35 Years After Jonestown, Guyana
35 years ago on this day, my life began…I was given the proverbial “second chance.” On November 18, 1978 you could not impress upon me the possibility that one day – I would understand that “my life” had begun. Returning to the United States stripped down to a thread of my existence – an empty shallow walking grave. My mind confused, disillusioned – suffering a pain that I never knew existed until then– the pain of loss. 35 years ago I returned to the United States with the stigma "those crazy black people who followed a white man to the jungle and killed their children and themselves.” So some of us went underground and never spoke of it to anyone on the “outside", ashamed, scared - I was 21 years old. And now there are so many you that understand that a dream was in the making and have humanized those departed souls; some have even come to pay tribute at the gravesite and broken bread with many of us. Your empathy for those who wanted something more than what this country was giving them – desperate to feel loved, to feel recognized, to have a purpose, the lonely, the damaged, the hungry – the poor is appreciated. Thank you for support with your love, encouragement and prayers - the healing continues. Yet this morning at 1:00 a.m. EST I found myself not able to sleep. My memories came flooding back as they often do, but this morning the memories do not make me weep until I have nothing left, but I see the smiles and hear the laughter of those who have crossed over. Causing me to remember to celebrate this “Second Chance.” Grateful for my children who dealt with this damaged soul for years and still love me -Thankful for my grandchildren as the bloodline continues. Today as I move forward in this thing called “Life” I experience the challenges of standing regardless of what comes, to look at my past as the bridge that brought me to this moment. The lessons that I have learned along the way; patience, that everyone has their own "personal reality" and to respect that, that love does conquer all, that forgiveness is for us to be able to move forward, that mistakes are made and will be made, that humankind is all kind and that each of us can be a blessing, whether quietly or loudly. That humility is precious and we are all so very much connected. That God has touched my life in miraculous ways. That we much go within so we do not go without. On this day I am continue to send love to the 924 souls departed and the loved ones that must live without them on this physical plane. That they continue to live their love and not their death- that they share the memories of them from generation to generation -never to be forgotten and love heals. To my mother Inez; my brother Mark; my sister Michelle; my husband Joe; my niece Dawnyelle, and nephew Daron; ancestral love that is with me every step of the way. I love you, I love you – I miss you so much. Thank you for loving me – still. Peace, Blessings and Universal Love
Suffering in Silence
Suffering in Silence by Leslie Wagner-Wilson A few months ago, I received a call that my son Jakari – my three-year-old son whom I carried out of Jonestown on November 18 – was in trouble again. Jakari has spent the majority of the last 34 years in prison. Most of it was attributed to his trauma from his year in Jonestown. Our children suffered from the lack of nutrients in their diets, from the early mornings when they were pulled from a deep slumber and late nights when they could not go to bed, from the White Nights that Jim Jones called, when they crouched behind toppled-over tables to protect them from a possible battle against outside forces. Our children were damaged. They were taught violence. They were brainwashed into thinking that Jim was Father and their very existence depended upon him. That tragically ended up true. They would have taken up arms and killed anyone – even their parents – if they thought they were traitors to what we called the “cause.” We see the same type of abuse in the use of child soldiers in armed conflicts around the world today. Raised from within and outside the womb in violence, my son is a victim of this. My pregnancy while in People Temple was full of stress in itself. I was in hard labor for 23 hours before they decided to perform a Cesarean section. My child’s heart stopped. He fought for life from the beginning and continues to fight for his life 36 years later. Jakari has been in trouble before, but this time it was really serious. The day I waited for the verdict of this last situation, I was anxious all day, trying to prepare myself for whatever I would hear. I was walking down SeventhAvenue in Manhattan and had almost reached the corner of 35th Street, across the street from Macy’s, when the phone rang bringing up the all-too-familiar 866 number of Inmate Calling Solutions. I took a breath and answered. “Mom, are you okay?” my son said. “Yes,” I said. “Mama, they found me guilty on all counts.” Immediately, I stopped by a newspaper stand trying to regain my balance, feeling my breath begin to leave, my legs weakening as I fought to stand up – but what I really wanted to do was to curl up in the fetal position. My tears began to flow as they have so many times. “Mama,” he said, “don’t cry.” I took a deep