Allison Wright

Jonestown Final Project Response

On the first day of this class, I was so excited and fascinated by the fact that I had never even heard of Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, or Jonestown despite the fact that this was such an incredible event in our history. I thought to myself, how could I have never even heard of nearly 1,000 Americans dying in Guyana 35 years ago. With that said, I was immediately drawn to this class and to trying to understand how and why this sort of thing could have ever happened. Right away I had questions: who was Jim Jones; how did he become so powerful; why would people want to follow him; what was so special about his message; how was he able to tie religion, race, nationality, power, civil rights, sexuality, poverty, aspiration, and identity into his overall message and what he stood for; to name a few of them. Right away, the class jumped into various readings and discussions that made me even more interested and intrigued by the subject. I looked forward to witnessing all of the different speakers that planned to talk to us and share their narratives about their experiences with Peoples Temple and Jonestown. I also looked forward to creating my own idea and narrative of what I thought of and believed Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, and Jonestown to be.

On January 30th, 2013, after reading Raven, written by Tim Reiterman, our class met and we were asked to think of the ten most significant events that we believed told the story of what happened, from Jim Jones’ birth to his death in 1978 at Jonestown. Some of the ten events that I came up with were, Jones’ manipulative friendship with Don in his youth, Jones’ realization of his calling to be a priest and a leader, Jones meeting Marceline, Jones starting Peoples Temple and moving out west, the death of his mother, and the custody battle of John Victor Stoen to name a few. We were also asked to think of five characters that we were particularly interested in. I chose Marceline, John Victor Stoen, Lynetta, Maria Katsaris, and Stephan Jones. We were then asked to get into our assigned groups and pick three of the most significant events that we believed led to the tragic final day in Jonestown and to relate them to that were a part of Peoples Temple in any way. That final day at Jonestown provokes me to think about Claire Janaro and the survivors that were a part of Peoples Temple who lost loved ones. Some of the important documents that I found on the “Jonestown Institute” website were a letter from Claire Janaro about her children not being remembered and honored, a list of the needs of the people in Jonestown for Claire to bring when she comes to Jonestown, and an extremely moving interview with Claire Janaro. These things that I found on the website really inspired me to look into Claire Janaro’s narrative even further. I was really excited about using her to represent some of the survivors and what they were feeling and what they had to go through after the Jonestown Massacre.

Our next assignment was to use Google Sheets and Google Documents to collect links and information from the online Jonestown Institute Collection. We were instructed to use these tools to construct and expand upon our presentation scripts in order to collaboratively organize and present them. Using the Google Sheets and Google Documents helped me to learn about how to use them and their benefits. I had never used this tool before and they were really useful and helpful in allowing me to organize all of the information that I was beginning to collect for my narrative. I put my three different significant events in the Google Sheets. This tool also allowed me to see what all of the other students in the class were choosing as their events. I also put all of the links that I found related to Claire Janaro and John Victor Stoen’s narrative in the Google Spread Sheet.

After this collection of information on the Google Sheet and Google Docs, we were asked to begin creating two separate scripts, each one based on our responses to our selected Jonestown characters and/or events. Our aim was to deliver and share a written narrative, which when presented should be approximately two to three minutes in length (per response). Each of the responses must clearly express our own point of view about our selected characters and/or events. We were expected to script and piece together any original text, any quoted texts, and any chosen collected research date including photos, video clips, audio clips, letters, transcripts, music, etc., in any manner, shape and form that communicates to the audience our clear point of view and our authentic and personal statement about each of our selected Jonestown character and/o r events. When I first started working on my script, I found it very helpful to use my character responses that I had written, especially the one on Claire Janaro. I knew at this point in the project that I wanted to pursue her narrative and try to make it into my own for our final project. With that said, and with the permission of Professor Gainer, I decided to make only one script that truly tried to capture Claire Janaro’s story so that I could contribute it to the class’ overall narrative and response to the Jonestown incident.

The first draft of my script was a little bit scrambled, although I believe it was definitely going in the right direction. I outlined what I wanted my PowerPoint to look like and described what I was going to say or what I wanted to accomplish with each of my slides. I included an introduction that I planned to read while a picture of Claire was in the background. Some of the other slides included the list of items that Claire was asked to bring to Jonestown, the NBC News interview of Claire that I found on the Jonestown Institute website, the letter that she received from her dear friend Marlene about Claire’s children who were already in Jonestown, and some powerful words that Claire had spoken in an interview reflecting on the deaths in Jonestown. Initially, the first outline of my script was a little ambitious. I say this because at the beginning of the semester in the first couple of classes, we had discussed different mediums of presenting our narratives to listeners and viewers. Some of these ways of presenting that I included in the initial draft of my script were a photomontage, a list poem, video, and the use of music. I wanted to have music played while I read a poem that I was going to create from some of the powerful words that Claire spoke about in an interview that I had found. I also wanted to make a collage or a photomontage of the list of items that Claire was asked to bring to Jonestown.

