A humble attempt at an apology for Jonestown – Leslie Wagner-Wilson

A humble attempt at an apology for Jonestown

OCTOBER 30, 2013 ·  Stabroek News Letter to Editor · Comments

Dear Editor,

Leslie Wagner-Wilson

Leslie Wagner-Wilson

How do you apologize almost 35 years later? This is my humble attempt to do just that.

November 18, 2013 marks 35 years since the Jonestown, Guyana massacre/suicide occurred. As one of the 33 escapees out of Jonestown the day of this tragedy, I have spent years reflecting on not only the tragedy but how this affected the Guyanese citizens, I apologize that it took me this long to write.  I apologize that your beautiful country was placed on the map by this horrible tragedy…you deserved so much more than that.

Although I did not have the opportunity to see much of Georgetown, my memories are fond. When I first arrived at the airport and stepped outside I was amazed by the people; I saw a vehicle with the Guyanese army on board. I had never seen people of colour in this capacity.         

It was amazing to me.  Another time was my first attempt to lie about needing to get glasses in order to get out of Jonestown to go to Georgetown and reach the American Embassy to tell them what was going on in Jones-town. That failed, but during my stay I was able to go to the open marketplace and mingle with those selling their wares and foods. What I found was a people who were willing to help a young woman procuring foods by placing something in my basket. To see a people who welcomed strangers, laughing and smiling. (Years later I would learn that Peoples Temple had millions in banks around the world and there was no need for us to beg for food, just as there was no reason why there should have been a lack of food in Jonestown).

It felt good to be in Georgetown. The people were sweet and humbling, their voices ringing with song as they explained the fruits, some I had never seen before.  After our group of 11 escaped Jonestown on November 18th, we ended up in Matthews Ridge where we were treated with care and respect, even though the Police Captain was unclear about the circumstances of our arrival. He mentioned that they heard that Jonestown was like a concentration camp, the reason why we walked over 30 miles to reach Matthews Ridge and our freedom.

During those 24 hours, the only news he had was the shootings at Port Kaituma. So although we were still somewhat suspect, he was professional.

I wish I remembered his name. The train conductor who bore witness to us not being near Port Kaituma during those shootings – I thank him from the bottom of my heart. I wish I knew his name. Sometimes the people of Port Kaituma would come into Jonestown for various reasons and I always found them to be humble and friendly.

The second encounter was after we were brought into Georgetown from Matthews Ridge and housed in a hotel. I can only imagine what the staff at the hotel thought as a barrage of T.V. crews from around the world landed and here were these people from this place in the jungle. Still they treated us with dignity and respect. That meant so much because I lost my entire family and the shock and loss I felt while spending two weeks at the hotel was reduced because of the way I was treated. I thank all of you for that.

I missed an opportunity to visit again during the CNN taping of Escape from Jonestown in 2009, I had not reached the point that I could travel back.

Today I am ready and I hope I will have the opportunity to see the real Guyana! In my quest for closure, forgiveness has become the forefront of my healing and I now ask for yours. Peace, Blessings and continual Universal Love,

Yours faithfully,

Leslie Wagner-Wilson


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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 11/01/2013 at 4:32 pm

    It takes time to heal and to fully realize the impact our actions have made on those around us. Leslie Wagner-Wilson has reached such a place of healing and reconciliation with her past.

  • de castro compton  On 11/01/2013 at 7:49 pm

    Jonestown may have put Guyana on the map for the wrong reason….
    but what it shows is how “doctrination” can destroy the soul…..

    We can but forgive but we must never forget.


  • Cliff Thomas  On 11/01/2013 at 8:40 pm

    This is not what the Christian religion teaches.If one forgives, he or she MUST forget. This is why we fall down from the Christian teaching. Sorry about that Pal.

  • Cliff Thomas  On 11/01/2013 at 8:46 pm

    That is not the Christian teaching my friend. If one goes by the Bible and I believe any Holy Book,it teaches if one forgives he/she MUST FORGET almost immediately. That is why we have so much hatred for one another. Sorry Pal, I had to take you up on this.

  • de castro compton  On 11/01/2013 at 10:28 pm

    Ha ha
    Fools forget ! as they drift into senile demrnture….prematurely or naturally.
    Sorry pal I am no Christian…Muslim….or agnostic….I do not turn the other
    cheek….religion the opium of the church.
    You kick my butt I kick yours….tit for tat….I am no hypocrite…
    Religious brainwashing/indoctrination one of the many evils of the planet !
    Look how many have lost their lives and still do so today in the name of their gods….
    The Romans were most clever….divide and conquer ….unite and rule….
    After conquering they adopted the gods of new conquest to rule them.


  • D.B. Moore.  On 11/02/2013 at 3:40 am

    Guyana’s post-colonial history is replete with incidents of fly-by-night “saviours” who seemed to find our leaders willingly complicit in their hare-brained schemes ‘to advance Guyana’s fortunes’. Rarely is there any attempt by the powers that be to seek input from Guyanese nationals at home or abroad before these charlatans establish their power bases in our homeland.
    Today, the Chinese and other Caribbean newcomers continue to rape Guyana’s resources with impunity. Our forestry and mining resources are fair game for these bounty hunters, with the Govt.’s seeming nefarious partnership. We now see our fishing resources at risk as the Chinese continue to suck our resources dry.
    Has there been any attempt to ascertain who in the previous Govt. were instrumental in giving Jim Jones the green light and the absolute autonomy to ride rough shod over Guyana’s sovereignty? The prevailing atmosphere in Guyana seems ready for many future “Peoples; Temples” and their messiahs.

