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BoA:Audio welcomes author Leslie Wagner-Wilson, who shares her amazing story of being a member of the People's Temple in the 1970's and surviving the Jonestown tragedy. Over the course of this breathtaking conversation, Leslie recounts her remarkable life story, beginning with how things were before she joined the People's Temple at the age of thirteen, her teen years as a member of the organization, becoming a young mother and then having to relocate to Jonestown in order to reunite with her son, culminating with her daring escape on the day of the fateful tragedy and dealing with the aftermath back in America.
An absolutely riveting edition of BoA as Leslie Wagner-Wilson provides a priceless first-hand account from one of the most unsettling, horrific, and baffling events of our time: Jonestown.
Highlights: Since this is a somewhat unconventional BoA:Audio episode, we begin by smashing the fourth wall and reflect on the challenge of even discussing the events of Jonestown and revisiting the horror of that event. We then begin Leslie's story by finding out about what her life was like before she joined the People's Temple and how she first got introduced to the group. We revisit Leslie's earliest days in the People's Temple, when she was just thirteen, and the indoctrination which was introduced early in the process.
Leslie also muses about her perspective began to change as she fell further into the People's Temple and saw herself as a Socialist revolutionary traveling around the country spreading the word of the group. Next we find out about Leslie's interactions with Jim Jones, himself, and why she tried to avoid him as much as possible. Continuing the evolution of Leslie's experience, we learn about how she got married and had a child and slowly began to pull away from the People's Temple as the group became more violent and paranoid.
Next we learn about the beginnings of Jonestown and when Leslie first heard about the location and the plan to build a community there. Leslie details the political machinations which led to the People's Temple fleeing to Guyana as well as her perspective on the church during this time as it continued to get even more bizarre behind closed doors. Taking a moment to break from the narrative, we have Leslie detail the church's Wednesday night meetings which centered around dispensing discipline to members of the group that had fallen out of favor with leadership.
Digging into some details of the People's Temple membership, Leslie discusses the range of ages found amongst the group and how senior citizens seemed to be the predominant demographic. She also talks about how there were a far greater number of African Americans in the People's Temple as well as how many members of the church gave all of their money and their income to the People's Temple and, in turn, lived dependent on the group for funds to live.
Returning to Leslie's story, we learn about the events which led to her going to Jonestown after Jim Jones had taken her son to Guyana and essentially forced her to move to the compound. Following that, she recalls the actual journey from San Francisco to Jonestown, itself, and her memories of this arduous experience. She also shares her first impression of Jonestown upon her arrival at the compound and the spartan conditions of the locations. We then find out why the People's Temple seemed to have so many African American members who were following predominantly white leadership as well as who these leaders, aside from Jim Jones, were.
Considering that there were millions of dollars left behind by the People's Temple, we have Leslie speculate on what might have been the plan for that money or if Jim was just hording it for reasons still unknown. She also reveals how Jim Jones was as much a prisoner of Jonestown as his followers, which leads us to talk about Leslie's husband Joe, who was a part of the security team at the compound.
Returning to Leslie's early life at Jonestown, she talks about working for the compound's doctor and studying medicine as well as how being taken off that job led to her disenfranchisement with the situation there. This leads to some insights into Jim Jones' wife, Marceline, and what her role was within the organization. We then find out how Leslie first felt like her life was in danger at Jonestown when someone discovered a note she had written which said she wanted to leave the compound, leading to her being forced to join an arduous work detail.
Following that, we find out if Leslie ever heard of or saw someone say they want to leave Jonestown and suffered the consequences for these desires. Continuing the narrative of Leslie's experience, we find out about how the mood in Jonestown changed six months after her arrival as Jim Jones began warning everyone that they were in danger from outside forces and seemed to be developing a serious drug habit.
Taking the story up that fateful November day in 1979, Leslie explains the events which led to the American delegation visiting Jonestown and the preparations at the compound for their arrival. Leslie weaves these events with how her surreptitious escape, along with her three-year-old son, from the compound unfolded on the morning of the massacre. She describes the harrowing thirty-something, all day journey through the jungle in search of civilization and help as well as the shocking and horrifying news the escapees learned upon their arrival.
Leslie then details the confusion surrounding what went down at Jonestown, how the survivors were told various conflicting stories and how they were treated by the authorities after they had escaped. In discussing her arrival back in America, we learn about how deep and how long the paranoia and fear of the People's Temple resonated within her. We also discuss the stigma which fell on the Jonestown survivors in the years following their return to America, which led to Leslie keeping that part of her life a secret for years.
Looking at some big picture Jonestown questions, we find out if there was a sufficient investigation into all the deaths at compound as well as strange and unfortunate things that happened to the bodies of the victims. We also get Leslie's take on the theories which suggest that the events of Jonestown were somehow connected with the CIA. Leslie shares a number of elements surrounding the Jonestown tragedy which simply don't make much sense.
Closing out the conversation with some post-live show conversation, we find out if Leslie has maintained any connection with other Jonestown survivors. Following that we reflect on Leslie's attempt to create a normal life upon her return to America from Jonestown and the struggles with survivor's guilt after the tragedy. We also find out at what point Leslie decided to deal with her Jonestown experience rather than suppress it. We also ponder how it seems completely illogical that, of 600 adults left at Jonestown, no one tried to stop the madness on that day in November.
Wrapping up the program, Leslie talks a bit about how the other survivors of Jonestown, including her son, handled the transition back to America. We also discuss other People's Temple members who were in America at the time of the tragedy. Leslie also shares some words of wisdom concerning individual pain and tragedy as well as how evil must be combated with love. And, finally, we bid farewell to Leslie and thank her for sharing her absolutely amazing story with BoA:Audio listeners.