After writing this first draft, I met with Professor Gainer to talk about it and get more ideas from him about the direction that I wanted to take with the narrative of Claire Janaro that I was working on creating. This meeting was extremely helpful because Professor Gainer helped me to organize some of my thoughts and ideas. I was able to organize the order in which I wanted to present the different aspects of Claire’s narrative. I changed the order of some of the slides that I was going to create and put in my PowerPoint, in order to best present my narrative. Professor Gainer and I also discussed some of my more creative ideas that I wanted to incorporate into my script including playing music while reading a poem that I was going to create from some of Claire’s powerful interview. We both agreed that this may be too “mushy,” and that it might be better to give a more straightforward and to-the-point presentation of Claire’s words, as that is how Jonestown was, clear cut and straight forward; it was raw, and I wanted my presentation to show that aspect of Jonestown and the people that survived.

After my meeting with Professor Gainer, I made some of the edits to my script that we had discussed and I also put together my PowerPoint. My PowerPoint was clear cut and straightforward with recent pictures of Claire, pictures of Claire when she was in Jonestown holding the beloved chimp, a picture of the handwritten list of items that Claire was asked to bring to Jonestown, and a link to the video. The second draft of my script was mostly finished along with my PowerPoint before our first informal rehearsal of our presentation.

The next step in producing my project was cutting and editing the video that I had chosen to show in my presentation of NBC News’ interview with Claire Janaro just shortly after the Jonestown Massacre. This interview was so powerful and I truly felt that it would add a lot to my narrative that I was creating. I stayed in constant contact with Debra Sarlin and Brianna Derr about trying to meet with someone in the video-editing lab so I could edit Claire’s interview. I met with one of the proctors on duty in the lab and was able to learn how to take the interview from the Jonestown Institute website and put it into a format that I was able to cut and edit into what I felt best for my presentation. This not only helped me for my presentation on Jonestown, but in general it was very helpful to learn how to do this for future projects.

The next step of completing my part in the overall final Jonestown project presentation was going to the first informal rehearsal of our presentation. This rehearsal was very helpful in that I was able to see what all of the other students in the class were presenting. It was also very helpful to have a run through of what it would be like presenting my script at the same time as Deb Sarlin playing my PowerPoint in the background. Initially it was difficult for me not to look back at the screen. I had to work with Deb to make sure that she knew when I warned her to change the slide. I was able to get the layout of what the stage was going to look like for the presentation and where all of the students were going to sit and stand during the presentation. I got some coaching from Professor Gainer on some of the things to do while presenting and not to do while presenting. For performing my narrative, I personally had to work on being able to make eye contact with the audience at the end of each sentence that I was presenting. Professor Gainer also gave me tips on when in my presentation I should elevate my voice and when I should enunciate a word, speed up, o r slow down. These pointers not only helped me for this presentation but also helped me to learn for future speeches and presentations that I will have to give. One of the aspects of the presentation that we as a class had to work on was cutting down some of our narratives, as all of them were wonderfully detailed and long, but unfortunately unrealistic to present for our final project performance. I discussed once more with Professor Gainer some of the edits that I could make to my script in order to help make the overall presentation more efficient. I ended up shortening some of my introduction to my presentation, some of the introductions to the slides that were a part of my narrative, and the letter from Claire’s dear friend Marlene. With these edits and cuts I was able to make my portion of the overall presentation more efficient, yet I felt I was still able to effectively get the point of my narrative of Claire across to the audience.

With all of the brainstorming to come up with ideas for my script, my research, my meetings with Professor Gainer to get ideas for my script as well as make edits and improvements to my script, with Deb Sarlin to learn more about Google Sheets and Google Documents, with the video-editing lab proctor to edit the video of Claire Janaro’s interview, and the multiple edits to my script and PowerPoint, I believe that I was able to effectively contribute to the success of the class’ overall presentation. As described above, I took all of the important steps and measures in order to be able to contribute to the overall presentation. I put a lot of time and effort into coming to class every week prepared with the different aspects, steps, and assignments leading up to the final presentation that Professor Gainer had asked us to complete. I not only came to every class prepared with the completed assignments, but I also participated actively during class in some of the activities that Professor Gainer had u s engage in, for example the class reading of the introduction and working on proper methods and techniques of being able to make a successful and effective presentation. I came one hundred percent prepared to our first rehearsal and participated actively in practicing the delivery of my narrative as well as taking constructive criticism from Professor Gainer on what I needed to work to improve on. I also came to the additional class time on Sunday April 7th from 7:30-10:30 pm in order to rehearse a second time with the whole class before the final presentation. I stayed in constant communication with Professor Gainer over email and in person about my part in the final presentation. I wanted to do whatever I could to help make it a success. Overall, I participated in and attended every single class session of the semester.

In terms of the content of my narrative of Claire Janaro that I contributed to the presentation, I believe that I was able to help contribute to the effectiveness of the overall performance. While I only contributed one script to the class’ overall narrative, I believe that my script was representative of many of the important survivors of Jonestown that were members of Peoples Temple. I was able to tell the story of one of the survivors, Claire Janaro, and hopefully effectively show the pa in that she had to deal with in order to try and move on from this horrific event. I believe that some of the most important aspects of being a part of a tragic event may not be the tragic event itself, but how one deals with and moves on from this tragic event. The psychological aspects behind this healing a re intriguing to me and very important to focus in on when trying to cope with a devastating occurrence in someone’s life. It can happen to anyone of us at any time and I wanted to be able to show this very important aspect that the Jonestown Massacre brought to so many people. With that, I believe that I was able to effectively contribute this important and e motional aspect of the Jonestown Narrative to the effectiveness of the class’ final project performance.

