Life in Jonestown

In Jonestown Lullaby, after the poems, are photographs of Peoples Temple members engaged in everyday life in Jonestown.  Children are playing in a playground, elders are working in a garden, people of all ages are tilling fields, planting and harvesting crops, preparing food and eating together.  The Jonestown settlers are young and old, black and white, friends and family members, doing activities common to community life. 

These photographs, taken by Peoples Temple members, reveal an aspect of Jonestown rarely seen, at least not in the often sensationalized media coverage of Peoples Temple.  They show that life for residents of Jonestown encompassed much more than the dark picture commonly portrayed.  In spite of the hardships, the overcrowding, the long days of labor and struggle for agricultural self-sufficiency, many Peoples Temple members felt a sense of hope and expectation that Jonestown would become a community that exemplified social justice and racial equality.  They worked hard to make it happen.

In a remote area of Guyana that was once only jungle, Peoples Temple pioneers cleared the land and constructed all the buildings for the settlement.  They built roads and planted fields.  Children went to school in one of the buildings and adult members taught classes; people took care of farm animals and participated in water brigades to irrigate the fields.  Medically trained members provided health care to residents, delivered babies and even held clinics for local Guyanese neighbors.  The Jonestown settlers also produced their own entertainment, putting on dance and musical performances.  Young adults played on a successful basketball team.

These depictions of life in Jonestown do not deny the horrific deaths of 918 people, nor the terror, abuse and deprivation endured by many members.  Rather, the photographs bring to light the neglected and complicated truth that life in Jonestown was more than the nightmare routinely portrayed in the media and more than what happened on its last day. 

When you look closely at the individual Peoples Temple members in these photographs and see their smiles, laughter, pride, determination and camaraderie, you get a glimpse of the community many Peoples Temple members envisioned and strove hard to create.