Mar 4, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 4

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Jennifer Haley

Yesterday I raised the question of who, if anyone, was actually a paid employee. Dream Team volunteer Jennifer Haley, who just started her testimony at the end of the day yesterday, was asked who was actually getting paid by JRI. Josh and Megan Fredrickson and Melinda Martin were actual, paid employees, according to Haley. Beyond that, she couldn't think of anyone who wasn't a volunteer. I'm glad to see that the prosecution is pursuing this issue because it's very troubling. In part because of what it says about how much they could be fairly depended upon to support participants in these admittedly dangerous activities. That, obviously, is the key issue in this trial. But, in terms of Ray's character, it raises other concerns. This is a man who was teaching about wealth and prosperity and who has claimed to have been very successful. Why does someone running a successful business and living in Hollywood need to have a staff made up almost entirely of volunteers?

This has been a criticism of mine regarding new age organizations and events for years. If someone is making a profit, people who work for them need to receive compensation. In some cases, I can understand, where profit margins are small to non-existent, and volunteers receive some form of fair compensation other than money. Most volunteers at new age events are able to go to lectures and other activities for free. In some cases, depending on how hard they have to work, and how many of the activities they can participate in that can be fair compensation. But this is often not the case and what I've seen, in that regard, at a number of new age festivals and the like has turned my stomach. There are people running events, making substantial sums, who simply exploit a free labor force that's willing to do it because "it's spiritual." If you're operating in integrity -- or to use James Ray's terms, being "impeccable" -- there has to be a fair rate of exchange. That doesn't necessarily mean money. But if someone at the top is making a lot of money and there are a lot of people busting their humps for free, that is not an equal exchange of energy.

While Ray was bragging about his many homes and $10 million net worth, he had a whole cadre of people working for him for free. How does that fit with all of his wealth and abundance memes? He's not sharing the wealth. He's not feeding the economy by employing people. All of his "harmonic wealth" isn't  trickling down onto too many people.

He's also not practicing his "law of attraction" philosophy very well. Now, I'm no fan of The Secret or of the "law of attraction" idea, but I'm familiar with the the belief system. According to the "law of attraction," when you're earning and you have people working for you for free, you are not going to "magnetize" abundance. If you're being cheap with people, you're putting that cheapness out into the universe and will magnetize poverty. If you're putting the people who work for you into a situation where they're working hard and not being compensated, your own work won't bring the compensation it deserves. If you're operating from fear and cleaving to your income instead of sharing your wealth, you will realize your worst fears and magnetize financial problems. I'm not saying that that's why he's harmonic broke. I think it has more to do with the fact that he ran his business and his events recklessly, people died, and he effectively put himself out of business. But by his own professed beliefs, he law of attracted his current financial straits.

According to Ray, himself, his financial situation is dire. It's already been decided that references to his finances are excluded. I'm not sure why; probably something to do with it being prejudicial. But the fact that he was not paying so many people who worked in very rigorous conditions does not look good. According to Haley's testimony, volunteers didn't even get room and board. They had to shell out two grand to stay at the Angel Valley Ranch. While Ray was charging people almost ten grand a piece for the seminar, he wasn't even willing to house the people who were working for him for free.

“In simple terms, if you are thinking, feeling and acting broke, then you’re never gonna attract prosperity into your life. Conversely, if you’re constantly thinking, feeling, acting healthy and whole then you are going to attract and create that in your life.” ~ James Arthur Ray, ABC interview with Dan Harris (2007)

Haley, though, did not return for questioning today. From what I've been able to make out the dispute over the evidence they wanted to introduce with her testimony -- the Kirby Brown recording -- remains unresolved and was tabled for the time being. So this mornings proceedings kicked off with a different witness.

Laura Tucker

Laura Tucker's testimony focused on many questions of health and preparedness for these events. She was asked a whole list of questions about what preparations were made in case someone in the sweat lodge got sick; what she was to do, was there an emergency plan, did she have any expectation that anyone could get sick... She did not. She was asked if she believed the sweat lodge would be a dangerous event. She replied:

I had no expectation that we were going to be in a situation where anyone would come to harm.

She was asked if she knew there was a nurse on site. She had no idea there was a nurse there.

So, there was a nurse present by happenstance, who Ray was looking for to deal with the mess afterwards, but participants weren't informed she was there and had no idea what to do more generally in the event of illness or injury.

Prosecutor Sheila Polk also asked if Laura Tucker was asked any health questions. She did not recall any such questions. Polk asked if she had gone to a doctor for a physical before attending or if she was asked to do so. She did not and was not.

I thought Tucker appeared very uncomfortable throughout. She was extremely controlled, but in watching her body language, I picked up a lot of hostility and defensiveness. As her testimony proceeded, it became a little clearer to me why that would be and also why Polk was raising so many questions about health issues and how Ray handled them during her testimony. Tucker was sitting with Liz Neuman during the sweat lodge and directly observed her physical distress. This makes her one of the last, if not the last, person to have verbal communication with Neuman before she died.

