I would sum up my cousin’s life with a poem that I call “Ambushed” because I really think that although my cousin Joyce was chronologically 20 years of age when she died in Jonestown, in reality, she was still as innocent as a child. She had no clue what she was getting into with Peoples Temple.
I actually visited the Temple at the time and sat in on a sermon, when it was around the corner from the Black Muslims on Geary and Fillmore. I believe the Peoples Temple was on the corner of Geary and Steiner. At that time in my life, I was involved in active addiction to substances. Ironically, the self-centeredness of active addiction saved me from joining any cause that would interfere with my using. The church members seemed to be okay with the preacher’s loud and obnoxious tone and I really focused on the subtle demands by Jim Jones that day despite being high on drugs. I have never been one who allowed people to tell me what to do and besides, getting and using required all of my time. The church required that you devote your time and resources to its mission, even for first time attendants. The choice to continue to seek and “stay well” in my addiction overruled any consideration of giving my life over to God through anyone primarily beyond myself; so you could say that I was my own God.
I had stopped into the Church at the invitation of my auntie Valisha Douglas. It was her and my two cousins, Joyce and Calvin who joined the Temple and actually went to Jonestown. Calvin and Valisha survived. I was 24 or 25 at the time and at the height of my active addiction. I have now been clean for over 30 years (10/25/85) and because of the mistreatment of my cousin Joyce when she was alive and we were growing up, I have dedicated much of the success of my recovery to my cousin Joyce as a living amends.
This is my poem for her.
I hold the hands of people I seldom touch and I touch the hearts of people I rarely embrace, people rarely see me gladly. At best I catch the residue of their despair. I see people who run into brick walls, the same walls over and over again and I coach them to walk in a different direction. I see people who wonder what they have done to make such an enemy of fate. I see people who are wounded and need medicine for their wounds and I see people who need their wounds opened for further signs of contamination. I am often the last person they see when they crawl across the finish line marked, “I give up,” help me. Some people dare me to help them and some people beg me to help them. Sometimes the beggars and the darers look the same, absolutely the same and I am supposed to tell them apart!!
Some days I am invigorated by it all and some days I am numbed beyond description. But at the end of the day, I am always humbled by the role of helper and in the case of my cousin Joyce, I am ambushed.