Each year since 1978, on the anniversary of Jonestown, I have participated in a memorial service... I go early to have some time alone to think about why I keep studying cults and why I want to help people who leave them.
One major reason is that I want to be a voice for those children lying beneath the grass who were never allowed to grow up. Who never went to real schools. Who never had the opportunity to choose what kind of work they would do. Jim Jone's mad ego ended their lives before they had a chance.
Standing next to the huge area of unmarked graves, where 406 bodies are buried, I think of all the pictures of smiling children's faces that are in my office. These were given to me by Jeannie and Al Mills, who spend six years with Jones, and who were mysteriously murdered in Berkeley about three years after the Jonestown tragedy. I have other mementos given to me by Charles Garry, a lawyer for the Peoples Temple who went to Guyana and was hiding in the jungle when the end came. Being on that hillside in Evergreen Cemetary alone, thinking of all those little smiling kids, thinking of all the letters I have read that they wrote to "Dad" (which is what Jones made them call him), is a solemn reminder to me of the effects of cults on children.
It has been estimated that there are thousands of small children in cults... Some cults insist that their female
members act as "breeders" to bring more children - that is, cult followers - into the world. Yet the work of a number of researchers attests to the deplorable status of children in certain cults - the use of extreme discipline; the rearing of children by others in the group rather than the parents; the sheer neglect, poor schooling, emotional and psychological abuse; and the lack of adequate medical, dental, and nutritional care...
Cult children are powerless. They are total victims - even the parents on whom they should be able to depend are controlled by the cult leader, and thus the children's fate is in his hands. In cults, parents do not function as they do in the regular world...The cult leader dictates how children are to be reared, and the parents simply implement these orders...
Children of Jonestown
As punishment, children were thrown into a dark well after being told that snakes awaited them there. They were kept in a plywood box measuring six feet by three feet by four feet for weeks at a time. They had teeth knocked out in public beatings, were forced to dig holes and then refill them, and were imprisoned in a small cellar. Jones often watched security guards beat children with switches, belts, and a long wooded board. Young girls were stripped and forced into cold showers or a swimming pool. Children had electrodes wired on their arms and were administered electric shocks. In one case, two six-year-olds who had tried to run away had chains and balls welded to their ankles. People's Temple children were frequently
Children of Waco
Physically, psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally, these children demonstrated that their development was far from normal... Even at rest their hearts raced at about 120 beats a minute, 30 to 50 percent faster than normal. "These kids were terrorized," Dr. Perry said.... When asked to draw a "picture of yourself," most children could manage only to draw a small, primitive figure, often in a corner of a full sheet of paper.
Children of Other Cults
Five-year-old Luck Stice died of a broken neck in a survivalist cult in rural Nebraska... Twelve-year-old John Yarbough allegedly was beaten to death in a Michigan cult... Moreover, sexual abuse is promoted in certain cults... There are instances of children using marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines... Inadequate diets are standard in many cults... Children in most cults lead restricted, isolated lives... Children coming out of such environments are very puzzled about who they are and whether they are good or not good.
The fates of both parents and children are determined by the whims and philosophy of the leader. I have not yet heard of any cult leader who has exuded care, warmth, and concern for the children of his group... Despite such odds, children...leave cults and survive. They may have seen and lived through the worst, yet they carry on to be the best. Our responsibility is to give them support, love, and understanding.