Mar 7, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 5

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Jennifer Haley

I've checked the CNN live feed at intervals today and as near as I can tell there's been no courtroom broadcast today. So, it's a good time to back up and look at some elements of last week's proceedings.

In Session finally ran more of the opening statements. Prosecutor Sheila Polk laid out the prosecution's case by underscoring the key elements of case as they are to be revealed in upcoming testimony:

  • Participants were being dragged from the tent as early as the fourth round in right front of Ray in obvious distress, displaying nausea, vomiting, and unconsciousness
  • Lou Caci will testify to delirium that resulted in his passing out and falling into the heated rocks where he was badly burned even as he was trying to make a run for the exit
  • Ray did not stop the ceremony despite the chaos and did not check on people when concerns were raised
  • Liz Neuman: Polk points out something on Laura Tucker's testimony that definitely needs to be emphasized -- that it was after Ray had responded to Tucker that Liz knew what she was doing that she said she was fine (implication: she may have been intimidated into refusing help)
  • Medical testimony will explain that heat induces confusion and an inability to discern when one is at risk
  • There were only a few basic medical supplies on hand, no emergency medical plan, only one person trained in CPR on scene, no portable portable defibrillator
  • James Ray endorsed those who had left, including the injured Caci to come back and complete the sweat lodge
  • Sidney Spencer will testify that the back area of the tent where she sat near Kirby Brown and James Shore was hotter, was pitch black, and that she remembers little before losing consciousness and being carried to the opening by James Shore
  • Several people called out for help for Kirby Brown; that she was passed out and not breathing and that James Ray's response was, "We're closing the door. We'll deal with it when we're done."
  • The fire tender's wife looked in the tent at the end and saw three people unconscious, lying on the ground, and she initiated the rescue attempt by tearing open the tent and dragging purple and blue mottled people out -- she also called 911
  • James Ray came out of the sweat lodge first and had his own needs attended to but did nothing to assist others; other participants and volunteers took care of those who were unconscious or otherwise in distress

Polk's oft repeated term for this event is "heat endurance challenge." That sums it up well. As I've said more than once, this was not a sweat lodge in any conventional or traditional sense. Normal sweat lodges are, by Ray's admission (otherwise known as bragging), nowhere near as hot as his. He turned a ceremonial cleanse, normally about as hot as a sauna, into a competitive test of metal.

For the most part I'm ignoring of the In Session commentary because it's just so insipid. But this repeated statement jumped out at me today. Apparently one woman told police that the sweat lodge was so hot that she burned herself on the floor. Think about that for a moment. Heat rises. If the floor -- which people were directed to move towards when they needed relief -- was so hot it could burn someone, how hot was the air above it?

Luis Li opened for the defense. For whatever reason, I find him to be like a human sleeping pill. The segments of the opening statement they ran today, though, are as animated and interesting as I've seen him.

The defense will refute the idea that it was cultish or that Ray conditioned them into participating or staying. They were adults making choices and they signed a waiver. Interestingly, he repeatedly says "it's not quite true" that they were uninformed about various things beforehand. He doesn't say it's untrue... because he can't. As discussed, there was a real paucity of information that could have guided people to seek medical advice or prepare them for how rigorous this thing was actually going to be.

Li also makes clear that participants were free to leave and that some people opted out of various events and some even left entirely.

It's clear that the defense is going to rely heavily on the possibility that the victims were poisoned. They will present witnesses including medical personnel who suspected poisoning. They will contest that the collected samples were not enough to determine whether or not there was contamination. Li explains that Angel Valley owners and employees destroyed the evidence by chopping up and burning the sweat lodge. He says that the owners of the ranch told their employees, "Don't worry. You're not suspects." After suggesting the culpability and cover-up by Angel Valley, and deflecting blame from Ray, he backs up and explains that, no, no one should be a suspect, because this was an accident.

Li also questions much of the procedure from the state examiners who he says did not research thoroughly the possibility of poisoning, having detected some "volatiles" in the samples but not pursuing it further. He also asserts that the state is going to have to prove that it wasn't a poison. This is another clever bit of jujutsu; calling on the state, not to prove their own case and evidence, but disprove evidence that no one actually has. That's a ballsy move. I'm actually kind of impressed.

The defense will also provide its own medical examiner who has examined all the medical records  and come to a different conclusion than the state's examiners; claiming there weren't elevated temps or dehydration.

Today's highlights also included further testimony from Jennifer Haley that I'm assuming transpired after I went out to dinner with my family on Friday. She was very sparkly. (See above.)

Mostly Haley talked about the training and requirements for Dream Team members. There doesn't seem to have been much in that regard. More than anything, Haley doesn't come off as taking a lot it too seriously. She burst into laughter when asked about signing the waiver, saying she just signed it so she could dream team the event. And, let's face it. We've all signed barely comprehensible legal forms so that we could do what we wanted to do. One of her dream team assignments, though, was getting the paying participants to sign the release forms. Here 's Haley on the release forms:

They're very vague if you read them, really! Some of them... they're... So I'd just get 'em to sign whatever papers they put in front of me. I'm just like "here, sign 'em." Or they'll sign, "is it all filled out? Here, you didn't sign this side. Fill that out." I didn't really...

She did not give participants any further information on the events. She did not ask any health questions or obtain any physical exam information. Having read the very perfunctory forms, myself, that comes as no surprise to me.

Haley was also tasked with shaving heads; something her 28 years as a hair stylist did not prepare her for. (You actually have to go to barbering school for that.) She said "a good two thirds" of participants had their heads shaved on the first day. She became uncomfortable when Ray told her to remove the guard from the clippers. At this point, her testimony was cut off for the day, on In Session, but the Salty Droid explains a bit more as to why she was uncomfortable.

