16 February – Thursday 1978
The night had been disturbed by sounds of coming and going outside.
We were awakened at 6.00 by an alert call. The loud speaker telling us to dress and go to the central pavilion as soon as possible. I used the pee jar, threw on my clothes, put on my glasses, purposely did not take my watch, as the others were urging me to go.
The entire membership with few exceptions (the babies in the nursery and their caretakers and people looking after the animals) were gathered into the pavilion and seated on all benches and chairs which could be crowded in.
Jim explained the political situation had worsened and was threatening. Foreign Minister Wills had been forced out of the Cabinet and the Minister of the Interior, Desmond Hoyt, seemed to have increased power. The former had been friendly to the Temple and the latter is a rightist. The Army was on maneuvers close to us and there might be an attempt to harm us in one way or another. Many of us believed the U.S. and the CIA specifically might have played an important role in the events.
Jim has been suffering with an infected tooth for several days, though he can and does bear the pain, the tooth’s jagged edge cut his tongue, making it difficult for him to speak
Worst of all, he has had no sleep for a long period of time. Shanda Oliver, who had training as a dental assistant, put temporary fillings in his tooth throughout the day while he sat in his chair.
What to do about the situation was the subject of the whole day’s discussion. Jim through the radio asked our representatives to clarify the views of the government and as time passed to make our demands known, as he followed his usual plan of negotiating from a position of strength.
As we assumed no immediate answer and certain developments indicated that the situation was “getting more serious” we began to talk of trying to get to other friendly countries. Long lines formed to make suggestions or express opinions, with comments coming from Jim and others in the leadership: Harriet Tropp, who is a prominent political analyst, Mike Prokes, Gene Chaikin as an attorney, Lee Ingram, and those who have been here for some time and know the local political situation, such as Charlie Touchette.
This same kind of concern and argument had taken place at least once before as Diane had told me. At the time of the last crisis when our opponents had entered our grounds and actually fired shots (in connection with the attempt to get John Stoen away from us). The membership had stayed in the pavilion through days and nights. Food was brought in and people escorted in groups to relieve their physical needs. On this occasion for urinating, we were instructed by security to go behind a small nearby building.
Some people envisaged the possibility of returning to the States but in general the choice seemed to be between Cuba, the Soviet Union, and various African countries, such as Ethiopia (Jim explained the serious dispute between Ethiopia and Somalia with the alternate positives of the US and the Soviet Union as playing a role in our dilemma) Mozambique, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Votes were taken now and again and some place in Africa would get the most votes. The difficulties were recognized: the fact that we were overweighed with unproductive seniors and little children, the question of funds for journeying anywhere and by what means, language problems, fear other countries would have that we might infiltrate enemy agents. Jim at one point proposed that we go back to the US and support our sons and children by religious and healing meetings, say in New York City. This latter suggestion fell flat, more, it would seem because of the cold, than because it would probably be impossible to keep our socialist faith alive among our young.
We had some breakfast. A glass of water was given to each, we were told we would have only one other meal, biscuits and cheese. After we had this and water was given out again, Jim told us the situation had not improved.
I had made several statements from the floor and at one time finding it difficult to speak when my comments seemed pertinent, I sent up a proposal. I thought Jim asked for it to be read aloud but it was not. I suggested that instead of revolutionary suicide (which had been suggested) we seek to send our young people to some African country where they could be used in a revolutionary cause. That the adults support their sons and children in whatever place was most feasible, so that the brains and talents of our little ones would be saved for the future. A few other people made similar suggestions that our young people fight in revolutionary situations.
White Night At length Jim stated that the political situation showed no signs of clearing up and that we had no alternative but revolutionary suicide. He had already given instructions to make the necessary arrangements. All would be given a potion, juice combined with a potent poison. After taking it, we would die painlessly in about 45 minutes. Those who were leaders and brave would take it last. He would be the last to die and would make sure all were dead. Lines were formed as a container with the potion in it with cups was brought in by the medical staff. Jim said only a small amount was necessary. The seniors were allowed to be seated and be served first. At the beginning those who had reservations were allowed to express them, but those who did were required to be first. As far as I could see once the procession started, very, very few made any protest. A few questions were asked, such as an inquiry about those in the nursery. Jim said they had already been taken care of.
I find it hard to believe that the threat with which we were faced justified such an extreme action. I would have thought it more in keeping with what we had been taught to go down fighting, taking some of the enemy with us. I felt that some form of civil disobedience should be tried first, as it could have a profound effect on world opinion and I wondered why we should leave all our buildings and crops to be exploited by the enemy, as Jim had mentioned earlier instructing a scorched earth policy.
These considerations led me in one part of my mind to doubt that Jim was actually giving us a poison. However, the whole procedure was otherwise so convincing and I knew that Jim was able to perform any action, no matter how desperate it might seem to others, and that since he is convinced that life is all pain anyway, he would be unlikely to be influenced by our desire to live.
I shuddered. I regretted dying as I feel I have years of work and experience ahead of me, not least of which is the writing I wish to do about this whole remarkable story. It seemed bad luck that just when I had come to Jonestown and had a chance to use my talents as a teacher, I should be cut short. Nevertheless, I am 62 and I think of those who are younger, especially the children, with all their potential. I looked around me. Many had glowing eyes. It was awesome. Even the children were very quiet. I looked at the beautiful sky surrounding us.