The most compelling part of her testimony was when a visibly emotional Tucker testified about Liz Neuman and her escalating concern over her during the sweat lodge. Tucker had become concerned because Neuman had moved to a different spot and bent forward into child's pose, a yoga posture they were instructed to do if they became uncomfortable. But Neuman had moved closer to the heated stones, instead of away from them. Later she moved again and rested against Tucker's and her friend Lori's legs and stayed there.

Tucker: I was concerned about Liz. I thought it was odd that we were having to support her as much as we did... It was getting long. Liz was puzzling me. I became concerned and, um, during one of the breaks I spoke up.

Polk: Do you recall what break it was?

Tucker: I think it was after the sixth round.

Polk: And by break what do you mean?

Tucker: When the door of the sweat lodge was open.

Polk: And before you tell us what you did, what specifically about Liz Neuman concerned you?

Tucker: Well, on some level, I was concerned from the moment she moved forward and closer to the stones. Um. You know, and then when she got up and sat it was [pause],  it wasn't altogether unexpected given the idea of inner and outer row but it did seem strange to me. And it was putting a lot of, um, duress or extra effort on me and I imagine Lori as well.

Polk: Could you hear, was Liz saying anything?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Could you hear her breathing?

Tucker: I could.

. . .

Polk: You talked about being concerned. What did you do with your concern?

Tucker: Well during one of the breaks, or when the lodge was open, I called out.

Polk: Who'd you call out to?

Tucker: Mr. Ray.

Polk: Where was Mr. Ray when you called out to him?

Tucker: As far as I know, and I was lying down this whole time, as far as I know he was over near, right near the entrance.

Polk: Could you see when you called out?

Tucker: Not, not particularly well. There, there was some light coming in from the door.

Polk: The door was open when you called out?

Tucker: Yes.

Polk: Tell the jury what you said when you called out.

Tucker: The first time that I called out I said, I said, "James, I'm concerned about Liz."

Polk: What sort of voice did you use?

Tucker: Um, I, I used my own normal voice.

Polk: Ok.

Tucker: And um.

Polk: Did Mr. Ray answer you?

Tucker: Not initially.

Polk: What did you do?

Tucker: Well, I wasn't sure if I was loud enough. So I, uh, I propped myself up a little bit and then I, I made more of an effort to project.

Polk: Ok, and what did you say?

Tucker: I said, "James, it's Laura. I'm concerned about Liz."

Polk: You just used kind of quiet tone here in court. Is that same tone you used?

Tucker: No, it was more forceful than that but I wasn't screaming or yelling or anything.

Polk: Did Mr. Ray respond the second time you called out?

Tucker: He did.

Polk: And what did he say?

Tucker: He, he said, "Liz has done this before Laura. She knows what she's doing."

Polk: After you called out with your concern about Liz Neuman, did Mr. Ray come over and check on Liz?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Did he ask any of his staff to check on Liz?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Did he ask any of his Dream Team members to check on Liz?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Did he ask you for any further information about Liz and what was concerning you?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Did he move from his position at all when he answered you?

Tucker: Not that I'm aware.

Polk: What did you do after Mr. Ray responded in the way that he did?

Tucker: I uh, decided I would ask Liz. So I reached out my left hand. I could reach her shoulder. I touched her on her left shoulder to get her attention. And I asked her, "Liz, are you okay?"

Polk: Did Liz respond?

Tucker: She did.

Polk: And what did she say?

Tucker: She said yes.

Polk: What sort of voice did Liz use when she said yes.

Tucker: It was, you know, maybe a little labored, but...

Polk: Was it very loud?

Tucker: It was loud enough I heard her.

Polk: You were right beside her?

Tucker: I was behind her.

Polk: Did Liz look at you when she responded?

Tucker: She turned her head to the left.

Polk: And where were you?

Tucker: I was immediately behind her.

Polk: Did you do anything further?

Tucker: I did. 

Polk: What did you do?

Tucker: I asked her another question.

Polk: What was that?

Tucker: I asked her if she needed to get out.

Polk: Did Liz respond?

Tucker: She did.

Polk: And what did she say?

Tucker: She said no.

Polk: Did any time pass between the time you asked that question, did she need to get out, and she answered?

Tucker: Only a moment.

Polk: What sort of voice did Liz use?

Tucker: The same.

Polk: And did she move at all?

Tucker: She didn't shift her position, or, you know, other than the turn of the head to answer me?

. . .

Polk: And then Miss Tucker, after that conversation with Mr. Ray and then the conversation you had with Liz, what did you think?

Tucker: [Long pause] Well, one of the things that I was thinking was that I was ready for this whole thing to be over. And I had Mr. Ray you know saying you know let us know what she's doing. I'm not sure if he could see her or not. And I had Liz responding to me promptly and, in my mind, clearly, so I let things be.

Polk: At the time, were you comfortable with letting things be?

Tucker: [Long pause] I'm gonna say, it's what I did, so yes.

Polk: Did you continue to be aware of Liz after that?

Tucker: Yeah, I mean I, I went back, we're talk... this is very late in the, the lodge towards the end at this point. Lori had, had left. And I was, at that point, my thought was, hey, we got this far, we can do one more and that's done.

