A lesson for us all

I must be honest. Before this year, I knew about Jonestown only through a few television programs and documentaries and – of course – through friends and relatives claiming to know all about the motives of Jim Jones and the infamous “Kool-Aid”. I must admit, I was OK with knowing what they knew and not very interested in finding out what really happened.

That all changed the day I found myself teetering on the edge of joining a similar group. Almost overnight, I found myself consumed by learning all I could about others’ experiences in the group I was interested in becoming a member of.

As I began my research, Peoples Temple and Jonestown came up time and again. This is how I discovered this website. Call it a morbid fascination or perhaps just a need to know the truth, but I felt a need to read all I could on Jonestown.

This is the reason that I volunteered to help transcribe some of the audiotapes among the 500 yet to be done. Although I’ve only gotten started with the work, it is already obvious to me that those around Jim Jones were completely devoted to him for reasons only they can explain.

On one tape I listened to, there is an arranged ham radio conference between some of those in Jonestown and their relatives. It seems that the relatives in the States believed that their loved ones in Jonestown were being held captive, or against their will, while other parents just wanted to know why their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, felt the need to give up life in the US and live in a jungle thousands of miles away. As I listened to this tape, I could hear Jim Jones actually feeding information to his followers as they conversed with those back in the States. It was amazing to hear these people actually say exactly what Jim Jones told them to say, and not explain things as they normally would. It was also obvious that those living in Jonestown didn’t seem to care that they had began to give up their own voice. That devotion would later translate into a gruesome death that only the survivors can relate.

(Paul Schmutzok can be reached at pmschmutzok@gmail.com.)