So many of the stories about Peoples Temple – including those of the survivors – seem to end on November 18th. They skip or skim over the intervening 27 years, as though the experiences of grieving, recovery, and rediscovery are only footnotes to the real story. I disagree. So, as an example I hope other survivors and former members will follow, I offer my story of my post-Jonestown years…
Managing a mansion in Pacific Heights in San Francisco after the Jonestown tragedy was fortunate for me. John, my boss, was very understanding. For the most part, I was surrounded and protected by the gay community. The men gave me a shoulder to cry on, they let me escape the reality I was living, and they made sure I was kept busy. Dancing and going out on the town to nightclubs, the circus, restaurants and other various shows kept my mind off of the sadness I felt when I was alone in my room. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the dear souls that had died, I couldn’t stop talking about them. Finally, I went to a psychiatrist and got the help I needed in letting go and accepting what had happened.
There was so much activity in the mansion, tending to four senior ladies that were living there, helping to arrange dinner parties… and that doesn’t include John wanting to remodel for the opening of the Metropolitan Opera Season! I was overjoyed when Michael got in touch with me. He and Debbie had gotten out of Georgetown, and Michael needed a job. I was so happy that I had something for him in the remodeling effort. Mike told me a lot about Guyana and what a beautiful community they had, before Jim Jones went down there.
In 1979 I was offered a job as secretary to an actress. I lived in her house in San Francisco and was off on the weekends, when I would stay with a friend or I would enjoy the wharf. When Jeanne and Al Mills were murdered, I went into shock! The actress didn’t want me to stay with her anymore for fear of her family’s lives, and I didn’t want to stay in the city for fear of my friends’ lives, as I knew I was on the “list” to be killed. I went to my friends place in Lakeport to figure out what to do. Although I didn’t know who was left in Peoples Temple to kill those of us who were involved in the Human Freedom Center, I knew that was why Jeanne and Al were killed. I refused to go back into my paranoia, as I had let that go after I escaped and knew I couldn’t live being afraid of every movement around me.
Finally I called my parents in San Diego, from whom I had been estranged for 10 years. They were thrilled to hear from me, since the only way they had known I was alive was when they saw me in a television interview. They brought their RV up to San Francisco to move me to San Diego.
I don’t think I ever felt so lost in my life. My parents carefully and slowly nurtured me back to some semblance of mental health, but they learned soon to not even mention me going to church. That made me go into a complete tirade.
Slowly I began going out – to the beach, the zoo and wild animal park – and one day I saw a group of people having a picnic. The sign invited all, so I wandered into the group and met Terry Cole Whitaker, who invited me to the services on Sunday. Her main theme was to Love yourself as GOD Loves you as you are a part of GOD! Hmmmm, I liked that! When I went to her church, I was overwhelmed with goosebumps when the whole congregation sang the Lord’s Prayer together!
Sometimes flyers were passed out about various seminars and classes, one of them about loving yourself. Boy, did I ever need that one! Not only did I learn to love myself again, but I learned to love every person I saw, because I was loving the GOD within them. The main theme song was “Let the Love in, Let the Love in.”
Another seminar was about Rebirthing. Having read Ron Orr’s book on Rebirthing, I was quite anxious to attend. It was a wonderful seminar and we all were Rebirthed. But when I saw the faces of my son Mark and my husband Don, I began to cry uncontrollably. My Rebirthing guide brought me out of it and asked if I wanted to talk about it! Emphatically, I said, “NO!” She suggested that I seek a private session with a Rebirther to rid myself of the sorrow she felt I held! She had no idea!!
Driving to La Jolla to meet with the lady that would be Rebirthing me, I felt so nervous because I didn’t want to bring up all of those memories that hurt so much. But Coleen instructed me to let go of any preconceptions I had about what would come up and just allow my Higher Self to guide me. So I relaxed and began breathing and breathing … and breathing. It took quite a while before I was in that special place with my soul, then ZAP!! There was Jim Jones before me. I screeched at him as I cried. Coleen told me to say all that I wanted to say to him, and believe me, I did!! Totally unaware that I was yelling at him, letting go of all of the anger and rage I had toward him for ruining the most beautiful rainbow family that lived communally and worked for the Brotherhood of Mankind that had ever come about!
After I finally exhausted my ranting, Coleen gently told me to breathe in GOD’s Love, then she made the suggestion that I forgive him. What, I said? No way!! You have got to be kidding!! He murdered my family, how do I forgive that? Then in front of me was the Master Buddha, asking how many times I had been forgiven throughout all the roles I had played throughout my various lifetimes! Gently, he said that we accept the roles we play for the benefit of the lessons of everyone concerned. Just as Hitler had played a role, so did Jim Jones. I felt ashamed, because I was in no place – mentally, emotionally or spiritually – to be able to forgive Jim Jones. Coleen brought me out of the Rebirthing with soothing music and a beautiful waterfall washing away all of my fear and sadness. She suggested that I make another appointment, which I was happy to do. I needed to resolve my anger and rage, but I just wasn’t ready, and I knew it.