  • de castro compton  On 11/02/2013 at 4:09 am

    D B Moore
    Wow wow one of the most intelegent “call to nationalism”…..from the heart
    and soul……written with pride and affection.

    personally I support the nationalistic call but be aware that opportunist politicians will not only use this as their “call” but as their cause.
    Hitler was such a politician and look where that lead the German peoples.

    I support Nationalism in sport
    I don’t in politricks.

    Guyana and Guyanese are but 50 years old as a nation state
    It could take another 500 years to be GREAT GUYANA.


    THE NEXT GENERATIONS ARE THE FUTURE ……influenced by the past.


  • D.B. Moore.  On 11/02/2013 at 5:29 am

    The political party, as the oft-touted mechanism for seeking solutions to our country’s development/advancement, has outlived its relevance or usefulness.in Guyana. All the partisan endeavours of the past and present have taken us all on an mindless merry-go-round to nowhere. With unerring regularity we have been copy-cats mouthing “foreign ” platitudes that have led us into deeper communal divisions. Stalinism, Maoism and the North Korean models have no place in the Guyanese landscape. Do we have the courage and the foresight to rid our land of the scourge of party paramountcy once and for all?

  • de castro compton  On 11/02/2013 at 7:30 am

    In a word….yes…..
    Change will come…..how quickly the question….
    The sooner the better for Guyana and Guyanese.
    It must come from within influenced by what happens outside its shores.
    Forever the optimist.

  • de castro compton  On 11/02/2013 at 11:09 am

    D B Moore
    You write with great insightfulness……you are also well informed…..enough to make changes necessary in de father/motherland.
    Not having any political ambitions of my own I invite you to enter the political arena…..with my wholehearted support to anyone who is brave enough and bold enough to take the bull by its horns……

    A Sampson or David both biblical figures …..Guyana needs this leadership if change is to be “fast forwarded” …..the status quo in Guyana s politics stinks
    of dead fish ……..

    I will support anyone who writes/speaks with such passion ……be their adviser/consultant gratis (unpaid) as my convictions are strong and focused.
    Having lived in Spain after my retirement as a trade unionist in Royal Mail
    UK PLC declining the offer of Spanish European citizenship….it meant
    exchanging my British European passport ( flag of convenience) for a Spanish one…..
    I did meet Hugo Chavez before his passing but his annointed successor Maduro will battle to control the military……not to mention the corruption that is endemic in Venezuelan society……my concerns grow but hope commonsense will prevail.
    So my friend I invite you to take the challenge and enter the arena of politricks.

    Await your response with interest


  • gigi  On 11/02/2013 at 2:45 pm

    Clive Thomas preaching Christianity to comment on this article yet fails to grasp that Jim Jones’ People’s Temple was a christian organization. All religions are cults (Oxford dictionary definition of cult – a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object). The men who wrote the Bible and professed a belief in the existence of a god do not advocate “forgive and forget” – there are numerous scriptures throughout the entire Bible that prove this, but one only has to read the Book of Revelations – the final judgement – for sufficient evidence of this. To forgive is gracious, to forget is asinine.

    “The superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come. When in a state of security he does not forget the possibility of ruin. When all is orderly, he does not forget that disorder may come. Thus his person is not endangered, and his States and all their clans are preserved.”
    ― Confucius, Confucian Analects, The Great Learning & The Doctrine of the Mean

  • D.B. Moore  On 11/02/2013 at 3:06 pm

    I have drunk from the wells of both of the major parties in Guyana in my early years. The PYO did indeed hold out exciting promises, at least in theoretical terms at that time to the interested young. Careful reflection shows that the actors in both parties were indeed just that, “actors”.Past and present analyses of the beneficiaries of untold largesse from the ruling class.. whether in the form of paid-up scholarships, appointments to cushy positions or swanky trips overseas, were major components of a flawed and anaemic polity waiting to self-destruct. Square pegs trying to fit into round holes, or the ‘pouring of new wine into old wine skins’ were constants to our collective chagrin as we reap the world wind. Note the consternation and confusion in today’s state of affairs in Guyana as we struggle to find some reasonable way forward.in some of the simple challenges facing us as a people. The lack of a dependable supply of goods and services: garbage disposal; weak road safety; corruption in law enforcement; faulty testing and licensing of motor vehicle operators are a few of the areas crying out for urgent attention.
    Are there opportunities for the free exchange of opinions from the public at large before steps are taken, especially in the spending of the peoples’ money? Govt. is not necessarily the fount of all knowledge; false pride and arrogance have no useful place in any viable path forward to social and economic justice in Guyana. Time for a serious re-visit of the Guyana constitution- a major ‘ old wine skin’ bursting at its seams!

  • de castro compton  On 11/02/2013 at 4:03 pm


    The learning process is everlasting…..theologically speaking……
    If one believes in the “after life” ……or our reincarnation.

    My mind remains open in its belief …..I choose to first believe in myself
    before any other so that my mind is not “contaminated” by influences
    economic,political,or religious.
    Thanks four an enlightened perspective.

    We never stop learning….


  • Ron. Persaud  On 11/03/2013 at 1:59 am

    Another “Janam” of the People’s Temple?

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