In terms of my performance itself within the greater overall performance, I believe that I was able to successfully take what I h ad learned from Professor Gainer and practiced and put it into the final performance. While I was definitely not perfect, I believe that I – more confidently than I ever have been before – was able to make my portion of the presentation. I not only felt confident, but I also felt empowered to share my narrative that I have created of Claire Janaro as part of the overall class’ narrative responding to Jonestown. I got all of my cues correct and at the end of the performance I felt honored to speak the last line, “Darkness settles over Jonestown, on its last day on Earth.”

In terms of the overall class’ performance, I felt that it was absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe that we were able to take all of our amazing ideas and scripts and put them together to successfully and effectively share our narrative of Jonestown. There were so many different aspects of the overall presentation that I believe made it so successful. Some of these different aspects included, different means of sharing each of our narratives including videos, pictures, creative poems, and powerful sermons to name a few. For our individual narratives I believe that we were successfully able to use each other in order to effectively be able to make one collective narrative out of all of our individual narratives. We used each other to read different parts of our scripts to make the overall presentation more powerful. I am so incredibly thankful to Professor Gainer and both of the Debs for helping to put together this wonderful presentation. With their help, especially all of the work that Professor Gainer put into formulating a setting for the presentation, the order in which we all presented our narratives, our placement on the stage during the presentation, and some of the techniques that we used to present, helped us to successfully and effectively perform as a class our Jonestown Narrative. This was such a unique experience, one that I have not yet experienced in any class here at Bucknell, that I am so thankful and lucky to have been a part of. I learned so much about Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, members of Peoples Temple, and Jonestown. I improved and learned about taking my creativity and applying it to a lot of different means and aspects of a presentation and a performance. I learned about some of the techniques that help to make a successful performance not only individually, but also collectively as a group. I learned how to better work and communicate with other people to try and work to collaboratively create a successful and effective performance. I only named a few of the big aspects of this class and the performance that I was able to learn and gain from the experience, but there are many, many more.

There are so many different aspects of the Jonestown narrative. Most importantly, there is not just one Jonestown narrative, there are hundreds maybe even thousands. Each person has their own unique narrative of Jonestown and what it means to them. Being a part of this class has allowed me to see this and to be exposed to many of these similar, yet unique narratives of Jonestown. In all of the narratives of Jonestown that I was exposed to being a part of this class, I learned that so many different people that knew Jim Jones, who were involved in Peoples Temple in someway or another, who were at Jonestown, or who had loved ones in Jonestown, were all affected in many different ways. The idea that this event in history could affect so many different people of all races, ethnicities, and social classes in so many different ways shows the great significance of all of the Jonestown narratives. As described in many of my speaker responses, many different feelings and emotions came to me after listening to and experiencing all of their unique narratives about their experiences with either Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, or Jonestown, and what all of these different aspects of their narratives meant to them.

It was very interesting and exciting to me to be exposed to all of these unique Jonestown narratives. I loved reading Raven because it was such a detailed book about so many aspects of Jim Jones’ life that may have contributed to why he was the way that he was and why he did the things that he did. While some of Raven may have been biased, I felt that it did a really excellent job of giving a very detailed account of Jim Jones’ life from his birth to his death. With this narrative of Jonestown, I was able to get an initial idea of what I thought was important about Jonestown. From there, all of the other readings, movies, and speakers allowed me to add to or take away from this initial narrative of Jonestown that I had begun to create. It was so helpful to me in creating my own narrative and idea of Jonestown to be able to be exposed to all of the readings that we did and the speakers that we heard. Unfortunately, I would have liked to have had more in depth conversations and discussions with classmates and maybe even with some of the speakers about all of these various aspects of the different Jonestown narratives. I feel like this would have allowed me to go even deeper in creating my own idea of the Jonestown narrative and would have made the class even more successful. I really hope that some of my reflections on the speakers and the readings show the significance of the Jonestown narratives not only to me, but to the importance of this historical event.

I believe that all of the speakers, readings, class discussions, and the final presentation contributed to my view of the Jonestown narrative. My view is reflected in many of my speaker and reading responses. I believe that this was indeed an extremely tragic event. It involved a very powerful, charismatic, and manipulative leader that was able to create a religious group/movement called Peoples Temple. I truly believe that if at the time, I had some of the same feelings and views as the members of Peoples Temple did about the world, I would have joined this group/movement as well. I believe that these people truly wanted to make the world a better place by “doing good” through helping people and helping communities. Unfortunately though, their leader was able to manipulate them into believing that all of the things that he was having them do were for the good of their cause. However, the good of their cause was definitely not all good; but at the time, these people who were following him did not know that. I believe after hearing and reflecting on all of the different Jonestown narratives I have been exposed to, that these people were not brainwashed. They were truly doing what they thought and believed was right in trying to make the world a better place through equality. Unfortunately, the members of Peoples Temple were manipulated and forced to believe so many false aspects of Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, and Jonestown that on that final day, they were led to “commit suicide.” I am still not one hundred percent sure that I believe that this was murder, although I do know that these people absolutely did not have a choice to leave Jonestown or not to die on that final day. This is only a brief aspect of my reflection (more of my reflections can be seen in my speaker/reading responses) of the significance of the Jonestown narratives in light of my truly amazing experience of the course readings, lectures, discussions, and final course project that we have been exposed to in this class.

