LAURA JOHNSTON KOHL, One More Question for Jonestown Survivor (April 2017)
I just returned from a fast-paced visit to University of Southern Indiana. I presented in many different classes, and at a public event with 450 people in the audience. My presentations ranged from a brief introduction about myself and how I ended up in Peoples Temple to a full multi-media presentation with a power point and a lot of information. My favorite part of any program I participate in - really whether I’m the presenter or part of the audience - is the Question & Answer time. This time was no exception. One question, or observation, that comes up once in awhile has to do with Jim Jones. One teacher commented after the presentation, and I wanted to respond here. Her observation was that I did not vilify Jim Jones, or rant about him, as much as she expected. I also referred to him as “Jim.” I wrote and published my book Jonestown Survivor: An Insider's Look in 2010. Since then, I have seen a few comments about the lack of focus on Jim Jones. I absolutely think that we know everything we need to know about him. We know what he had for breakfast and the names of his sexual partners. And, we have audio tapes and video tapes of him speaking, and of people speaking about him. And then, there are the books. And, there are more books coming out as we speak (or write). I feel that the specific topic of Jim Jones is covered. Can we continue to learn about him and his catastrophic time as the leader of Peoples Temple? Absolutely. Is there more to research and more to expose and more to learn. Absolutely. And, there are many - both with and without credibility and wisdom - who are still doing that. Focus on Jim, to me, is a further waste of my being - my emotions, my pain, my survival. And, it is pointless. He is dead.
My path is to speak more about the other 917 who died on November 18, 1978. Who were they? What was life in Peoples Temple like for those who were NOT Jim Jones. I am not presumptuous enough to say I speak for all 917. Even with the few other survivors, we did not see many things the same way. I speak for myself, for my many friends who SEEMED to feel as I did. We don’t know exactly what each person thought since “Freedom of Speech” did not exist in Jonestown. We had allowed that to be taken away from us. We don’t know. Once I asked a handful of Jonestown survivors how many people they thought were happy in Jonestown. My own answer was “most.” I think that 700+ were happy in Jonestown, knowing that we had taken on a big job, and that things would continue to improve once we had the community built. Some other survivors said that easily 700+ were not happy there. And then, there are those along the spectrum. I was happy there. I had fallen in love with the community, with the potential that we seemed to have within our reach. Jim was not my inspiration in the final year there. The community inspired me. People would have known that and would not have come to me to complain or voice concerns. I have no question about that. But, I didn’t work around people who gave off that air of discontent. I certainly project my own sense of things on others. I have no way to prove or disprove my claim. So, I don’t focus on him, on the con man he was, or on the depth of my despair over the events of November 18, 1978. I do focus on trying to get a better understanding of how he got to me, how he got to the other wonderful people I lost in Jonestown. Today, looking back, I am not haranguing about him. I do reflect on Jonestown and the other 917.
JAYA PRIYA REINHALTER and the Center for Communal Studies (May 2016)
"For the past year and a half, I have been exploring methods of facilitating cultural change within the context of intentional community; specifically, the hands-on application of this exploration that has taken place with the community I grew up in: Kashi, Florida. My research residency with the Center for Communal Studies (Jaya was the recipient of the Center's 2015 Research Travel Grant) was focused on expanding my inquiry to include a scholarly analysis, historical context, and to compare and contrast Kashi to other communities through the use of the Communal Studies Collection. I was interested in change through lines of leadership, generations, organizational structure and community culture. In order to do his, I needed to have a better understanding of those that have come before us. Upon reading about communities in North America, the experiences of one repeatedly stood out: Padanaram, Indiana. Because Padanaram was close, I was able to spend a day touring the community, sharing stories and commiserating about the challenges of navigating community life after the loss of a leader. The similarity between Padanaram and Kashi was remarkable. To know that there are certain processes through which most intentional communities will travel was strangely comforting. The other communities I discovered through the Collection included Findhorn, Ananda Village, the Abode of the Message, the Farm and Earthhaven.
If there is one thing we have learned at Kashi, it is that 'relationships' sits at the base of everything in community, and if these are weak, then very few attempts toward change are likely to work. This growing awareness through my research in the Center's Communal Studies Collection has led me to wonder if there are particular indicators in community that can signal preparedness for stages of restorative change, conflict resolution and transformation. In addition to my intellectual findings, my time with the Center for Communal Studies was rich in experiences both expected and unexpected. I was invited to speak to Wells Scholars students from Indiana University on a field trip to New Harmony. Later, I gave the Center's Spring Lecture at USI. I was invited to attend the Center's Spring Board meeting, where I met Board members and took part in a stimulating conversation with former members of the the Farm. The experience of staying in New Harmony (just 25 minutes by car from the USI campus) was one of the most spectacular elements of my research trip. Meeting the people of New Harmony, visiting the Working Man's Institute, and exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic town kept my days interesting.
Many sincere thanks for the time I was granted at the Center."