The Breaking of Miguel de Pina

by Mike Woodward

Lovie and Miguel De Pina were my grandparents and loved very much. They raised a large family and were disappointed when they sold their property and went to live with a relative who ended up in divorce. They had put their money into the relatives’ home, helping them make the purchase, but the home was still lost through foreclosure. At the time we were financially unable to help them. They became despondent.

At the time, they were attending Jim Jones’ church meetings in LA and ended up going with him on several trips. They eventually moved up to Northern California where they both attended his church there. Lovie was the one who wanted to do it, and Miguel went to be with her. After 50 years of marriage, they did not want to be apart. Neither was educated, but both gifted with good common sense.

Persuaded by the church fellowship and companionship of their surroundings, they were coerced into doing whatever Jim Jones wanted them to do. They gave him everything: all their money, their life savings, their insurance, their lives. And then they went to Guyana.

My mother, heartbroken, made many attempts to go get them, but could not get clearance. I volunteered to go down anyway. Then came November 18. My grandmother died in Jonestown, but my grandfather – who was in a Georgetown hospital – was listed among the survivors. The Long Beach Press Telegram newspaper offered to help me get there if their writer, Mark Gladstone, could accompany me. I agreed.

In a few days I had a visa, passport, shots and clearance. We left together and arrived in the turmoil. We were placed under house arrest for several days. Everywhere we saw armed soldiers, police officers, and security guards. Because I was a police officer from the US, they let me go so I could get “grandpop”. Everyone was afraid of us, not knowing who we were or what was going on in the country.

Only through meeting with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham were we allowed to get Miguel from the hospital. When we got to the hospital, Miguel had not walked in two weeks. They said if he could not walk, they would not allow him on the plane. Even though he was very sick, we got him out of his bed and got him walking.

Miguel was a broken man. He did not talk too much at the time, but later told stories about how he was devastated, but he could not leave his wife there alone. It was a real sad ending for the life of someone who worked hard all his life to end up in such tragedy.

My hair turned gray in one week. I still cry like a baby when I talk about my experience sometimes.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 31st, 2020.
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