Father Cares

It was just after eleven when the bell began tolling. The loudspeakers played a recording from the San Francisco Temple days, the whole church singing

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land
Tell ole Pharoah to let my people go

while Father’s voice, urgent yet  calm, said the words I’d come to dread these many months here:

White night! White night! Run for your lives!

After Aunt Essie had signed over the Indianapolis house to the Temple, I knew I needed to stay with her.

We’d gone to San Francisco, then to Ukiah, and finally here to Guyana.

At first I’d believed in Father, even thought he could read minds.

He was a powerful preacher and did real good in the community.

But now it was all astray.

He ranted and raved, never slept.

His boys all carried guns.

“We need to go, Auntie,” I said. “He’s lost his mind.”

She shook her head. “Father cares.”

 

What Pegman Saw: Guyana

 

From a survivor’s account of the Jonestown Massacre:

There were loudspeakers all over the compound, and Jim Jones’s voice was on them almost 24/7. He couldn’t be talking all the time, but he’d tape what he said and then play it back all day long. And the rule was that we couldn’t talk when Jim Jones was talking. So on the loudspeakers, he’d suddenly call out, “White Night! White Night! Get to the to the pavilion! Run! Your lives are in danger!” Everyone would rush to the pavilion in middle of the encampment.

Then he would tell us that in the United States, African Americans were being herded into concentration camps, that there was genocide on the streets. They were coming to kill and torture us because we’d chosen what he called the socialist track. He said they were on their way.

We didn’t know this at the time, but he’d set up people who would shoot into the jungle to make us feel as if we were under attack. And there were other people who were set up to run and get shot — with rubber bullets, though we didn’t know it at the time. So there you were, in the middle of the jungle. Shots were being fired, and people were surrounding you with guns.

Then a couple of women brought out these trays of cups of what they said was cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, or Flavor-Aid — whichever they had. Everybody drank it. If we didn’t drink it, we were forced to drink it. If we ran, thought we’d be shot. At the end of it, we were wondering, Why aren’t we dead?

And then Jim would just start laughing and clapping his hands. He’d tell us it was a rehearsal and say, “Now I know I can trust you.” And then, in the weirdest way, he said, “Go home, my darlings! Sleep tight!” We weren’t really in mood for sleeping tight at that point.

8 thoughts on “Father Cares

  1. Unimaginable, those last days in Jonestown, the fear and pressure people must have felt. How many of them believed that last glass of Kool-Aid was another trial run, I wonder. How many still believed in Jones at the end? Enough to help kill the rest, certainly.
    Your voice here brings that end chillingly to life, Josh. Well written

    1. Jonestown is a deeply complicated story that has been largely forgotten. I wrote a screenplay about it a few years back and still have a ton of the ghastly research rattling around in my skull

  2. Dear Josh,

    It seems we went the same direction this week. I can’t help it, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the name Guyana. How sad for such a beautiful part of the world. As always, your story is well written and chilling as the incident.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

  3. I recently heard an article on NPR about Jonestown. “Reliving” that scary time is as horrifying now as it was then. I looked up videos about Jim Jones. I always wonder how people like him get away that sort of thing.

  4. You effectively capture some of the characters and situations of the people caught up in Jim Jones’s madness. How frightening that must have been. The history was chilling. I too wonder how many people thought the last time was just another trial run–at least at first.

Don't just stand there.