Bea Orsot sits in her comfortably furnished living room, slowly turning the pages of her scrapbook. A warm, gentle woman in her 50s, Orsot points out photos of the Jonestown school she once worked in and familiar faces that smile back from the shiny pages.
"Had I been in Jonestown on Nov. 18, 1978," she says laying the scrapbook aside, "I would have been the first in line to take the poison, if I had been so honored."
A year ago, on the day the Rev. Jim Jones led more than 900 members of his Peoples Temple in a macabre act of mass self-destruction, Bea Orsot was in nearby Georgetown, at a dentist's office. A resident of the Jonestown, Guyana, community for more than a year, Orsot says her first words upon hearing of the suicide were, "What an honorable way to die."
"I am proud to have known Jim Jones and to have been a member of Peoples Temple for eight years," she says firmly. "We had something good going there, something which demonstrated a way of life which we all wanted and needed."
"The years in People Temple," she adds, "were the best years of my life, and no one can ever take that away from me."
Orsot is one of only the approximately 80 Jonestown survivors in California. She lives in a modest black neighborhood in San Francisco with "Nettie," an elderly black woman and former Temple member who took Orsot into her home after Orsot's return to the United States.
A federal employe for 25 years before joining the Temple, Orsot lives off her retirement benefits and a part-time job as legal secretary for former Temple attorney Charles Garry. Slowly she has returned to a "normal-life -- working, cooking, running personal errands -- all things the Temple once provided for her.
Last week, she says, she finally went back to the dentist to fix the tooth that caused her absence from Jonestown a year ago.
Today most survivors of Jones' congregation have also made their way back into the society they once scorned. They have found jobs -- as secretaries, mechanics, nurses, painters, printers -- often returning to the vocations they had when they first met Jim Jones.
Several have married; two babies have arrived, and a third is due.
"People are trying to go to movies, go out to dinner, buy clothes and look like everybody else in the system," says Sandy Bradshaw, 33, who was a key aide to Jones during her nine-year stay in the Temple.
The adjustment has not been easy. Virtually all of the survivors donated everything they had -- savings, homes, income -- to the Temple. Employers have been reluctant to hire them because of their Temple affiliation or long, suspicious gaps in their employment records.
They survived at first on previously existing, small governmet stipends, or help from relatives. Most now live in the Bay area with other Temple members, to pool their meager resources and help each other understand all that has happened to them. Many are writing books to help disentangle their thoughts about the Temple.
A few have joined traditional religious organizations, two others have entered Synanon, the quasi-religious order and former drug rehabilitation program. But most have shunned involvement in organized religion or politics, hoping instead they can carry on in some way the ideals they say first led them into the Temple.
"For their big dream," says a psychiatrist who has counseled them, "they have substituted a lot of smaller dreams."
Some, like Bea Orsot and Sandy Bradshaw, remain fiercely loyal to Jim Jones and the Temple. To them the church was a socialist and egalitarian ideal, forced into self-destruction by a hostile society and government conspiracy.
A handful of others, particularly those who "defected" from the Temple before its demise, denounce Jones as a deranged megalomaniac who transformed his church into a mindless, violent cult.
The majority, however, float in a world between the two extremes -- nostalgic for the ideal and sense of commitment they say the Temple once represented, but bitter about the demented actions of Jones and the Temple's tragic, incomprehensible end.
They are plagued by dreams every night -- haunting visions of Jonestown and their fallen leader. They see faces on the street that remind them of parents, children, or spouses lost in the dark jungles of South America.
Richard Clark was also in Guyana a year ago. A Temple member for seven years, Clark, 43, lives in San Francisco now with Diane Louie, whom he knew in Jonestown.
He has survived the past year with help from her parents and a small disability benefit from the government. He has a job pressing clothes at a dry cleaner's, work he did before joining the Temple.
Unlike Orsot, Clark remembers Jonestown as "a lie" -- not the utopian paradise Jones promised when Clark ventured there in the summer of 1978.
He says he found a nightmarish world of sick, starving, terrified people subjected to backbreaking work, beatings and constant indoctrination. From the first day of his arrival he plotted his escape through the dense jungle that surrounded Jonestown.
On Nov. 7 of last year, when Jones was preoccupied with the visiting delegation of Rep. Leo Ryan, Clark along with six other adults and four children quietly slipped out of the encampment.
With machetes to hack through the dense underbrush, and the determination that "I'd rather end up in the jungle, dead, than alive back in Jonestown," Clark says he led his party for nearly 30 miles until they reached freedom.
Today Clark is involved in a project in the Bay area aimed at educating high school students on the dangers of cults. "I hope I can help someone," he says, "from making the same mistake I did."
For many survivors, the hostility they often have encountered from the public and the government has only confirmed their commitment to the ideals they say the Temple embraced.
They watched bitterly as several American communities refused to serve as burial sites for the unclaimed Temple dead. Several say they did not attend the funeral of relatives they lost in Guyana for fear of being billed by the government for the cost.
A program to provide counseling and job placement for the survivors was set up by San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein. But, according to program director Chris Hatcher, the program has received only one modest grant from the government, and a fund raiser last December netted only a few hundred dollars.
Grace Stoen, who defected from the Temple in 1976, remembers well the terror of readjusting to society after her seven years in the Temple.
"I left the church thinking I would have no friends, and everybody was racist and facist," she recalls. "I went from being with thousands of people a day to zero, from a lot of responsibility to none."
Steon, now 29, was in Guyana with a group of concerned relatives last November, trying to obtain the release of her six-year-old son, John Victor, from the Temple. He died in Jonestown.
Today, she lives in a pleasant apartment in a residential neighborhood in San Francisco, with another Temple "defector" and works as a receptionist.
"I blame Jim Jones, I'll always blame Jim Jones," she says. "But I also blame myself, we gave him too much power."
"There were people just like you in that church. Given the right circumstances, it can happen to anyone," she adds.