned to if they knew what was in my heart, so I was rarely alone.

Back at the house, we showered, talked, ate dinner and went to bed. Exhaustion still wracked my body. Would I ever feel rested? My thoughts before dozing off were of my child and his father, Joe.

The next day I was taken to the doctor’s office. He gave me an eyes test, examined my eyes and fitted for a pair of very ugly glasses. My other ones were better looking, but it was worth the sacrifice I thought. The other pair hidden in my trunk could never be seen again. The medical assistant told me the glasses would be ready in a week. I thought it was a blessing; it gave me more time to make contact with the Embassy.

Every morning after finishing our chores, we would head out to the markets, the streets of Guyana and again beg for food. One day during a day of leisure, I headed into the radio room. What I saw caused me to almost panic.

On the table, in plain sight was a newspaper from the United States. It wasn’t the paper that threw me for a loop, but it was the picture of Deborah Layton. My hand was shaking as I picked up the paper to read more. Deborah Layton had left the church! In the article she was reporting the conditions of Jonestown. How the conditions were inhumane, etc. “Oh, my God!” I thought. I knew I was right, I was thinking to myself. Something was terribly wrong. This information was so sensitive, that I did not want anyone to know that I had read it. It scared me. I carefully looked around the room, praying there were no cameras about and carefully placed the newspaper, as I had found it and left the room. Deb Layton’s leaving was not a good sign. She was very close to Jim and knew so much about the church, including the financials. I had recalled what she was saying about Jonestown, and it made me think even more. Why were we not being fed properly when there was so much money in banks? Why was it not used for food? Why are we out here begging, like we don’t have anything? This is what I can’t understand; we were near starving or at least eating as if we did not have anything left. I would come to understand this tactic later on as the last white night was nearing.

Later that evening, we were told to dress up and get ready to entertain some important people. As someone gave me something to wear, we got in a car and went out to dinner, which ended with a ride up the river with one of the Guyanese officials. He was quite handsome and kept eyeing me. I felt uncomfortable and I was praying that he would not ask for me. There were women who slept with men in the government to keep them happy and on the side of Jonestown, but also gathered and seduced information out of them. I did not have this in mind for myself. This was the first time I heard “Bob Marley’s” I’m Jamming with you.” I loved that song. The official came over and asked me my name. I told him. The next obvious question was whether or not I was married and I said yes. That put a wrench in his plan and I was glad he had the decency not to go on anymore. I respected him for that.

When the evening was finally over we arrived back at Lamaha Gardens, and there were new arrivals from the States. My heart weighed heavy for them, as their journey would not be as they had expected. The next couple of days were more of the same, but I still could not believe what I had read about Deb Layton, and no one was saying anything. This was going to be a bad one; I could feel it, deep in my soul.

The optometrist office called, telling me my glasses where ready. The boat was scheduled to take off after my appointment. The boat ride back was not the same for me. I knew then it was time to get out of Jonestown; the problem was going to be how? When we pulled up in the tractor-trailer to the compound, I jumped off and went looking for Jakari. Joe found me and had a look on his face that was of anger. He told me to come with him. “Where is Jakari?” I asked, following him to the cabin. “You can see him later” he shouted as he went upstairs. A couple of minutes later his foot were on the last rung, and what was in his hands made me almost collapse. “Here are your glasses!” he said. “Oh, were did you did find them?” I asked trying to appear as surprised as I could. He said “In the bottom of your trunk!” “Really” I said. “Damn, I searched everywhere for them? They must have fallen into the trunk”. “Why would they be at the bottom of the trunk Leslie?” The way he said my name frightened me. Stay calm I thought, remember what mom said, never admit to anything. “Did you plan this?” “What the hell are you talking about, why would I plan it?” He asked me was I trying to leave and I said, “no of course not, and leave Jakari?” He wanted to believe me but I could tell he was having a difficult time. I was not sure if he would report me or not, so all I could do was pray. I was doing a lot of that lately. Moving towards him, I put my arms around him and said “I missed you baby” reaching for his lips, I kissed him. He was stiff at first and finally I could feel his body relax against mine. Grabbing my hands he led me upstairs, where he made love to me while I whispered in his ear how much I loved him and that was real. Please God, let this be over, please don’t let him tell anyone. We laid there in each others arms, me holding on to him with his back facing me as I always did. Later he took me to my son. “Mama” he said. I picked him up and held him close… I have to find a way out, God I need to find a way out.

ISBN: 0-595-51293-3
Copyright #TXu001038467 / 2002-03-29

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on February 11th, 2014.
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