breath and said, “I’m okay,” but I wasn’t. I was sobbing, but had the phone on mute. As I leaned over the newspaper stand, a man came up to me and said, “Honey, are you okay?” With tears flowing like a river, I said “yes.” New Yorkers have gotten a bad rap for being uncaring. On the other end of the line, my son was trying to soothe me. “Jakari, we will get through this,” I told him, “we have been here before.” As if to reassure me, he replied “Mom, I have spent most of my life in prison. This is like going home.” He was right, and hearing the resolve in his voice reached to my very core. As much as I fought to control the tears, the flood gate had opened. My child that I carried through Jonestown to freedom, had never really been free. The scars of me and the scars of him sometimes would expose themselves. “He told me the sentencing date would be October seventh, and tried to assure me again that everything would be all right. We ended our call the way we always do – “I love you” – and disconnected. I finally moved to the three seat bench in front of Macy’s. There stood a well-dressed woman smoking a cigarette, her blond hair perfectly coiffed, strands of pearls around her neck. “Ma’am, may I have a cigarette please?” I asked. Cigarettes in New York are almost $14.00 a pack, you don’t bum cigarettes. She looked at me with empathy and said “Of course, dear.” My tears were still flowing even though Jakari and I had hung up the phone. Sitting on that bench in the middle of rush hour, not concerned about shedding tears was another type of freedom. My thoughts went to his seven-year-old daughter, my granddaughter who would never have the father daughter relationship. The school plays and events, her birthdays, they would all pass without seeing his smiling face. My tears kept flowing. Jakari had grown up without a father. It sealed the determination to do what I could to ensure she has a good life. I am the Matriarch of the family, I reminded myself. I called my daughter and cried out, “Guilty on all charges.” Her voice sank. “Oh Mom, where are you?” she said. “Sitting on the bench in front of Macy’s.” I responded. Sitting there, I felt so free. I didn’t care that my mascara was running down my face, it felt quite normal. Crying for me was always considered a weakness, remnants still of indoctrination by Jim Jones. Still, the feeling that washed over me was one of pure weariness. Okay, Father, I began to whisper, we will get through this one. Please protect your child, I whispered and provide me with the strength to see this through. You see, I realized many years before that my children are his children. God does not create anything to hurt us. When I think of Jakari, I know that he has been caught up with the mess, but I also know that he can change, that he can become the man he wants to. He will prevail even while he is behind bars. This mother’s prayer is said daily. I found comfort that evening in the presence of Nicci, my daughter, Jakari’s sister. I called her and we met at a restaurant. I didn’t care that my mascara was running down my face. Crying for me was sometimes considered a weakness, and there are only a few times I have ever shed a tear in public. But on that day, I let it all hang out. For days and days I searched for calmness and quiet. Knowing that I had laid his fate on the altar, I felt relief, confirmation and even peace. For I knew that if he submitted to God, he would be able to make it through.
* * * * *It was Jakari’s younger brother, Demetrius, who called me on the day of sentencing. “Mom, he got 105 years.” I couldn’t believe it. They’d given him a third strike. As I hung up the phone, I rewound his life in my head. I cried, did not tell anyone, not even his sister. I suffer silently sometimes. But what it really is has been learned. In my walk with God, I understand that we have choices. Even though we lay it on the altar, we will still have those human feelings. Jakari’s case is on appeal, so I don’t feel at liberty to go into detail about it. Suffice it to say, prison in California is not meant to rehabilitate, only to incarcerate. I have further understood, it is a system set up to ensure that those incarcerated are likely to return to the cells in which they left. Why? Because ex-cons can’t get a job. Why? Because they have a record. This is wrong, spiritually, morally, and logically. We can’t expect former prisoners to become productive citizens if we continue to punish them after they serve their time and rob them of any options. We are a nation of people proclaiming our faith in a loving God, yet we have such unforgiving hearts. We go to church and praise the Lord, but when we walk out, we won’t even help the next person. This is not the picture of “doing what Jesus would do.” I do believe that there has to be punishment for crimes committed, but I also believe that we should be able to give second chances. God knows that if people had not stood by me and given me more than a second chance, I may have turned out differently. God allowed me to make my choices, as detrimental as some of them were, but I was also given Grace. Colossians 3:13, Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (NIV). Remain blessed, and remember that God loves you. Continue to pray for us.
