When I first came to Peoples Temple in early 1971, I married M. Norris, and we had a son, little David. I remember M. as a wonderful and dear human being. She was selfless and compassionate. We were very happy. When I was not going to college, I was working two jobs. So was M. Suddenly, M. and little David were sent away, and I never heard from them again.
I could never fully understand what had happened until 35 years later when M. found me through the Alternative Considerations website. In the early part of 2006 I flew out to Oakland, California, where I was reunited with M. and little David. I now have peace of mind after 35 years of worry.
Little David is bigger than me now, grown up, handsome and well educated. M. is a highly educated teacher with a genius IQ. She has a lovely home nestled amongst huge trees that soar six stories in the air. Her tri-level home is decorated neatly in an attractive African motif. As I spent several days perusing her wonderful library, I recognized many of her favorite books that she had introduced me to years before. She conscientiously drives an environmentally friendly hybrid.
She and I enjoyed driving and walking around Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco for several days talking about what had happened to us. M. has the same wonderful heart and compassionate and giving personality as ever. I must say that I still love M. as if a day has not passed, though we have been 35 years apart, not knowing where or what happened to each other.
Our story paints a paradoxical picture of Peoples Temple, which is par for the course. The Temple provided the racially integrated environment where we met and a great humanitarian cause for us to dedicate ourselves to in our youth, yet for no apparent reason certain elements in the Temple tragically broke us apart. We were one of the church’s few integrated couples. You would have thought that we would have been a poster couple or a calling card for the church. One day we were happy together, and the next day our lives were shattered like glass, separated by the church. We cooperated out of dedication and yes, fear, as we were forced to divorce and M. was sent away.
Her crime? Nothing. The allegation is that she had continued to receive food stamps for a couple of months after getting a job. Linda Amos, who worked at the Department of Human Services, knew about it and apparently just looked the other way. It was not even noticed at the department. Had they noticed it she would have just been cut off. She could have even paid back the couple of months of food stamps, no big deal. It wasn’t as if she set out to do it, she just continued to receive stamps for a few months after she found employment.
So why was she excommunicated? After the most painful deliberation and examination of the facts and all the players in the situation, I decided it was a combination of female jealousy and envy. M. was much like Christine Miller in the “Death Tape”. She asked questions and could not be intimidated. She had a lot of energy and a free spirit. I think there were a couple of women in power who were envious of her, jealous of our relationship, or threatened because they could not control her.
During my visit, I felt great pain at the injustice of it all. I felt pain at how a super dedicated and wonderful person like M. could be rewarded with a kick in the ass. I am still hurt at how casually people could play God with the lives of others. However, M. does not seem to have a resentful bone in her body and is the walking epitome of forgiveness. She and Little David not only are alive today but absent the jaded hope and the bitterness of so many survivors. Being sent away was a great blessing in disguise. Now with the scraps of our lives I have begun to make a beautiful quilt.
I wish to thank the Alternative Considerations website for being a vehicle for people that have been torn apart by the Peoples Temple experience to be able to find each other once again.
(After going up against Jim Jones, David Parker Wise, a former Pastor of the Los Angeles Peoples Temple was hunted down, and told that a contract had been taken out on his life. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. His website is JonestownLegacy.com. Mr. Wise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This is the letter M. wrote to David after her first phone call of contact. We gratefully acknowledge M.’s and David’s permission to reprint it:
I called you a month ago because I needed you in my life. I remember you as the best relationship I ever had. You were my husband who had no need to possess me, to own my thoughts nor my dreams. You were a quiet, gentle being with lots of depth and I could never get enough of exploring the world with you through our fervent exchange of ideas. This is how I came to love you so deeply. You saw me, I saw you and we both knew what we had was sacred…we honored our connection. You were generous beyond expectations, with your love, your involvement with our son and your willingness to be there at the “drop of a hat” for any of our brothers or sisters in Ukiah. Your dedication to the cause, with unquestionable integrity intact, was unrelenting. It matched my enthusiasm for “saving the world” and our planet, so there existed no conflict of interests so present in many of the marriages out “there”.
I love you,