Polk: Did Liz shift her position at all from that point forward?

Tucker: No, not, no.

Polk: So any change in her position at all with respect to you and leaning on you from that point forward?

Tucker: No.

Polk: Liz make any more sounds?

Tucker: Not, not that, I mean she was there, she was breathing, at no point did she not, she was breathing...

My hunch is that Tucker is carrying a lot of guilt for not having recognized a problem and not having moved more forcefully in getting Neuman help, and that this accounts for a lot of her defensiveness on the stand.

The defense will, of course, say that Neuman made a choice to push through and that no one was at fault.  She was asked if she needed help or needed to get out and she said no. She was a responsible adult and she made a choice. Both Tucker and Ray took her at her word. Although, Ray didn't even wait to hear from Neuman, telling Tucker that she was experienced and knew what she was doing. But Neuman did answer Tucker and she did not accept help. So, Neuman took responsibility for her own health and Ray respected her choice to continue.

The problem is that both Neuman and Ray were wrong. Neither was qualified, nor clear enough, to make that determination. What does that say about their perspective? Three people who thought they were well enough to continue are dead. Many more suffered from heat exhaustion and some have permanent physical damage. Eighteen people went to the hospital. They all thought they were alright enough to continue. They were wrong. At some point you have to ask how effective "knowing your own body" was in that context.

Ray told them repeatedly that even though they might feel like they would die, they wouldn't. They'd been assured that the physical discomfort they would feel was not life threatening. So for the people in that sweat lodge, the conscious choice was not between life and death. It was between enduring physical discomfort and failing to complete their Journey of Power; between suffering through a trial by ordeal and missing out on enlightenment.

That Polk shoehorned in the questions about what health information was required for participants in conjunction with Tucker's testimony was very clever. Because that underscores the lack of preparedness these people had for the real possibility of a health emergency.

My husband and I were discussing some of this over dinner and he raised some interesting points that I hadn't fully considered. I don't generally participate in physically challenging events, so much of the procedure is off my radar. I would never be inclined to do anything remotely like Ray's Spiritual Warrior Training -- well, not if I knew what it really entailed. The only thing on that waiver that would have given me pause would be the going without food and water in the desert. From that form, the physical demands of the event are not clear, and as I've said, I've done sweat lodge ceremony before; the "weenie-ass" kind. But, beyond that, I find all that Castaneda "spiritual warrior" crap to be, well, crap.

My husband, however, is an actual warrior as opposed to a notional one. He is a Marine Corps officer and a martial artist. So he knows a little something about physical rigor and discipline. He is, needless to say, horrified by the physical and emotional challenges Ray put his "spiritual warriors" through. Firstly, because they are patently unsafe. Secondly, because they had no physical training or examination to prepare for any of it.

In the military, of course, you have to be very physically fit to get in in the first place and your fitness and physical health are routinely tested. So to him the idea of putting people who aren't even required to have a health information on record into any physically stressful situation is madness.

He has also done many trainings beyond the military and has always had to fill out a medical history of some kind. The forms vary in their specificity based on how rigorous they are. The Tracker School which is far less rigorous and more loosely structured than Ray's Spiritual Warrior, still requires a health overview. And for an Outward Bound course he was required to fill out an extremely involved health questionnaire. This page explains the very complex process required just to apply. The Outward Bound program, while quite rigorous, was not as dangerous as the Spiritual Warrior seminar. Any martial arts training or competition he's ever participated in has required him to fill out a health questionnaire.

Hell. My daughter had to have a physical and submit her records before she could go to summer camp at the Y.

No one responsible puts people into physically challenging training without some overview of their physical health. No one.

On the one hand Ray was warning them all that his sweat lodge was the hottest they would ever experience but he gave them no guidance on the symptoms of heat exhaustion; how to recognize it or what to do. This is one of the fundamentals you learn in boot camp and Officer Candidate School. It's basic information and very important for any kind of desert training or, as my husband learned, deployment in Iraq. It's one of the first things you learn in the military. But Ray didn't tell these people what warning signs of heat exhaustion participants should be on the look-out for as they went into heat that might make them feel like their skin was peeling off. He didn't tell them what to do if they started to experience symptoms of heat exhaustion. He told them they would not die and that beyond that, they were on their own.

As my husband is fond of saying, "There is no authority without responsibility and no responsibility without authority."

Under cross Tucker rejected the notion of brainwashing and cults.

During the defense's cross-examination, Tucker said it would be wrong to characterize her and others who participated in the retreat as "cult followers" or "brainwashed" -- noting that many were well-educated and successful.

"It was absolutely a massive distortion," she said of media reports, such as that participants were part of a "cult" and subject to "mind control" by Ray.

She's entitled to her opinion and I can understand not wanting to be characterized as a cult follower. But education and success have nothing to do with susceptibility to cult-like manipulation. It really drives home the point for me, though, that I wish the prosecution was focusing more on how people respond to contextual authority than cults, per se. But we'll see what happens with Rick Ross and what he has to say. Still a hard sell. No one likes to think they're submissive to authority.

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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