Surviving Utopia: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

Surviving Utopia: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple

by Timothy Oliver Stoen


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"Surviving Utopia" is a more autobiographical, less "academic," version of "Love Them to Death," published in March 2017, which Publishers Weekly calls "Stoen's deeply moving memoir."

In that book I focused centrally on Jim Jones through 14 stages, as I experienced them. Here, I focus on myself in seeking, defending, opposing, and surviving utopia. I add my early years, and my reflections on the whole experience--psychological, political, and religious.

On January 1, 1970, I joined Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, to create a utopia.

On November 18, 1978, the utopian Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple became the operative causes of what pollster George Gallup called the "Jonestown story."

The "Jonestown story," he said, was "the most widely followed event of 1978."

The purpose of this book is to give an insider's personal account of that story, to share what it was like to have a dream smashed by that story, and to express deep gratitude for surviving-through no merit of my own-that story.

I was the attorney, enemy, and post-mortem target of James Warren Jones who, on November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana, South America, unleashed-in the name of "love"-terror and death. 918 people would die that day.

This ordinary man, Jim Jones, who had an extraordinary rhetorical talent for capturing the souls of kind and decent people, got them to assassinate a US congressman and, incredibly, got them-by the hundreds-to line up and kill themselves and their children.

That evening, as my wife Grace and I lay benumbed, on a floor in the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, Guyana, we knew in n our hearts that one of those victims would be our beloved six-year-old son, John Victor Stoen.

"The CIA would have to acknowledge," says Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo, "that Jones succeeded where their MK-Ultra program failed in the ultimate control of the human mind."

My seeking of utopia began on a Sunday afternoon-August 17, 1969-as I was leaving Black Panther headquarters in San Francisco.

I proceeded to make three serious errors leading me into Peoples Temple. They were: anger, the ideology of "total equality," and pragmatism.

My defending of utopia commenced on March 2, 1970, when I moved from Berkeley to Redwood Valley to cast my lot with Peoples Temple, and became the "county counsel" for Mendocino County and a pro bono lawyer for Jim Jones.

Making Peoples Temple into a showcase model of total equality became a passionate dream. For seven years I aggressively defended Peoples Temple as a true utopian enterprise.

During that time Jones became what the Washington Post would later be calling a "West Coast power."

My opposing of utopia commenced on February 16, 1977, when I left my job as Head of Special Prosecutions for the San Francisco District Attorneys Office to go live in Jonestown with John Victor.

His mother, Grace, was threatening a custody suit, and I had made a promise to protect Jones's paternity access to the child based on a false belief that he was the biological father.

On November 18, 1977, I testified in court against Jones. I then went to Guyana to enforce our custody order against Jones, but the government was wired in his favor.

The challenge of surviving of utopia commenced on November 18, 1978, when Jim Jones said on his death tape:

"Somebody...see that Stoen does not get by with this infamy... He has done the thing he wanted to do. Have us destroyed."

His loyalists accused me of manipulating the 1975 San Francisco mayoral election.

Jones also issued that day a prophecy and a curse: "We win when we go down. Tim Stoen has nobody else to hate.... Then he'll destroy himself."

I became deeply depressed by guilt and grief over the death of John Victor. I survived psychologically due to a spiritual experience in April 1988.

Still, I had to claw myself back to society due to the media stigma.

Finally, in 2000, I became a California prosecuting attorney, and have been such ever sinc

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781983462856
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 04/30/2018
Pages: 318
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

On January 16, 1938, Timothy Oliver Stoen was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by two brothers.

In 1956 he graduated from Littleton High School in Colorado.

In 1960 he graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois.

In 1961 while on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, he took photos of border guards in East Berlin, and got arrested.

In 1964, he graduated from Stanford Law School.

In 1965, Tim became a deputy DA for Mendocino County in Ukiah, California.

On August 8, 1967, at a hiring interview for a new poverty law program, he met Jim Jones.

On April 1, 1969, Tim took a poverty law job in a black section of Oakland, California. He defended, in a criminal case, a member of the Black Panther party.

On January 1, 1970, Tim joined Peoples Temple.

On March 2, 1970, he became the "county counsel" for Mendocino County, and also became the pro bono attorney for Jim Jones.

On June 27, 1970, Tim married 20-year-old Grace Lucy Grech.

On May 17, 1976, he became "special voter fraud prosecutor" for the San Francisco DA's office, and thereafter Head of Special Prosecutions.

During 1976 and 1977, Tim defended Jones as he was becoming a "power broker" in San Francisco, winning over Mayor George Moscone, Assemblyman Willie Brown, and columnist Herb Caen.

On February 16, 1977, Tim left to go live with his son, John Victor, in Jonestown.

On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones exhorted action on Tim: "Somebody-can they talk to...San Francisco-see that Stoen does not get by with this infamy... He has done the thing he wanted to do: have us destroyed."

Jones's loyalists then instigated an Attorney General by falsely charging Tim had manipulated the 1975 mayoral election. Although he was cleared, the public stigma remained.

On his day of death, Jones rendered a curse: "We win when we go down. Tim Stoen has nobody else to hate... Then he'll destroy himself... I'm speaking as a prophet today."

For nine years after Jonestown, Tim experienced profound grief and guilt. On April 1, 1988, he found relief due, he says, "to something totally outside my control."

On March 9, 1997, he married a Swedish widow, Kersti ("Shesti"). It became the happiest of marriages.

On June 26, 2000, he resumed his career as a California prosecuting attorney.

In 2010, Tim was nominated to the California District Attorneys Association as Prosecutor of the Year.

In 2014, he was honored as one of the five top wildlife prosecutors in the state, at a presentation attended by the governor.

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