Finding My Voice

by Laura Johnston Kohl

I have learned a great lesson about “finding my voice.” Before my involvement in Peoples Temple, and during my time in it, my associations with progressive, integrated, and idealistic groups made up my “voice.” I lived it each day, or felt that I did.

When Peoples Temple died, along with all of my wonderful family, I lost that voice. For the next thirty years, I survived, raised a family, and put myself back together with a profession. I was treading water, and I was satisfied doing that.

When I decided to write my book five years ago, that became my burning candle. I had to do it before I could move past it to whatever would come next. It blocked my view of my future. I then went through all the hoops to get where I am – editing, publishing, publicizing, and encouraging people to talk both about my book and about a deeper understanding about Peoples Temple. That, along with my family and job, took all of my time and energy. I was enriched by what I did, and I was even delighted by my own accomplishments. I thought about writing more books, maybe even fiction. I thought about other directions. But my “voice” had other ideas.

I feel that I finally put my own jigsaw puzzle together so that I am whole. I do love my family, my students, the Quakers, progressives everywhere, communalists at Communal Studies Association, my fellow writers, atheists, peace advocates, and the Occupy-ers who are so much a part of my life these days. And, of course my fellow survivors and other dear friends make up a huge part of who I am. It has taken this one piece – the Occupy-ers – to really complete my circle. That was the missing part of me. I feel so fortunate that these days, when crises flare up, and bigots and homophobes feel too comfortable spouting offensive rhetoric, I am in a good spot to defend the defenseless, and vocally advocate for everyone I know – the 99%. It was a long time coming.

Laura Johnston Kohl is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition include Who Could Have Stopped The Deaths In Jonestown?, Hate? What is it good for?, Paula Adams: Caught Between Two Men, Rheaviana Beam: A Kaleidoscope Of Parts, Peoples Temple And Synanon – Modern Communities: The Role Of Women, and An Update On Jonestown Survivor: My Next Chapter. Her previous writings appear here. She can be reached at

(The website for Laura’s book Jonestown Survivor is here. It was reviewed earlier this year by The WriteEdge Bookshelf, a project of the WordPress website for book aficionados (also available here). Her blog on her site includes a number of articles, including A Gathering of Peoples Temple Survivors , Grief,  and Going Home Again.

(Laura was also interviewed for a podcast at the Escondido Library following a presentation of her book in May 2012. A podcast from November 2011 appears here (scroll down to Baycast #2; program begins after 30 seconds of intro music).)


Originally posted on July 28th, 2013.

Last modified on December 22nd, 2015.
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