Compiled Jonestown Speaker Responses

Rebecca Moore (Reading: Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple)

Rebecca Moore lost two sisters and a nephew in the Jonestown tragedy. In Rebecca Moore’s Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple, she argues that Peoples Temple and Jonestown are in essence American, rather than an institution for brainwashing and blind obedience. She explores the idea that from its beginnings, Jim Jones’ church embodied patterns in U.S. religious sociology. She tracks his long religious journey from Methodism, the Church of the Nazarene, Pentecostalism, and Quakerism to Father Divine’s Peace Mission movement. Eventually, Peoples Temple became known for its free food and social services, along with Jones’ passionate services. In her book, Moore looks at many newspapers, government reports, Jonestown recordings and first-person accounts to try and understand Peoples Temple and its tragedy. However, while Moore considers a variety of positions on why Jones may have relocated Peoples Temple to Guyana in 1977, she does not seem to draw neat conclusions or express her opinion, which differs greatly from Reiterman’s book Raven. Instead of Jonestown and the story of Peoples Temple being a story of mere madness, Moore outlines the tragedy as a work of devastating irritants including news reporters and government investigations and aggravations including defectors and terror.

In Rebecca Moore’s presentation, she talked about her connection and extraordinary access to Jonestown through her two sisters. She takes a stance that is extremely different from most critiques of Peoples Temple and Jonestown; instead of viewing it as a new religious movement or a cult, she viewed the situation as simply human beings who died. She argues that Peoples Temple does not fit the definition of a cult because there were many different types of people that came from many different backgrounds. Overall, Moore is not defending Peoples Temple and Jonestown, but is trying to understand it. She explored the idea that Peoples Temple was not just a social power movement, but also an African American organization that emerged from the matrix of the Black Power movement. It was not just a bunch of brainwashed people in a prison camp run by a crazy leader. She also believes that Jim Jones took the idea of “revolutionary suicide” to mean actual suicide. He tried to instill in his people that “death was the only way out” and that, according to his final recordings, the act of revolutionary suicide was the people protesting conditions of an inhumane world. He made them believe that this act of suicide was not selfish, but an unselfish act against capitalism. I t was an act that was better than being defeated by the enemy, in this case fascist America.

Moore also argues that Jim Jones was not the one to place the order for the poison or the one to test it or give it to the children of Jonestown; overall, it was the people that believed in the cause. She brings up the point of “audience corruption,” which I believe perfectly fits the situation that Peoples Temple were in in Jonestown. Audience corruption is when followers give responses that a leader wants to hear, which further corrupts the leader into thinking and believing that what he is doing is right. Finally, Moore argues that Jim Jones was an extremely intelligent man. He used acts such as having the children killed first on the final night. He knew that once the children were killed, parents would have nothing else to live for.

Overall, I thought Rebecca Moore’s presentation and book were good follow-ups and contrasts to Raven. Instead of seeing the people of Jonestown as brainwashed, she believed that the people saw themselves as courageous beings that were fighting against capitalism by putting their lives on the line. By moving to and living in Jonestown, these people believed that they were creating a community that would change the world, and if not, change them and their children. Moore does not agree with Raven, and it was especially nice to see this contrast. Moore views the account in Raven as describing Jim Jones as crazy from the very beginning. But Moore believes that Jim Jones was corrupted with power; Jones began with being poor white trash and then transformed into becoming a voice for justice. However, over time he developed a grandiose view of himself. Moore did believe that Jim Jones had paranormal abilities and was able to know what people were thinking. She believed that Jones developed overtime into a master manipulator. The aim of Moore’s talk was to see the humanity of all the people of Jonestown and to see that Peoples Temple was a social Black Power movement. I believe that her view and narrative of Peoples Temple and Jonestown is just as valid and compelling as Raven. I believe she successfully contributed to my better understanding and a better picture of what happened in Jonestown.

Documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Directed by Stanley Nelson

In Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, the documentary gives a very clear and thought-out depiction of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. The documentary starts off with scenes of video that were taken of some of the Temple services. These services were extremely vibrant and were full of life, soul, and power. As we have seen through other narratives of Jonestown, Jim Jones spoke about how the government was not taking care of its people. This idea and message alone struck the hearts of Temple members. Jones was able to make every person feel that they had a distinct purpose and that they were special. This purpose that Jones instilled in his people was one of the ways that he was able to bring in so many people from such diverse backgrounds. One of the things that was interesting to me about the scenes from some of the services were that it looked just like a regular, very vibrant and social church. It looked like people were enjoying themselves and having fun. It reminded me of something that is similar to the church that I belong to in a way of worship and a sense of community and belonging. This gave me a little bit of a different perspective of the Temple than I had before from the readings and discussions we have had.

