The Others

Photo courtesy of the California Historical Society

(Glenda Randolph Bates was the sister of Darlene Ramey, who died in Jonestown. Glenda’s numerous articles for this site appear here. She died on March 29, 2022 from pancreatic cancer.)

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “other” as, “being the remaining one or ones of two or more.” Through the years you may have heard many stories or life experiences about or from those who traveled to Jonestown. Some returned alive, and some did not. Those who lived through the nightmare are called survivors. I am one of the others. Not only am I one that remains, I am also one of two or more. There are many others. I won’t satisfy your curiosity with stories of what it was like to live in Jonestown, to have endured the atrocities of forced encampment, or plights of escape attempts. But I can tell you what it’s like to be one of the others.

As one of the others, I had dreams, hopes and aspirations. I had vision and what I perceived at the time as purpose. I had family and friends; I gave and I took. I lived, and I laughed, and I loved. I am one of the others who as a young child learned to back away from the edge of the pool. I tried not to get too close to the edge of a cliff, the edge…

As one of the others, I struggle with bouts of surrealism, reminding myself sometimes that those times, places, people, and events actually occurred. The other people of Peoples Temple. Yes, I am one of the others. I am one of the others that deal with reactions from people when they learn my involvement with Jim Jones. The others hear those shocked questions as well, such as, “You were in Jonestown?” The others deal with the disinterested looks when we reply “No.” Others can tell you that we have become quite familiar with the apathetic, polite nods. Almost like disappointment, you know. Kind of like if you went to a Broadway play to see a show you’ve been dying to see, only to find that the understudy is playing the role today. You didn’t see the star; you saw one of the others.

Fascination with human suffering is not brand new. The people of Jonestown suffered. Period. As an other, I affirm that the sufferings associated with the Peoples Temple occurred in and outside of Jonestown. Others suffered as well.

Yes, I am one of the others. One of the others left trying to explain, or put something tangible on something hardly noticeable today by many. Left to answer questions that I myself need answers to. I am an other that would like some answers. I also would like to ask some questions. How do other people substantiate something that is no longer tangible? There remain today many fingers searching for someone or something to point to. Someone or something needs to be blamed. Sometimes it’s the others.

I am one of the others. I bear the brunt of all the “Kool-Aid” jokes. I am frequently, even after decades, asked, “How could anyone be so dumb?”, or “What was it like in Jonestown?” I don’t dialogue much with people when the jokes start. Through the years I’ve managed to buffet my feelings with sarcasm that is often disguised as wit. As if anyone would find anything witty about Jonestown. Sometimes others do.

Perhaps one day the world will be willing to take a step back and view the Jonestown story as more than just a legend. Someone may want to hear the multifaceted account instead of merely simplifying it as just another catastrophic event. If so, other people can impart in-depth narratives as well. Even today questions and curiosity swelter whenever the name Jonestown is mentioned. I begrudge no one their questions or curiosities. I must admit though that through the years I have resented the absence of queries from among the others.

We have nothing to hide; we expose our frailties and vulnerabilities. Why? It’s not for notoriety or fifteen seconds in front of the camera, neither is it for monetary gain. It is because we know that the world is full of others. Others as vulnerable as we once were. We, the others , value the ability to effect change in the lives of people. We welcome honesty; we honor truth.

When I decided to write for this site, my first inclination was to recount an experience with a friend that was murdered in Jonestown. After much thought, I decided against it because it didn’t occur in Jonestown. Is it an interesting story? I think so. Is it fascinating? I think so. Is it sad? Absolutely. Then why not tell the story, you might ask. I choose not to tell that story because of the others. There are many of us that remain, and we share many stories that some deem insignificant to the puzzle of Jonestown. Our trauma is real. Our memories are real. Our stories are true. So I’d rather tell another story. I’d rather tell one about the others.