As I've mentioned previously, the James Ray letter-writing campaign is underway. As James Ray's supporters and family are requesting letters about what a great guy he is and how many people he's "helped," for the mitigation hearing, the prosecutors are also accepting letters about what a creep he is and how many people he's harmed.
In addition to the aforementioned letter from Karen Oritz, pleas have gone out from Ray's family members and even Ray himself. He has enlisted the help of one Tony Alessandra. Details on this can be found on Connie Joy's Facebook page and in this post from the Salty Droid. Here is Alessandra's appeal for support which includes Ray's assault on grammar and decency.
From: On Behalf Of Dr. Tony Alessandra 858-999-2119
Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2011 12:06 PM
Subject: [CSPlink] Re: More on James Arthur Ray
…I just received this email from James Ray. He needs help from all those who really know him. I’ve volunteered to testify as a character witness in Aug.or Sept. prior to sentencing. ALL your letters will help his case.
From: James Ray
Sent: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 8:58 PM
To: Tony Alessandra (TA@Alessandra.com )
Subject: help James Ray
Tony I need as many letters of support as possible talking about the good I’ve done and WHY I SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE DOING MY WORK and get probation versus prison. Can you help me? How do they know me, what have I done for them or what have they observed me do, what do they know about my character, work ethic, contribution, WHY SHOULD I BE ALLOWED TO GET BACK AND CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY, ETC.
You mentioned that many speakers have made supportive comments to you, can you get them to write letters-the more the better. My lawyers want to give them to the judge to help sway his sentence. Have them send via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Attachment with a signature is best but if not possible can be in the body of the email.
Thanks in advance for your help
James Arthur Ray
All caps are always such a nice touch. Stay classy, Mr. Ray!
I also love that Alessandra's three sentences aren't actually written by Alessandra but "on behalf of." He's a busy guy. I get that. He's got a lot of "certified professional" speechifyin' to do. So will he be testifying in person or will he have a proxy for that as well?
And what is a Certified Speaking Professional? I don't really know, but I'm betting it doesn't involve deep study in rhetorical analysis, Burke's pentad, or Aristotle's Poetics, like those of who actually went to school to learn public speaking had to learn. What struck me, though, looking at the police photo Salty posted on his blog is how prominently Ray has displayed his Certified Speaking Professional certificate. It's hanging on his wall of fame right next to his O cover and, um, some wolves. (???)
You know what's not displayed there? Any certificate from Stan Grof or Allied Ronin showing that he's certified in Holotropic Breathwork or the Samurai Game... because he's not. Conspicuous by its absence in the JRI offices is any evidence of his claimed credentials in the multitude of things he facilitated and taught. But he's certified to be a motivational speaker. He's definitely got his Certified Speaking Professional certificate.
But I digress.
James Ray's peeps -- or their personal assistants -- may or may not be sending letters and agreeing to testify to Ray's "CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIETY." But Sheila Polk intends to fight fire with fire and is receiving letters from those who have been harmed by James Ray. She has received a number of these letters and could, undoubtedly, use more.
Two people have posted their letters on their blogs and the posts are must reading. One is the personal recounting from a woman whom trial watchers will remember as one of the not shiny, happy people in the 2008 sweat lodge photos. The second is from a woman whose brief contact with Ray sent her into a suicidal shame spiral. It doesn't take Ray long to do lasting damage. He's really good at it.
Mary Latallade attended Spiritual Warrior complete with Ray's heat endurance challenge (aka. sweat lodge) in 2008. Sheila Polk zeroed in on the above image of Mary during the trial as evidence of the fact that all was not well at previous Ray sweat lodges. Ted Mercer testified to her total incoherence. Thankfully, she has recovered from her experience, although she is still trying to put the pieces together regarding what happened to her that day. She has no recollection of much of her experience. And the JRI staff was less than helpful in putting it into context.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to hear from Carry but I accepted her reply knowing that even if she wrote it herself, she was clearly coached to withhold any details about what happened. It would be a futile endeavor to demand answers. If I was at a hospital, I would have gotten lots of information, helpful information about my stay and care. I would have felt reassured that I was well taken care of in a safe and appropriate environment. I knew secrecy (to avoid negative publicity) was a strict JRI policy. I was just hoping to get any information that might fill in the gap of time that had lapsed. Honestly, I wanted my memory back. Instead, I got nothing or what felt equivalent to a door slamming in my face! Anytime you dealt with a JRI employee, for the most part they were courteous with a great big show-all-your-teeth smile on! I had to suck it up. Employees do not budge if they are told to do something a certain way for fear of being called out by James. The same level of professionalism, authority and loyalty was expected when you were chosen to dream team an event so I knew the deal.