The documentary overall, in my opinion, portrayed Jim Jones as kind of crazy from the beginning. It showed personal narratives and perspectives of people who knew Jim Jones as a child. As in other readings we have been exposed to about Jones, they portrayed him as “not normal” or “just different” than other young children at that age. According to Jim Jones, his being an outcast growing up allowed him very early on to become aware of the separation and segregation of blacks within society. Once Jim Jones started preaching, through his “rainbow family,” Jones was able to break new grounds in racial relations. Overall, again the movie emphasized how good Jim Jones was at getting people to follow him and believe in his views. He was able to get them to give up almost everything. including in some cases family, to be a part of Peoples Temple. Jim Jones also had a lot of political power that most people could not have even imagined. He also showed a sense of paranoia that he passed on to his people of the government trying to tap their phones and even assassinate him. When he and his people were in Jonestown, he tried to give them a sense that things were getting worse in the United States. The rest of the film, like other narratives we have studied and books we have read shows the steady decline of Jim Jones, Jonestown, and Peoples Temple. One of the things that struck me was the picture shown at the end of the documentary of the airplane with the dead bodies that had just been shot as the massacre started; it was extremely chilling.

Overall, I believe that this film’s message was effective and that it gave a pretty accurate depiction of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. However, I do believe that the view and depiction of Jim Jones was a little biased like it was in Raven. This view though came from some of the survivors, which I thought was extremely powerful and effective. It was interesting to hear their experiences first hand, especially Tim Carter and Eugene Smith. It was also very interesting to see videos and pictures in the context of this film because I felt like before watching this film, I was not getting a good idea of what the services and what Jonestown in Guyana were really like. It was nice to have this clarification and this new perspective of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

Stanley Nelson

In Stanley Nelson’s lecture, he described his documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, and his motives behind wanting to get involved with the story of Jim Jones, Jonestown, and Peoples Temple. One of the aspects of Peoples Temple that drew him to studying the subject was something that his wife had heard on the radio. Instead of hearing the majority of the media portraying Jim Jones as a madman, Jonestown as a terrible massacre, and Peoples Temple in general as a cult like organization, Nelson’s wife heard a story of Peoples Temple that was totally different. She heard how the members of Peoples Temple described their experience belonging to the Temple as one of the greatest times of their life, not as some horror story. They believed in this great cause and had many ties to the Temple including friends and family. They believed that what they were doing was good, which for the most part is very true. This difference that Nelson’s wife heard on how Jonestown was being portrayed led to how the film got started.

One of the things that Stanley Nelson emphasized in his lecture and in his description of how the film was made was that they did not want to force people or hound people to try and get them to talk. Having the film be a part of the American Experience series on PBS helped to allow some of the relatives of the people that died in Jonestown and some of the survivors to gain his trust. Once he began interviewing people for the film, because this was such a tight-knit community, it led to many more people coming forward with their stories. Everyone had a unique story and wanted to be heard. One of the major difficulties that that Nelson had to face with his documentary was that he had to get the audience of his film to try and relate to or understand the motives behind the 900 people who drank the poison on that night. He realized that this was going to be a very difficult thing to accomplish because many people do not understand why the people of Jonestown did this. He wanted the audience to question whether they would have done it too, if they were in the position of the people of Jonestown, instead of just having the audience view them as completely brainwashed and crazy for doing that.

Overall, I believe that Stanley Nelson’s talk was effective. He was able to describe his motives behind being a part of making this documentary and to describe the difficulties and his overall goals for the film. To me it was interesting that he was so intrigued with the Jonestown tragedy even though he had not been directly connected to it. It just goes to show how much of an impact that this event had on not only the people that were a part of it, but also the general public. I believe that the documentary was a good portrayal of Jonestown and Peoples Temple and it really helped me to further see why these people were so connected to this organization. I think that he did a good job of the portrayal of Jim Jones as someone who had a lot of power and was able to manipulate and gain the mind control of his followers. Nelson was able to clarify that this is exactly how he wanted to portray Jim Jones and believed that his film effectively portrays Jonestown and Peoples Temple.

Leigh Fondakowski (Reading: Stories from Jonestown)

Leigh Fondakowski was by far my favorite speaker of the series so far. Her talk was very clear and extremely effective. Her interest in her work was sincere, honest, and inspiring. Leigh described how she got involved in the project and the project itself. Her description of the play was incredible, I almost felt like I was there. One of the questions that she raised in the beginning of her talk was, are we able to undo the “bad” narrative of Jonestown, and make a “better” new one? Is this possible in our lifetime? These questions were what led her to start working on the Jonestown project and making a play out of it. To Leigh, this was an impossible challenge, and this impossibility drew her even more to the project. One of the problems or difficulties that she faced with the play was that she could not have a hundred protagonists. Instead, her goal was to make the movement itself a protagonist, which I believe is a difficult challenge but one that she was successfully able to do. Another challenge that Leigh wanted to overcome with the play is that she wanted the audience to have an experience of seeing themselves as if they were a part of the Jonestown story going along with the journey and being able to identify with the people there, instead of just being onlookers.

