And The Truth Shall Set You Free?

by Neva Sly Hargrave

We’ve all heard these words before, even if we didn’t know they came from the Bible. And how many times did we hear these words from the pulpit in Peoples Temple? But the simple statement begs several questions: Don’t we have to be ready to accept the truth, before it can liberate us? Whose “truth” is it that we are accepting? Jim Jones also used to say, “The means justify the end.” Although I believed it at the time, I don’t think that was truth, but perhaps to some it was.

There are many truths: there was what you heard and saw – at least, what I heard and saw – and then there was what we imagined that we heard and saw to be truth. From these perceptions of the truth, we formed our opinions, our personal opinions and thoughts that we didn’t speak about to anyone!

And why was that? How many times did those thoughts and opinions go against what you held to be your ethical or moral standards? How many times did you excuse what you thought was happening because “The means justify the end”? How often did you hear Jim lie about something and rationalize it away as being something the dear people from Father Divine’s group needed to hear, or something the seniors needed to hear?

What was the “end” that was so justified through the “means” of Jonestown? Look at what it was: A society working together as a family to demonstrate that we could all live in peace with every race together in one family. A beautiful community working for common good, with schools for the children, medical facilities, a doctor and nurses, peaceful living for the seniors, adults and kids working the fields, bringing forth nutritious food for all. Playing together and teaching each other how to Love. A true socialist society, a true Heaven on Earth. Wasn’t that enough of an end unto itself?

For years we worked in our Temples in Redwood Valley, San Francisco and Los Angeles, writing letters to senators, congressmen, government officials, trying diligently to change national policies that were racially biased or detrimental to children or seniors. We fought for the brotherhood of man and justice for all. We made a lot of progress with those letters and it made us feel so good, to know that we could bring about a change.

We felt like we were continuing the work Martin Luther King, Jr. began, and as Jim Jones marched with him, we felt like we too were marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. There was just one problem: Jim never marched with Martin Luther King, Jr, he just told us that he had. Somewhere in his mind I am sure he did.

When we had Mayors, Senators, and government officials coming to our services, it made us proud to know that they stood for our goals and they were working toward the same ones. But were they? Perhaps they just wanted to see for themselves who these people wielding so much power were. That certainly didn’t mean that they agreed with us, or were even necessarily sympathetic to our cause. I do believe they wanted all the votes this large group could give them, as well as all the people who could work on their campaigns. Did anyone notice how none of them came forward after Jonestown to comment on the good that we, the people had done?

We were all manipulated for “the Highest Good”, or when it came back to it, “the Means Justify the End”. Perhaps that person that you disliked so much, was actually manipulated, as were you, to dislike you, or someone else! Jim was very good at turning people against each other, splitting up families, to get people to focus on our “cause” and build their part in that “cause”, where the center of their attention would be Jim Jones!

Think about that person you so disliked, and reflect on the first time you met that person, when you talked to him or her. What were your thoughts then, before Jim started filling your head with his manipulated words about that person. Would you be surprised to find out what Jim said to that person about you?

Then the Planning Commission was formed, and those of us who were so dedicated and not invited to join the PC felt left out. What had we done wrong that Jim wouldn’t invite us onto this group? After all, hadn’t he praised our work and raised our confidence? We were now let down and we didn’t know why.

And as the power of the PC grew, so did our fear of it. Jim became more paranoid by the minute, questioning every move any of us made. He wanted total control over everything we did. Mostly, we complied, except that occasional lunch out with a friend, or that cigarette in private, but we were never free of the fear that someone would catch us in the act. We began to look over our shoulders all the time, even at the children, for fear – there’s that word again – they would talk about something we had done. Our Love for each other was deep seeded, but Jim was making sure that those seeds were scattered far apart. We became fearful of everyone.

Many still hold on to that paranoia, even now, 29 years later, like we are separate. You know, those who left and those who stayed! I have news for you all!! It doesn’t matter!! We all believed in the same great cause! But here’s a truth for you. That paranoia came from the fear that Jim instilled in us. He wanted us to joined him in his paranoia. He liked that! He liked having people fearful of him and of his council. Did you ever look at his eyes when someone was being punished? Not only did he have a smirk on his face, but his eyes were coal black and smiling. He enjoyed it! He might have thought he could hide it, since he wore dark glasses all the time, but you could always tell when you went into a meeting, just by looking at his demeanor and his energy, whether he was angry, tired, happy, or just waiting for something to happen. If he was angry, the anger filled the room, froze the room like an ice storm had descended, freezing cold and still (very still, not a whisper). The question in your mind was who is on the carpet tonight!

