The Peoples Temple church in Indiana began in the 1950s under the direction of my father, Jim Jones, a charismatic, self ordained preacher. Unlike most midwestern churches at the time, Peoples Temple was racially integrated.
Upon relocating to San Francisco in the 1970s, Peoples Temple gained lots of attention. We ran several programs for those in need and demonstrated the importance of social equality and racial justice. It felt good for us youngsters to know that we were bringing real change and were a part of something special. Or so we thought.
Before we knew it, Peoples Temple had grown to about 20,000 members of whom referred to my father as "Father." However, reports began to surface as he was exposed for forcing people to give up their homes, belongings, and even children. According to the reports, Peoples Temple members were beaten and my father's cancer healings were merely a setup. Like many others, however, I was convinced that my father had the right intentions.
Following the unwanted media attention, we relocated to a jungle in Guyana with around 1,000 of my father's followers. There, my father promised us that we'd establish a utopian society, which soon came to be known as the Jonestown settlement.
Jonestown was not the utopia that my father had promised. We were subject to harsh labor and anyone who dared to question my father was punished. Contact with the outside world was forbidden and weirdly enough, we were required to participate in mock suicide drills. On November 18, 1978, I was out of town when my father gave his people an order: drink the cyanide laced punch or die. 909 people died on that day - a clear wake up call.
My father was undoubtedly an insane man. He was on drugs, convinced that the government and media were out to get him, and would constantly compare himself to Jesus Christ. I like to think that I was meant to survive the Jonestown Massacre so that I could be here to share my story today. There is no doubt that Peoples Temple affected me in ways unimaginable, but I refuse to let my past define me. As a recovering drug addict, my only hope is to build a better life for myself, in hopes that others with similar experiences may do the same.