For many of us, not just people who were in the Peoples Temple or Jonestown, hide who were once were, afraid that are past will not be accepted or celebrated in light in how far we have come. Rewinding 30 years to times where I never mentioned my past, lied about who I was, where I came from, if I had parents, or siblings and then lying maybe telling someone that I was an only child and maybe had a sibling or two or they died. Still I hide the truth because I was concerned that they would think “oh one of those crazy Jonestown folks.” At that point in my life, I could not stand anymore confusion or rejection. Fast forward 32 years, but actually three years since the CNN Documentary “Escape from Jonestown” and the unveiling of my book advertised to over 11 million viewers, my secret was out in a major way. As I watched the trailers of the documentary airing on CNN the same night of the Presidential Election, I was in shock as I sat in a restaurant praying no one would recognize me. Only because I had not really accepted the blessing that I am.The next day at work I was not so lucky. But why was I still hiding? When I went to work people reached out and asked if they could hug me. They then understood the spirit that surrounded me of love and peace. But the most incredible reaction was them stating that they would have never known, anyone to go through that kind of trauma and walk in the way that I do. My first comment “I give all the Glory to God, there is no way I would have gotten this far without Grace and Mercy.” To this day, that is how I respond. It was not me; it was the unconditional love of HIM that I prevailed and my decision that I wanted to be FREE, needed to be FREE! Now fast forward to the very present. I tend to keep my other life out of my work place. While working in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the CNN documentary aired and lo and behold, when I got to work the next morning, co-workers were coming up to me… “Was that you on CNN?” “Oh my God, never did I think I would meet a survivor of Jonestown. I did not even know anyone survived.” And then I would say “by the Grace of God.” A friend of mine said I was too humble, and that may be true. People who have found out by other ways than me, have been honored to meet someone who survived, but is also an opportunity for me to fulfill my purpose - spreading the message of Faith, Love and Forgiveness. But why do we feel that our pasts are not to be shared? It is the past that has brought most of us to the point in our lives were we have accepted the path that we were on, whether it was our decision or not. Somehow behind the security of keeping our secrets we do not allow others to learn and grow from our own experiences. It is our experiences that provide the testimony – the tests and trials that we have encountered are the Testimony to where we stand now. I am referring to those experiences that have caused us shame along the way. The things you may have done while you were under the influence of drugs or too much alcohol or selfishness or self- righteousness. There is a friend who was so distraught because they treated people so badly that they could not face themselves. Once they moved to a place or working out their issues, they realized how cruel and uncaring they had been. It took a couple of years for them to really do the work and forgive themselves. Once that happened, they found peace and happiness. The way you may have treated someone while they were down, or the words that you spewed out that were hurtful. The behaviors that you have altered to begin to develop the type of person you want to be. We want people to accept us, it is a human need. Sharing ourselves does not guarantee the results we may want. In my quest for a mate, I have dated a person for a while before I shared who I was. It was difficult, because they saw a side of me I thought they liked, but once I felt comfortable enough to share the other me… the Leslie Wagner Wilson, they shared their sympathy and Poof be gone! It wasn’t easy to share, but I have work to do and I can’t have someone around me that is not supportive nor understanding. That life I had already lived. I just really wanted to get it over with so I did not have to be so secretive. I wanted someone I could throw ideas off of and who knew how I came to be the person I was. A person who can provide emotional support during those days when the tears still flow. Someone that I can invest in and they can invest in me. My mother always told me to expect the unexpected…and I do. So when he stopped returning my calls, I knew that it was TOO much for him. How did it make me feel? It made me feel that I had not gauged my judgment and should have recognized that he may not accept it. And then the light went on and I said to myself that he was just not the one. I pray for God to keep me surrounded by people and to bring me the mate that is for me. A year later he reached out to me and shared that it was too much for him to deal with. When he told me that he knew that I must have so many hidden issues that would eventually come out. I guess saying I had Post Traumatic Stress for most people may mean an eminent flashback and think he was Jim Jones, or break down crying in the middle of a supermarket (which I did in the early days). PTSD is not a lifelong condition. God heals. My response was it was okay and that I respected him for telling me the truth. And I kept it moving. There is a time and place for everything, but do not continue to hide what brought you to the special place in which you have arrived. Celebrate your arrival, yell to the mountains, “I have come a long way.” Be proud and be happy that you finally arrived! Forgive yourself. If it takes going to the people you once hurt to ask their forgiveness…do that. Forgiveness = Freedom!