The most poignant thought of all was that the greatness that is Jim Jones would not come to fruition. Was this movement he had nurtured to come to naught, to a pile of dead bodies and an abandoned agricultural experiment in the small country of Guyana? He is the most remarkable man who has ever lived. Is this what he will be remembered for?
I thought of the time that in tones of the utmost solemnity on a tape played to the San Francisco Friday night meeting, he had promised, “If you stay with us your fondest hopes, all that you ever imagined you could be, will be fulfilled.” I didn’t feel that I had achieved all I could do and I knew others had not. I remember his saying in a flash of revelation, “Mary Wotherspoon, I see you giving your life for this cause,” I did not think he meant it in this way. That was one reason I did not quite believe our lives were at stake.
And what would happen to those other members of our family in San Francisco, some of the brightest, the most loyal? What would happen to them?
I reflected on some of the past who had been executed, some such as Nathan Hale and Charles II whose principles I didn’t even agree with, but they died bravely. I don’t know why. I didn’t think of revolutionary heroes, except Rizal in the Philippines, of whose courage I had been told. Men such as Victor Jara and Salvador Allende should have come to mind. Perhaps they did not, because they had been tortured as is the custom now-a-days. The ones I thought of had had to accept death because of devotion to their political beliefs. Presumably they could have renounced their beliefs and live.
Poetry in general was what I most regretted living behind. Inevitably, Hamlet came to my mind. And although he was a fictional person, I felt that he most nearly typified the condition we faced: all of us, a sacrifice for the community, dying when he was young and capable of so much achievement. But the sacrifice of his life, as remembered by Ferguson, accomplished something for the society that lived after him. I felt that this amazing event in which we were involved would undoubtedly be noted around the world and people would know that we must have cared deeply.
When it comes to my turn, I meant to request Jim that he send this message: “We are protesting fascism.” This is better than dying by the nuclear bomb.
I gave some thought to my sisters and Lor. When they heard the news I was afraid they would think Jim Jones was a lunatic and I wasn’t much better than one. This thought I dismissed. What did it matter? Sooner or later when the bomb fell, they would realize Jim Jones was right as I had always said. The thought of the people at Bechtel whom I had known well never crossed my mind.
At intervals as the line went down the pavilion and crossed the room and came down the middle, I contemplated the experience of death. Another Shakespeare character, I believe it was, said, “We owe God a death.” I had to die sometime. But I must say I didn’t look forward to it with joy. At that particular moment I neither wanted to cease to exist, to be absorbed in to the Universal Essence, nor to be re-incarnated and start all over again.
However, it was a new sensation and in a certain and peculiar way, I was enjoying it, just the experience. Everything was very vivid. I was fonder of those around me than I had ever been. It was remarkable how disciplined and obedient they were. The look in their eyes showed they knew the importance what they were doing. I especially noticed the children, who were very quiet
Diane told us the next day that many parents came up to their children to give them a last embrace.
Some people were beginning to collapse. I saw one woman being carried out. I didn’t know the passage of time. It must be about 45 minutes since we have started taking the potion. I was annoyed that I did not have my watch. Then I was amused at myself. When one is about to die, what difference does it make what time it is? I couldn’t very well write in my journal: “I died at 5:30 p.m. on the 16th of February 1978.”
I had only a few minutes left until I would take the potion. I was going to be a credit to myself. I would take the potion with out hesitation. I would just like to sit down on the grass and in a few minutes, I would pass out. That would be the end.
Then I heard Jim’s voice, quite quietly he was saying, “You didn’t take anything. You had only punch with something a little stronger in it.” He went ahead to explain the people who were passing out or feeling dizzy. “The mind is very powerful.” He told us we should have known that though revolutionary suicide might be sometime necessary, he would have had much more to say about it, had it been real.
One little boy, Irvin Perkins, I believe said, when he learned of the potion, “Oh boy, I’ll get off learning crew.” In a way, a great many of the seniors said that they were grateful to die. They had suffered so much. I think many people regretted that they weren’t going to die. In a way, I too, regretted that I was not going to be off learning crew. Back to the sound and fury of life.
We went into an evening service. The latest reports received on the radio offered some assurances that the demands of the Temple would be met by the cabinet, even if it were reconstituted. The chief subject discussed was the advisability of making some visits to churches in Georgetown with the objective of gaining a following which would stand back of us in a political crisis and also to raise money. Jim envisaged holding healing service with the choir. Someone proposed that tapes and motion pictures could be used to prepare for future meetings. Some opposition was expressed, probably much of it based on going back to church services now that we had gotten away from the religious atmosphere. Jim however emphasized the wisdom of using his gift, which was genuine. He told the choir to get ready.
The rally was dismissed at 10:00. Jim told us to go home and have a good nights’ sleep.
When I reached home, I couldn’t find my watch. It appeared to me either that someone got through the lines in order to pilfer or that the security guards themselves had taken it.
I went to bed at 10.30.