I was disturbed, obviously, by much of Mary's post but what really tweaked me were her numerous references to secrecy and a "code of silence." She alluded to this "vow of secrecy" not only in terms of how Ray's students represent his events to the outside world but also to each other. I found this bizarre so I wrote to Mary who was kind enough to indulge my questions and to give me permission to share some of our conversation.
Mary's response to my initial question about how this policy of secrecy was expressed and enforced was more horrifying than I expected. She described for me a situation in which Ray loyalists reported up the chain of command when people had stepped out of line so that participants really didn't know whom to trust. Ray would then use open mic sessions to humiliate people he was mad at for any perceived slight. And she confirmed my suspicion that Ray was repurposing spiritual growth tools in ways that were completely self-serving. For example "letting people have their own experience" was not simply about respecting healthy boundaries. It was a way to keep people isolated from one another. (As we know from the evidence presented at trial, it was also an excuse to leave unconscious people lying where they fell in the "hellacious" heat of the sweat lodge so that some of them had the opportunity to die without interference, you know, in their growth process.)
Ray discouraged discussion of any of the exercises until people "had time to process their experience." The problem with that is that most of us process our learning experiences through discourse; particularly if we're having trouble understanding what's occurred. The result of this enforced "code of silence" is that it kept the majority of the communication moving vertically, rather than horizontally. It interfered with the development of interpersonal bonding between participants. Mary told me that she had "made a lot of great acquaintances."
All of this served to keep people dependent on Ray, rather than in a mutually supportive environment. And Ray's game was to keep people endlessly dissatisfied with what personal help they got from him or his staff. Ray, himself, was almost completely unavailable. That way participants would keep chasing him for the elusive rewards promised by the next event and the next and the next.
People who have studied cults will recognize the vertical communication and the spying by "loyal" followers. They will recognize the punishments for disloyalty and sharing secrets with outsiders. Again, I would never characterize JRI as a full-blown cult. But wherever groups coalesce, cultish elements can be seen to some degree. Often, it's completely unintentional. After months of listening to testimony and reading personal accounts by former students, I do not think what Ray was doing was unintentional. I think he set out to manipulate people and make them increasingly dependent, disempowered, and willing to fork over huge sums of money.
The divide and conquer techniques employed by Ray are a pattern I've also come to recognize as common among sociopaths. Keeping the people in your sphere from communicating with one another keeps them from comparing notes and coming to important realizations -- like the fact that they're dealing with a sociopath. (I learned to recognize this little trick through hard experience. Don't ask.)
What Ray's events lacked in intimacy they more than made up for in instamacy. That is certainly not something that is unique to Ray. It's a common side effect of the intensity of short retreats. I can see parallels going all the way back to diocesan youth conferences I used to attend through my very upright Episcopal Church. And it is certainly something I've observed at many of the spiritual seminars I've attended. I was reminiscing earlier this morning about how much I hate the hugginess of a lot of these events. I wrote a bit about my views on social pressure to hug total strangers here:
Some years ago when I was taking a course with Drunvalo Melchizedek, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with what has been aptly termed the "instamacy" of spiritual gatherings. To put it simply, I'm not a hugger. This puts me distinctly at odds with the cultural climate of a lot of "new age" gatherings. To me, a full body press with another person is a rather intimate expression; one I reserve for people I feel personal affection for. That kind of affection usually develops over time. I feel perfectly comfortable hugging close friends and family, but rarely people I've just met. But, anyone who's ever been to one of these things can tell you, hugging total strangers is the norm. So, it became an issue. Drunvalo's response was to tell me that I would some day realize everyone I met was "absolutely" me. I think he was somewhat taken aback when I told him I already fully understood that, but it didn't change my views on the hugging culture a bit. While it was most certainly true that everyone in that class was "me," so is Charles Manson. I don't want to hug him either.