One of the most interesting aspects of the play that Leigh described was that she did not want the story to be about death, even though it was obviously a big part of Jonestown. So she decided to study other artists to see how they creatively represented death in a way that was not as gory. She was able to accomplish this by putting up the passport pictures of the people who died there. I thought that this was an amazing way to represent the deaths of the people; it was more of a memorial. Leigh wants to make her play into a screenplay or a mini-series, but she wants to keep the interviews and her work close so that it can be portrayed as how she believes it ethically should be. In making the play, Leigh believed everything that the people she interviewed told her, it was their truths, which she wanted to use to shape the narrative she was creating. I believe that Leigh’s talk was effective, in that she was able to describe her motives behind why she wanted to create this play. She also described the play and some of her book in a very effective way.

In Leigh Fondakowski’s book, Stories from Jonestown, she tells the life story of Jim Jones in Guyana through a series of interviews with numerous survivors. In the book she explains the numerous falsehoods, which have been accepted as fact over the years. One of the stories that stood out to me the most was an interview with Stephan Jones about his father. He recalled a time when his father took him outside and picked a star in the sky and then said that that was where they were both from. While Stephan Jones had a voice in his head saying there is no way this could be true, there was an even stronger voice in his head saying that he liked the way that it sounded and that it was true. Another was about Stephan Jones recalling his childhood to be truly wonderful. However, he recalled a time when he would save fish in the river before it dried up but then remembered when it went from people thinking that he wanted to do good, to people thinking that Stephan saved the fish because he wanted to please people. This was a good analogy of his father. Overall, I thought this book was really great and did a great job of trying to illuminate the numerous falsehoods that have been accepted over the years. Leigh really felt strongly about wanting Jonestown – through the perspectives of the people that she interviewed – to be seen in a better light.

Jordan Vilchez

Jordan Vilchez got invited to her first Temple meeting in Redwood Valley when she was twelve years old. Some of the things that appealed to her most about Peoples Temple was how integrated the church was and in general how unique the atmosphere was. She described how the worship songs that were sung were religious as well as political. These aspects instantly drew her to Peoples Temple and soon after joining, Jordan moved in with her older sister and her two nieces and nephews, and then after about a year she was placed in the church’s commune, which was very highly organized. She described how there was a tendency in the Temple to break families up so that one’s primary allegiance would be for the cause, which actually meant Jim Jones himself, and not to their families.

Jordan was called to join the Planning Commission, or PC as it was called, at the age of 16, which was an honor because the people asked to join the PC were the members who were considered the more trusted members. At 18, she moved to the San Francisco Temple and alternated weekends between San Francisco and LA on the bus trips. In 1977, Jordan was sent to Guyana and worked in the fields planting bananas and cassava. She described how right away, she did not enjoy being there. She enjoyed the country of Guyana and the people there, however she never really got to experience and get to know the people there because they never saw them; Jonestown was very separate from the country itself. Luckily, Jordan was able to spend most of her time not in Jonestown but in the capital of Guyana working to ask for money for Jonestown’s “agricultural project.” Although Jordan did come back to Jonestown right before the massacre, she was able to leave just a day before to go back to the capital and was therefore spared from this horrible tragedy.

During the 30 years after the tragedy, Jordan has realized looking back on her time in Peoples Temple the sense of gloom that she felt and the general unease that something could happen at any time. She suffered through a lot of post traumatic stress and having to deal with not only the tragedy on that final day itself, but also all of her time and effort spent in Peoples Temple leading up to the final tragedy, which was pretty much her entire life. Jordan described that growing up she felt that her hopes, dreams, and desires did not matter as an individual. In Peoples Temple, putting one’s hopes, dreams, and desires first is not even an option, it was considered selfish and futile. During her talk, Jordan wanted to emphasize that she still to this day believes that for the most part, Peoples Temple’s ideals were worthy, such as the integration of blacks and whites and the betterment of the country through equality to name a few, but when she looks back on her time spent with Peoples Temple and the way that she lived, the overall price was enormous. Jordan described that while the principles were noble, the circumstances they were a part of were ironically repressive and destructive to her undeveloped and diminished sense of self as a human being and he r own sense of worthiness apart from anything else.

Jordan was so unacknowledged at a fundamental level, which resulted in a detriment to her experience in the world. She feels handicapped by a lack of skills that most people learned as teenagers. Being a part of Peoples Temple required so much of her while she was still so young. Because of this intensity, she believed that there has been a sort of stretching of the psyche, which has developed certain instincts that would not have come otherwise. I found Jordan Vilchez’ speech to be extremely empowering and effective because despite all of these negative aspects that Peoples Temple has left Jordan to live with, she has found and acknowledged the gifts that it has brought her. One of these gifts is that Jordan has realized the complexity of life and the ability to view complex and even painful situations as processes in which something new is trying to emerge. With that said, she tries every day to focus on this “something new” and the positive aspects of her life. The second gift that this experience has brought her, and something that has resonated with me since her speech is the gift of compassion, which she believes to be the ultimate pain reliever because whether one is happy or sad, having compassion and being compassionate can always allow someone to be content. Feeling compassion allows Jordan to cope and deal with difficult issues that she has to face everyday of her life. A quote that Jordan ended with, which I think to be extremely effective in getting her powerful message across is this: “I don’t know how it happened, but my experience has given me compassion towards myself and others including people I don’t like or agree with because we are all one and the same, each of us reflecting a different dimension or angle of where we are in the human journey.” Jordan has realized the importance of really being true to one’s self and most importantly having a healthy balance of being an individual and being a part of a collective community.

