While reading an exposÃ© about San Francisco preacher and cult leader Jim Jones in 1977, Ken White was surprised to see mention of an old friend from Modesto.
Michael Prokes, who had attended Davis High School with White, was a spokesman for Jones’ People’s Temple and praised its work with the poor.
On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 followers of Jones died in a mass suicide in their compound in the South American country of Guyana. Prokes, who wasn’t there at the time, killed himself a few months after that in a news conference at a Modesto motel. He was 31.
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Lisa Millegan writes in The Modesto Bee that White, who lives in Modesto, never forgot the story and has turned it into a play, “My Father’s House,” which he hopes to stage locally next fall. Set in Modesto, the drama focuses on the last days of Prokes’ life.
In the play, Prokes visits his parents and his friends to talk about what happened with Jones. The play ends with Prokes’ suicide.
While White did a lot of research on the subject, including talking with people who knew Prokes and reading several books on Jonestown, the playwright is clear that his work is not a documentary and that much of it is inspired by his imagination.
The Death of Michael Prokes
Recommended reading: Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple, by Deborah Layton
Jonestown also was the subject of a docudrama, The Peoples Temples
Research resources on Peoples Temple