I think he enjoyed it when I came late to a meeting and Mr. Muggs (our chimp) was there with Joyce. Mr. Muggs would point at me and start hollering, interrupting Jim, which wasn’t good, but Jim would just start laughing and say, “I see Neva is here,” as I tried to quietly slip into a seat.

Jim’s legacy is more than jus tour paranoia, though. We hold a lot of anger, rage even, at being betrayed and cut off from our life’s dreams. We were being lied to and shamed before the world; we were separated from our families and loved ones; we were dispossessed of all of our belongings and sent into the world with nothing! The only thing we had left was our dashed dreams, crushed confidence and a lot of paranoia, even though we no longer had anything to be paranoid about. What – or whom – did we have to fear? NOTHING!

* * * * *

Did you know that the dis-eases in your body are caused by what you hold in your subconscious? Those who hold anger and rage, usually have stomach or intestinal problems, or difficulties with their legs? Did you know that anger can cause cancer in some? Did you know that demeaning yourself can cause mental problems?

I think what truly sets you free is forgiveness. Forgiving all. Including yourself. And yes, forgiving Jim.

Let’s start with yourself for one! How many times have you called yourself “stupid” or “sucker” or some other demeaning term, because you believed the lies that Jim told you? How could you do that to yourself? How could you, a person who has a high IQ, be manipulated to believe in a dream?

How could you have a dream of brotherhood, equality, social justice, integrated schools and neighborhoods without having a dream? Could you have done it all by yourself? We needed a leader to help us bring this about. Jim had the charisma and held our dream as a reality in his hand, just as he held us in his hand. You can’t blame yourself for following your dream!

Remember we are family. We all had the dream. We worked together to make our dreams come true. There is no one else in the world who knows what we have been through, no one who can understand our reasons for staying, our hopes for a better world. Families do not always act lovingly – just as there may be a sibling we don’t like much, there might be those people in the PT family – but down deep, we do love each other.

We are not the same people we were then – after all that was almost 30 years ago – and we have gone on to build new lives, new careers and for some, new families. We are now strong enough that coming together after so many years and healing ourselves together, we remember who we were, but more important, we introduce ourselves with who we are now. We forgive each other, and that makes for healings. But the healing will not be complete without the forgiveness of yourself.

You can do a lot of personal healing by meditating and letting go of the anger towards yourself and others. By the same token you can hide within yourself, in your new life, and pretend that none of it ever happened. I did that!

* * * * *

Every year we have a gathering in San Diego hosted by our small group down here – Don Beck, Laura Kohl, Becky Moore, Mac McGehee and me – for the survivors of Peoples Temple. We usually have it around the 4th of July, which I think is quite appropriate to mark our personal “Independence”. This year we had 30 people. It was marvelous. Some came for a day, others for the full five days. Sometimes we had trips to the zoo or the beach, other times a group went to see a movie, but mostly there are the times we just talk and share and talk some more, not just about Peoples Temple, but about our lives now and what we are doing, as well as what our children are doing. It’s great!! Every year there are new survivors who come and share their particular stories with us, some of Jonestown, some of the Temple where they were located. There is a lot of forgiveness between survivors, loads of hugs and healing.

This year we had one of the PC members join us, one who had been suffering inner turmoil for years. When we first saw her, her skin was pale and void of any color, her eyes were fearful and her body shook. We hugged her and welcomed her. She had come to ask forgiveness of one person, and that person had come to ask forgiveness of her. They forgave each other and hugged and cried. Over the days she shared her story. The last day she was there, I saw a transformation like I had not seen before. Her face was bright with rosy cheeks, her eyes sparkled with love. She felt secure with all of us. A healing had taken place, one that was truly miraculous.

I find it thrilling to see new family members coming and joining in the healing festivities with all of us. I do hope you will join us soon. Whether you do or not, please be sure to forgive and heal yourself. You are still a member of this wonderful PT family.

(Neva Sly Hargrave is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. She can be reached through this website.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on April 14th, 2021.
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