Tim Carter

Tim Carter decided to join the Marine Corps instead of going to college. He was enlisted for three years and then volunteered to go to Vietnam. He realized that after experiencing combat, things were not as they appeared to be. He felt that he was tricked and this made him angry because he felt that he had been lied to and that people were dying in order for others to get rich. When he got out of Vietnam he decided that he wanted to be a part of the solution, not the problem, which he felt to be the war. Tim wanted to have a place in the world that was constructive where he could actually make a difference. He searched for three years, seeing the lies in society. He investigated many different religions and groups. Tim learned of Jim Jones and after walking into Peoples Temple, he finally felt at home; there were both black and white people and truly no color. He loved the liveliness and interactions between the people. He finally felt that he could contribute in his own way through Peoples Temple to help make the world a better place.

Tim Carter moved to Jonestown in 1977. His son had been born two week earlier. He described how during his last two years in the Temple he truly hated Jim Jones. Peoples Temple became about its leader Jim Jones, which was exactly the opposite of what Tim thought and believed the Temple should be. However, Tim explained that he was not going to leave the Temple because he did not want to leave his family and the people that he loved. Tim saw Peoples Temple as hard work. He was in Guyana for 16 months and spent a lot of his time in the capital Georgetown and visited Jonestown as it was being developed. One of the reasons that I believed Tim Carter’s speech to be so effective was because of how truly genuine and real he was. I felt his emotion and pain through his speech. He believed that what he saw happen in Jonestown was murder. When he was describing that final day, his details were so vivid and I felt as if I had been there; the scene was playing out in my head like a movie. He described that there was absolutely no choice that day and that is why he categorizes what he saw happen as murder; suicide is a choice, and these people did not have a choice. If people had had the choice, Tim believed that they would not have chosen to die. He also backed up this opinion with the evidence that in a meeting, Jim Jones asked how many people thought Peoples Temple should commit revolutionary suicide and only three people raised their hands. Tim also backed his opinion up with the fact that younger children do not commit suicide. Somebody had to facilitate this, and that somebody was Jim Jones.

One of the aspects of Tim Carter’s speech that was most interesting to me was one of his main points, which was that the most important thing to remember and consider is the fact that what members knew at the time and what members have learned since the time of Peoples Temple are extremely different They did not know that the shots fired in Jonestown had been “fake shots” just to try and get the people in Jonestown to believe that someone was trying to kill them. They did not know that there had been 23 million dollars in bank accounts around the world; the people living in Jonestown had to sacrifice a lot and that money could have really been put to good use to make their lives a lot easier and a lot better. Tim learned that they had been planning murder five months before it happened. All of this greatly upset Tim; the people of Peoples Temple were all so proud of what they had built. They basically carved a city out of nothing, which is an extremely difficult thing to do. Tim saw his future family living in Jonestown and saw the opportunity of Jonestown as being a community that could become a successful utopia, however Jim Jones had a completely different vision. In the end, Tim Carter believed that all of the good that they accomplished didn’t make any difference because of the ending and how horrible it was, which is so unfortunate and sad. He believes that Peoples Temple and Jonestown is the epitome of a contradiction. I think that Tim’s speech was extremely effective in that I truly believed everything he was saying because of how genuine his emotions were. He brings true charisma and such light heartedness to his views and the way that he presents himself despite this horrible tragedy that he has been apart of and that he has had to face. It was so empowering to hear his stories; they were straight from the heart and truly inspiring to me. Hearing a survivor of Jonestown speak about and share his heroic story was incredible and amazing.

Julia Scheeres (Reading: A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown)

Julia Scheeres is a journalist by trade. She pursued her book A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown after stumbling upon it while she was working on another project. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Jesus Land, which is about how she grew up in rural Indiana with her adopted brother who was black. The book described their childhood and how they were the misfit kids in Indiana. They were both sent to a reform school as punishment in the Dominican Republic. Julia described that if at the time they had looked in on Jim Jones’ church, they would have loved his message. The reason why she was so intrigued and drawn to the story of Peoples Temple and Jonestown was because she found a lot of parallels with what was happening in Jonestown and what was happening in her life. For example, she was isolated when she and her brother were sent to the Dominican Republic like the people of Jonestown were. The whole school would gather and watch the dean of the school fight teenage boys like the boxing matches in Peoples Temple. Runaways had their hair chopped off like the people in Jonestown. If students disagreed they would be brought in front of a congregation and humiliated like in Jonestown. If you got in trouble you weren’t allowed to speak to anyone like in Jonestown. In general, Julia and her brother were cut off from the outside world and their communication was censored at all times just like in Jonestown.