Jennifer Haley is a hair stylist by trade {one imagines you’ll have better luck booking appointments in the afternoon}. Jennifer was one of the official head shavers in Death Ray’s totally not cult like head shaving ritual. But James Ray can’t do weenie head shavings like someone else might do :: so he demanded that Ms. Haley remove the plastic guard and go bare clippers. She told him that was a bad idea :: people could get burned or gouged :: “JUST DO IT!!” :: she reenacted him shouting :: “so I did” :: she said … then she kinda giggled.

Haley was, of course, correct. My husband has been shaving his head for years into a Marine Corps high and tight, and there is something of a learning curve. Without the guard you can get nicks, scrapes, and chafing on your scalp. If there are any bumps or abrasions on your scalp you can open up wounds. So, Haley's concern was justified and as someone used to trying to please customers and make them comfortable, she, no doubt, would have found it counter-intuitive to start brutalizing people with electric clippers.

Another aspect of her testimony, which they only showed a glimpse of, had to do with the lack of sleep at the event. Polk asked what they were working on that would keep them up all night. Haley responded that they had "paid a lot of money," at which point, the defense objected calling it speculation. The combative Haley responded directly to the defense, "It's not speculation because..." at which point Judge Darrow cut her off. So, courtroom procedure is not Jennifer Haley's long suit... making her a FRIGGING RIOT. I hope someone posts video of her testimony because there's just no doing it justice. I'll just say that she should have her own sitcom. I'd watch it.

In another highlight from last week's testimony In Session played today, Melissa Phillips also addressed the money issue. Polk asked about her "investment" of nearly $10,000 in the week-long seminar. Describing that investments' impact on her participation in the event she said, "Yes, I wanted my money's worth."

There was a lot of talk immediately after the tragic occurrences of October 2009 about how improper it is to charge for ceremony. There was also a lot of insistence that Native peoples don't charge. It's not nearly that simple, as I discussed here. But the question of ceremony is specific and it is not common to charge, except sometimes a small donation. In this case, the ceremony was part of a larger training event which makes it a little murkier, though not murky enough to justify the sum in question. (Remember that that ten grand didn't even cover lodging, which was another couple thousand bucks.) But I was contemplating this earlier today, after stumbling on this quote from a Lakota Elder.

When you do ceremony - you can not have money on your mind... The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing. The person wants to get what they paid for; the Spirit Grandfathers will not be there, our way of life is now being exploited! You do more damage then good.

I think this especially true when we're talking about people laying out sums that in many cases they can't even afford. And Ray calls these expenditures, "investments." Yes, that terminology comes from him, even though Melissa Phillips owns it in her testimony like she'd made it up -- "I chose to believe in and think of it in such a term, yes." No, that's what James Arthur called it. That's what it's called in the paperwork. It's what he calls all of his fees, including those for the seminars he never gave and won't return the money for. An investment is something that people expect to see some return on. They tend to get annoyed when they don't. It's called a loss. So "investing" a huge, non-refundable sum of money in a seminar does create an incentive to see things through and could certainly motivate a person to see a thing through to its anticipated pay-off.

I mentioned in my previous entry that I thought Ray had taken his whole "spiritual warrior" idea from Carlos Castaneda whose work I described as "crap." That probably deserves a little explanation. I touched on the Castaneda question a while ago here. I would, again, recommend reading the Salon article on Castaneda. It's the best online source I've found on the subject. I read Sorcerer's Apprentice by Amy Wallace some years ago and found it stomach-turning. Wallace was one of Castaneda's followers/mistresses and she describes the cultish elements of Castaneda's inner circle in chilling detail. Little things like how Castaneda required his mistresses bring him "gifts" -- those gifts being more mistresses.

A commenter on The Salty Droid helpfully pointed out that Ray recommends his students read all of Castaneda's work. This can be found on his reading list here. Notice that he recommends reading the books "in order." When someone specifies something like that, it tells you a little something about how much importance they place on a source. So it's Castaneda as holy writ. [sigh] And, especially, notice that his book Practical Spirituality was previously entitled Stop the World. The concept is straight out of Castaneda's books. So, yes, James Ray is basing a lot of his work on Castaneda which means that a lot of his work is based on a thoroughly debunked fraud who manipulated his followers in a myriad of disturbing ways. Why am I not surprised?

My husband and I have several times discussed the new age fascination with the word warrior. To my husband's way of thinking, the word has been reduced to an absurdity. People love to coopt the aura of power and caché associated with warriorship -- the many phony veterans, for example. My husband has read all the Dan Millman Peaceful Warrior books and says, his mythic gas station attendant can be fairly described as an actual warrior. He does a martial art; from the description, most likely aikido. He turns out to be a military veteran. My husband, who as I mentioned, is a Marine, has no bone to pick with Millman. But the way the peaceful warrior idea has been disseminated throughout the ouvre, through no real fault of Millman's, leaves actual warriorship behind. It's become all about self-improvement, facing inner and outer challenges with courage, and so on. Likewise, Castaneda, is all about warriorship as an inner journey towards self perfection. Becoming "impeccable" is certainly a part of warriorship but it's not what defines a warrior. A warrior is someone who is ready to put his or her life on the line for other people.

All information on the trial comes from news articles with provided links or live courtroom footage on TruTV's "In Session" or CNN's live feed. All quotes and paraphrased statements that are not linked to a source document are my best attempt to transcribe material from live broadcasts.

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