It took two weeks of walking on the beach, at the San Diego Zoo, the Wild Animal Park and Sea World, mumbling and crying, stomping and shouting my wrath to the sea, until I came to the understanding that enough was enough. I was ready to get rid of the rage, and I knew the only way to do that was to believe that as we live our various lives, we are playing a role! The Rebirthing was wonderful. Coleen was even wiping her eyes when I opened my tear-filled eyes. Forgiveness is a marvelous release of emotion, and I felt balanced as I had not for years!
My friends in Los Angeles finally talked me into moving up there. In doing so I became part of a meditation group, and I began studying various religious philosophies as my husband and I had done prior to joining Peoples Temple. I felt like I was back in my realm. I devoured everything I could lay my hands on. I was constantly getting psychic readings, trying to find some direction, but all they could seem to see was the sorrow I held down deep. So I finally gave up on readings and proceeded to grow my own way, through studying!
And I even got work again. My dear friend Dominique from the Temple helped familiarize me with the legal secretarial process and put me in touch with a very good temporary agency that only handled people who worked in the legal field. Since I was a high speed typist at 135wpm, it wasn’t long before the agency had me contracted out for three months at a time, for months. I had trouble just getting a day off! But the pay was great!
Every course that came along, I took. I got certified as a Touch for Health Massage, a Crystal Healer, Rebirther, Graphology expert, Hypnotist, Energy Healer, and a Toner. To me this is God’s work. I did not want to use my healing abilities for pay – my legal work took care of my expenses – but to be able to help people.
My San Francisco party days were over. Although I had had a good time, I no longer had any interest in going out night clubbing and dancing. I didn’t even go out to restaurants very often. I preferred to stay home after work and work on me. More than anything, I wanted to find balance in my life, Spiritually, Mentally, Emotionally and Physically! My studies had helped me learn how to help others, but I needed to use that knowledge to help me!! I started working on a Balancing Technique that became rather popular. Several people wanted to set up a seminar for me, but I nearly freaked out over that one!! I was more than willing to help people, but not in groups.
In fact, I had discovered that I was having serious problems when it came to being in large groups. I would slowly retreat into a corner and never allowed myself to have my back to a door. I shied away from anything having to do with church!! Dominique introduced me to the Self-Realization Fellowship, and although I didn’t go to the services, I used to sneak into the back of Lake Shrine, in Malibu and meditate during services. I loved Lake Shrine and went there every Sunday to meditate. Paramahansa Yogananda started the Self-Realization Fellowship and I am still fortunate to be living near the Encinitas Ashram, where I go on Sundays and meditate on the cliff over looking the ocean.
I had connected with my Higher Self in Meditation and found my souls guide in my Higher Self. As I was working with my Spiritual self, I would ask questions, like a reporter asking “Who, What, When, Where and Why.” When does my Soul feel at peace? What makes my Soul feel peaceful? Where does my Soul feel peaceful? Why don’t I have that peaceful feeling all of the time?
Taking these questions further, I look into my Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical self. Not that there are four of me, but the four aspects of myself make me who and what I am. In responding to the questions, I learned that each of these aspects can – and do – affect each other. More importantly for me, an emotional Pisces, I learned how strongly the emotions affect and, in fact, cloud the Mental rationale and the Spiritual calm necessary for any kind of reasonable understanding or solution to the emotional problem.
Bingo!! Okay, now I felt I was really getting to the meat of me, and I began asking questions about how my Spiritual self felt about my Emotional self, how my Mental self felt about my Emotional self and how my Physical self felt about my Emotional self! With my Higher Self guiding me with the questions, I asked my ego, that part of me that thinks it has all of the answers, which are to my benefit, of course, to release and let go of that thinking and allow my Soul Self to respond in truth and love. I have to admit, It took a bit of practice to get my ego to comply!
My Spiritual self was kind and loving and very truthful! What it came down to was that I was way too involved emotionally!!
My Mental self was blunt and extremely helpful. It taught me that I don’t have to dive to the bottom of the lake to know that the water is cold, when it is cold on the top!
My Physical self was really tired of being fed a pile of junk when I got emotional and wanted me to walk the emotional tidal wave off! Good advice, I thought!!
At first, my Emotional self was wounded and became very defensive! Whoops! Ego back again! However, Ego had a point, how could I dump what I had always been? Very emotional!!
Dumping what I now consider to be exaggerated emotions was not an easy task! Yet I came to learn and understand that my Emotional self was important, but it just didn’t need to get out of bounds! What does that mean?? My mind didn’t function when I was overly emotional or hysterical!! However, I could have a good cry, ask my Higher Self to help me understand and calm me down, so my Mental self could communicate the sensible, rational, logical, understanding that I needed in order come to any resolution. I could get to the point of being able to ask myself, “What can I do?”, “How can I help?” , “What have I learned through this experience?”, and the most important one was a reminder to myself: “Neva, this is not a catastrophe, this is just a challenge, an adventure!!”