Imagine my horror when I opened up Connie Joy's Facebook page earlier this evening and learned that Ray not only insisted people hug total strangers but give them butt rubs. His purported reason for doing this? To sooth the muscle tension caused by sitting for so long in his courses. This is not just grossly inappropriate and a total disrespect of personal boundaries. (Don't you love the way Ray wants people not to interfere with each others' "process" and "experience" but does want them to molest each other?) It's also, once again, reckless and dangerous. What about people who've been sexually assaulted in the past who could be retraumatized by having total strangers grab their asses? Are JRI staff members prepared to help people whose PTSD is triggered by an exercise this stupid?
Recklessly opening up psychological wounds is Ray's modus operandi. Nothing is off limits when it comes to Ray getting what he wants. In the case of Jeanne Barkemeijer, what Ray wanted was her money. Well, he wants everybody's money, so that's no shock. But Jeanne wouldn't be talked into spending money she didn't have. After a remarkably naked attempt to get her to part with a monstrous sum, he brutally and publicly humiliated her. Her breathtaking letter and additional commentary are here.
Jeanne went to one of Ray's teaser events to thank him. She had enjoyed his book and his teachings had given her some hope of regaining her health. Her multiple allergies, fibromyalgia, and other health problems had left her walker dependent and on disability. When she approached Ray to thank him and shake his hand, he visibly recoiled. And then he started hard selling her.
When I reached out to shake Mr Ray's hand he looked at me, reached for my husband's hand and then crossed his arms. When I started to thank Mr Ray, I spoke five words ... at which point he interrupted me to ask if we'd signed up for any of his seminars.
When I started telling him we had no money and were unable to attend, he again interrupted me.
"I'm going to do you a favor" he said, "Don't ever say that again, [that you don't have money] the universe is listening."
"But I don't have any money right ... (I was going to say right now)"
James Ray ... interrupting again ... now shouting
"I TOLD YOU NOT TO SAY THAT!"
"But it's true."
James Ray ... shouting even more loudly
"Then borrow it!"
"I have no one to borrow from."
James Ray ... speaking in a loud and angry tone
"You mean to say your life is so miserable that you have absolutely no friends who can loan you money?"
Me ... quietly
"No, my friends are struggling to."
James Ray ... shouting
"You'll never be anything but a fat slob and looser if you don't attend my retreat."
Yes. James Ray is an unconscionable prick. And he openly loathes people for being sick, poor, or God forbid, overweight. (The steroid dependent, former body builder's contempt for overweight people is an open secret.)
Ray's hostility toward the sick and economically disadvantaged is something I've noted before. It's even evident in his published work. It's one of the first things that jumped out me when the sweat lodge debacle forced me to take a hard look at this particular member of The Secret brain trust.
I picked through more of his site, and found more facile platitudes. There's this from his Practical Mysticism seminar:
Maybe you, like me, are tired of the so-called "spiritual individual" who is sick and broke all the time, or the "mystic hopeful" who can't carry on an intelligent conversation about real life.
Where, oh where, would motivational speakers be, without the mythical ne'er do well to use as a whipping boy? His disdain for the sick and economically disadvantaged is also highlighted on the home page.
Likewise, there are others who qualify as a creative genius, and they're physically sick all the time. That's not real wealth!
Then there are those who claim to be really "spiritual," and they're always financially broke. That's not wealth either!
Is it any wonder that so many people came away from The Secret feeling like their illness and adversity meant that they had failed somehow?
As I noted here, by James Ray's standard, Stephen Hawking is a cautionary tale.
I am weary of discussing the implications of self-help pundits and their negative messaging around any imperfection. I have railed for years against how emotionally punishing this is for people who don't happen to be perfect. Once again, Ray has raised the implicit hazards of the self-help industry into something radically explicit. I knew The Secret was dangerous. I didn't expect people to die because of it. I was proved wrong by James Ray. I didn't think a "law of attraction" guru would ever openly, publicly, and directly, humiliate a person for being sick and financially disadvantaged. James Ray proved me wrong on that score as well.
Ray has left tremendous wreckage in his wake. He has emotionally, physically, and financially wounded countless people. If you are one of those people, this is your opportunity to set the record straight and aid prosecutors in their attempt to counter the defense's mitigation strategy. I have little doubt that he's harmed more people than he's helped. Please send your letters to Sheila Polk, the District Attorney who successfully -- and brilliantly -- prosecuted Ray for some of his crimes.