These Times are Upon Us
The changes in my mood begin about two weeks before November 18th. While I was filming for the National Geographic Documentary titled “Seconds in Disaster” just two weeks ago, I found myself suddenly emotional when Sally Brindle the interviewer asked me who I lost in Jonestown. As I mentioned my mother, Inez; my sister Michelle; my brother Mark; and my niece Dawnyelle and nephew Daron, my lip began quivering like a cat that has gotten wet, and the tears began to fill my eyes. After we took a break I apologized and stated that I did not know why I was so emotional. Then I realized it was November 5th. Not that it was necessarily November 5th, but it was November. The month came upon me so quickly I was not prepared.
You see every year I begin the mental and emotional journey of the thoughts that I find hard, even after all this time to push back; the thought of my mom watching in agonizing pain, her children and grandchildren dying before her eyes. When I hear an ex-member say they would have died had they been there – the other Leslie wants to yell “then why are you still here?” And then the new Leslie pushes those words back from forming those words and remembers that everyone has their own personal reality. We cope differently, our personal experiences are exactly that…personal. It is not for me to judge.
We have humanized all those that suffered and died on November 18, 1978. What I will not do is to let anyone not know the truth of losing yourself to someone else. The signs were there. Our leader; Jim Jones was not healthy; mentally, emotionally and not at all Spiritually. However, the signs were ignored in hopes of a dream e dream was so beautiful that the compromise was not hard.
What I want people to know is that you must never, never put your everything into another human being. This means your spiritual leader, your best friend, your significant other, your children; you must always maintain a sense of who you are and your own individuality. People do not join Cults they are recruited. They are searching for something tangible that they think is impossible to find within themselves or in the world they live in. An organization that tells you to disassociate with anyone who does not see “what you see.” is one of the markings of a cult. People that fall victim to this type of mind, emotional and physical control are not weak or necessary followers; they are SEEKERS. The current world environment in which we find ourselves is prime time for individuals to begin the recruitment effort to build their flocks to gain control of individuals who are feeling lost; disgusted with the economy, drastic changes to their lifestyle, finding themselves in a place they never imagined. We worked hard for the so called American Dream; the beautiful home they sacrificed for, the cars, summer vacations, great jobs. And then the rug is pulled from under us. We are seeking for solace, comfort, a connection to someone who will understand and not look down upon them.
Harold Camping is a perfect example of how still after Jonestown, there are those who can twist the truth and capture the audience of thousands. What people experienced in preparation for the RAPTURE, was to quit their jobs, go into debt and ultimately create a burden on themselves and their families. We still are searching for what can be found from studying the Word for ourselves and going within to develop an intimate and personal relationship with God. We so often doubt our own divineness which we believe the only way to salvation is through someone else’s doctrine, teachings, ideas, and suggestions.
The sign of the times is upon us… we must be ready and that means finding your connection to the Great source of life. . Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
Today is a day of reflection and good work. I am grateful to be here, for I could have been amongst those 918 souls who crossed over – on this day, November 18th. Today I give love to my ancestors and love to those that perished. They will never be forgotten nor will the lessons.
Peace, Blessings and always Universal Love, Remain blessed, God Loves you.