One of my emotional problems was claustrophobia, which a lot of people have, but putting that together with the rest of my Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome meant that I had to get control of it! Seeking advice from my Higher Self, I discovered that this was caused from past lives! Thank goodness for Rebirthing, I Rebirthed myself and discovered several causes for the claustrophobia. I released them all, allowing myself the freedom of being able to be in small places! However, I still have a bit of difficulty with crowds!!
My Mental self was a storehouse! There were several different aspects to my Mind. One side was extremely gullible, accepting everything at face value without asking any questions! (Although I have become somewhat cynical, I still have to watch this gullible side!) Another side of my Mental self was very skeptical and cautious at expressing thoughts. At the same time, there was the child’s side that sees everything as beautiful and accepting that I am a part of all energy! (Didn’t think of this as being Mental, did you?)
Counseling and teaching had been a part of my life for some time. Some of the people I worked with began asking about the “Balancing Technique,” and I started teaching them how to use it. Sally (not her real name) called me every night with her negative thoughts and her mishap, or accident, of the day! She was a psychiatric counselor at a hospital and worked a lot with people who had fatal diseases. After a few weeks, I asked her if she had ever thought that she might enjoy these negative challenges? Did she get an adrenaline rush, or perhaps did she feel her mind had to work faster and she enjoyed that? Did she like puzzles? Then again, her emotions might get a nudge about something for her, instead of always others! She was silent for a minute or two, then asked, “Can I call you back on that?” I told her that was her choice and it was okay! The next night we discussed it further. When I told her that she didn’t have to follow society’s idea of what seemed right or wrong, that she only had to find what she believed was right or wrong for her. Quiet again! “Let me get back to you on that one, okay?” “Later!” I told her. Yes, indeed she did like a negative challenge! As the months rolled by, she worked on learning new positive challenges, because she didn’t like what the negative challenges brought into her life! After all, the energy we put out always comes back to us.
When I escaped from Peoples Temple I had to find out who I was. I did this by enjoying every experience to the fullest, until I discovered that I didn’t really like that experience and put it out of my life.
Perhaps you are wondering how on earth I did that!! Well, I had a system for evaluating my experiences, as well as my friends. I scored them from 1 to 5 – 5 being the highest – on the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical levels.
As an example: did the experience fulfill me on the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional or Physical level? My friends and I spent evenings evaluating furniture. Believe it!! I have a special chair I like to Meditate in and I even have a special chair I like to watch TV in. Don’t you?
Many of my friends got “5’s” on the Spiritual, Mental, Emotional and Physical (meaning we liked to do the same things) levels. Those that only fulfilled the Physical level were soon out of my life, as I discovered a lot of negativity with them that I didn’t want in my life.
Thanks to Jim Jones, I had learned to be confident and I had abilities I was good at doing. He also gave me the opportunity to work with a large group of people, when I placed people in houses over night when we were out of town, or they were in San Francisco or Redwood Valley. Jim pushed my compassion and understanding button more than once, even the times when he was lying. I learned to be kind, but firm when I needed too. Thanks to Jim, I found out how wonderful it is to live communally with teenagers and children. That fulfilled my Motherly desire so much. We were a family, until Jim made me afraid to speak my thoughts and brought in disciplines that were against my ethics.
My thoughts, ethics and feelings were just about all I had when I escaped Peoples Temple. I was lost in a society that I didn’t understand. People were having fun (can you imagine)? I couldn’t understand people not caring about the world situation or the poor, living in a society that only thought about the Self! Deciding that I had to put my past behind me and become a new person in this self-fulfilling society, I began my search for the Real Me!
What I have discovered was that each part of me is interwoven. The more my Spiritual self evolves, the more my thoughts and emotions become loving, non-judgmental, understanding, accepting of all life as one energy flowing throughout the planet like the wind, when it flows gently and you let it flow through you.
Dominique and I went to the 20th Memorial Service at the Evergreen Cemetery in 1998. It was a wonderful reunion with a loving family that recaptured the feelings I had when we first started going to Peoples Temple. It was strange seeing the kids who were all grown-up and who now had children of their own. We talked about the good days of experiences we cherished and a few of the bad days, but not many. It just felt so good to be with my Peoples Temple family again.
Last year some of us gathered in San Diego over the 4th of July and it was wonderful. We talked about everything you could think of, got rid of a lot of old ideas, listened as truths were cleansed and bonded again as family. I must add that we have a few additions to our family, as Rebecca Moore, John Moore, Fielding McGehee and Denice Stephenson have certainly become a part of this family, and I wholly welcome them into it.
Hopefully the San Diego gathering will become an annual event, as we have a link that no one else can understand, and we need to remember the love we felt in our Peoples Temple family.
Blessing you all in the wonderful energy of Love that flows through us all, AS ONE,