To start her book, Julia was able to get archives from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act, which took her a year to sort everything into a coherent story and to organize the materials so she could figure out how she was going to tell the story. She decided to pick people to put in her narrative who were still alive so that they could be extensively interviewed. One of the things that I found to be interesting about Julia Scheeres and her speech was that when she wrote about Jim Jones in her book, she felt that s he was complying with Jim Jones’ wish to be famous, which upset her; in general she said that she found Jim Jones to be a very boring person. Overall, one of Julia’s main goals that she wanted to achieve through her book was that she wanted her readers to see that the people of Jonestown were not monsters and for the readers to have empathy for the people in Jonestown. I felt that Julia’s speech was effective in that her own personal story was used to parallel and find a connection with the story of Peoples Temple and Jonestown. Overall, I felt that she was able to effectively describe this parallel and I found it to be exceptionally interesting. Aside from this parallel, I felt that the other aspects of her speech were not as effective in engaging her audience. Her speech jumped around a lot and I felt that it did not have an overall argument or point other than to describe how she stumbled upon Peoples Temple and then decided to write about it. She read a few excerpts from her book but did not go into much detail, which made her speech less effective.

I really enjoyed reading her book A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown. The book chronicled the lives of five people who lived in Jonestown before the mass murder suicides. These five people included Edith Roller, Stanley Clayton, Hyacinth Thrash, and Jim and Tommy Bogue. All of them together represented many of the varied demographics of Peoples Temple including whites and African Americans. Julia used diaries and other primary sources including hundreds of hours of interviews that she found in the FBI archives. For me, along with the other books, accounts, and speakers that we have read and listened to about Jonestown, Julia’s book was able to further reduce the stigma that is attached to members of Peoples Temple and Jonestown. Through the five people that she chronicled in her book she was able to humanize Jones’ victims and allow readers to have more empathy for them. Through reading her book, I further realized that the people of Jonestown were not given the alternative to live; they were told to either drink the poison or be shot. One of my favorite excerpts from the book was Tommy Bogue’s initial sight of Jonestown and how he described his drive into the large clearing of what was Jonestown. For a second he thought about some of Jones’ pictures and descriptions of what Jonestown looked like and had accomplished thus far and how these so called accomplishments were not actually the case. This scene was powerful to me because he was able to move past this and be happy that he had arrived, at long last, in Jonestown.

Stephan Jones

It was so incredibly humbling and amazing to witness Stephan Jones come talk to students and faculty at Bucknell. Although this is an understatement, Stephan Jones has had to deal with so much and go through so much pain in his lifetime. It is so remarkable and wonderful that he took time out of his life to come and talk to us about something that is so painful for him. One of the things that really stood out to me was that he told us he had once turned down an interview with Opera and then a week later decided to work with a young boy on a history project about Peoples Temple and Jonestown. To me, this just furthers Stephan .Jones’ humility and attitude about his father, Jim Jones and about his own experience of what happened in Jonestown; he could have exploited the fact that he was Jim Jones’ son to get famous or to send his own message about what happened in Jonestown, but instead, he kept and mourned to himself and decided to embark upon a journey of healing to find forgiveness for his father. This was so incredibly empowering to me and led to the effectiveness of Stephan Jones’ talk.-

In his speech, Stephan Jones discussed how it took him a really long time to understand things about his father and about Jonestown better. He learned very early on and did his best not to dwell on the would-have, could-have, should-have. Instead he learned the importance of asking and looking for what he can learn from this experience. Another thing that was very powerful to me about Stephan Jones was that he believes that the best way to pay tribute to the people who died in Jonestown is to work with students. He is very humble and this trait was shown through his elegant and graceful demeanor. One of the things that Stephan Jones wishes that he had realized during his time in Jonestown and growing up as Jim Jones’ son in Peoples Temple was the fact that we as humans should celebrate if we realize that something is not necessarily for us. Not realizing this fact drove people to feel pressured to stay in Peoples Temple.

One of the aspects of Stephan Jones’ talk that I found to be interesting and to make his speech effective and “real” was when he accidentally alluded to the idea that Jim Jones “killed so many people.” He then retracted his words when someone from the audience had asked him about it and said that he had meant to say, “when so many people were killed …” I felt that this was very interesting because maybe even though he does not want to believe it, he unconsciously believes and feels that his father did kill/murder all of these people. I feel that this made his speech raw and from the heart, instead of him faking what he was saying or not being genuine about it. One of the most powerful things of all that he said and that still resonates with me is what he says to his daughters, “I love you with all my heart, forever, no matter what. Of course, God loves you more.” For Stephan Jones to still be able to move on with his life and accomplish feeling forgiveness for his father is truly inspiring to me. He described how he always wants to try and understand where people are coming from because they could be right. I believe that we as human beings will naturally always want to see our own personal ways and views as right. It is very hard for us to take a step back and try to see other peoples’ points of view.

However, Stephan Jones is able to do this, to take a step back and realize that we are not always right, others with a different point of view or idea than us could be right as well. For him to realize this – even after all that he has been through – has helped him to move forward in his life. This is truly remarkable to me. I am so lucky to have witnessed Stephan Jones speak.

Originally posted on October 13th, 2013.

Last modified on October 15th, 2013.
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