Mar 9, 2011

James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Trial: Day 7

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Kirby Brown

I just listened for the second time to the Kirby Brown recording and I'm just struck anew by the absurdity of this whole "die with honor" thing. Brown, as discussed, was one of the people who "died" in the Samurai Game. Now, I've played games that involved being "out" and leaving the game. I'm sure I've even played games where "out" meant "dead." I've never played a game wherein I had to lie completely motionless for hours. Usually, being out means you can move off the field of play and hang out. It can even be kind of a relief, as I imagine death itself can be. I'm a believer in life after death, so... I certainly don't believe that death is just the cessation of physical activity because I don't believe we're just a body. I think the body rather quickly becomes inconsequential to the spirit after death. The reason I bring this up, is that a similar paradigm is certainly suggested by Ray and by the Native traditions he purports to be representing in this training. But here, he's made death completely about the body, not the release from it. That seems contradictory to me. Kirby Brown obviously believed in life after death because she shared that one of her departed relatives came to her in her vision quest. But the Samurai Game presents death as being trapped in an immobile, physical body.

I just don't see what on earth lying stationary on the ground, being unable to attend to basic physical needs -- scratching itches, elimination, addressing muscle spasms, eating -- can possibly have to do with honor. What keeps popping into my head is that horrible scene in the movie Sybil -- the first one with Sally Field -- where her mother forces her to drink water and then hold it while she plays the piano. I don't think anyone who ever saw the movie can forget the mother pounding on the keys and screaming, "Hold your water!" as a humiliated child struggles not to wet herself, but eventually does. I don't think there is any argument that Sybil's mother was a sadistic abuser. I really can't see compelling people to hold their water, swallow their own vomit, and remain there motionless while others are having dinner -- because to do otherwise will "kill" their companions -- as anything but abuse and humiliation. He's tied the idea of "honor" to following the rules of a very cruel and capricious "god." What on earth that has to do with his paradigm about us as divine energy beings of unlimited potential I'll never know.

Ray's fixation with death, I'm tending now to think is part of his Castaneda fascination. One of Castaneda's major themes was making death a teacher and ally. I think that's what Ray was trying to say in his meandering speech on why participants shouldn't sleep before a battle -- something no actual military leader would ever order. I don't think anyone ever won a battle because the troops were exhausted. But I digress. Ray is really a sad Castaneda wannabe. Now that guy knew how to run a cult.

Jennifer Haley Cross Examined by Truc Do

Jennifer Haley is a difficult witness, particularly for the defense, because she just refuses to let anyone put words in her mouth. She has no compunction about correcting attorneys when they even slightly confuse or misrepresent her meaning. So when Truc Do tried to construct a different narrative and ask Haley to fill in the expected answers to establish that narrative she rapidly became frustrated with Haley's unpredictability. Her primary method of asking questions is to make an assertion of fact and close every statement with a quick, "Correct?" Haley found a lot of the statements to be "not correct," and had many narratives of her own. This did not bring out the best in Truc Do. At one point she lost patience and said something along the lines of, "If you'd just listen to the questions, this would go a lot faster." She recovered her patience and trudged on.

In trying to discredit Haley's damning testimony, Do also tried to get in several pieces of evidence that would seem to contradict Haley's time-line in recounting Hermia Nelson's apparent heat exhaustion and unconsciousness after the 2007 sweat lodge. This was after trying desperately to pin Haley down to a time-line that she repeatedly said she couldn't state with any certainty. This caused an objection from the prosecution -- who had never seen the three photos submitted for evidence -- on the grounds that the defense had failed to disclose them. After this, Do attempted one of the more stunning legal maneuvers I've seen. She insisted that disclosure rules did not apply because the evidence was being used to impeach testimony that she could not have known was coming, which may or may not have some validity. But not knowing the testimony was coming hadn't stopped her from having the photos to hand. She then -- and this is where it gets surreal -- argued that handing over evidence used for impeachment would be the same thing as revealing her legal strategy beforehand, and would really be tying her hands. Sheila Polk pointed out that she had just admitted that she was withholding evidence for strategic purposes, which is pretty much the reason disclosure rules exist. The judge upheld the prosecution's objection. Again, I'm kind of awed at the giant, brass balls of the defense team, if not their overall strategy or presentation.

Do's questioning of Haley ended with an answer that seemed to satisfy her. It's either that or she just couldn't take anymore. But the question was whether or not she would have stopped the sweat lodge and gotten Ray if someone was unconscious. Haley said, no. This was after saying that she would have stopped the proceedings in the case of a death. It seemed to me that the point Do was making was that Haley agreed that unconsciousness was not enough to stop for. So it sounded like something of a gotcha.

On redirect, however, Haley explained more fully why she would not have stopped the proceedings and interrupted Ray for an unconscious person. And what came out was a soliloquy of fealty to Mr. Ray. He had said to expect anything, vomiting, delirium... so unconsciousness would not have surprised or concerned Haley. She'd been told by Ray to expect the unexpected and she trusted him completely to keep them all safe.

She also had more observations on the hair shaving thing. Asked how Ray responded to participants who chose not to get their heads shaved on the first day. She described him as "encouraging." In other words, he encouraged them to get their heads shaved. He asked them why they would not and didn't they want to play full on. Polk asked for clarification because Do had "asked [Haley] to agree with her" that the hair shaving had nothing to do with attitudes of participants once they were in the sweat lodge. Haley had not agreed. So Polk asked her to explain why. Haley described how vulnerable and "not like yourself" people would feel after having all their hair shaved off, at which point Do objected to the speculation. This is after having asked Haley to speculate during her cross examination about how it would not affect their state of mind in the sweat lodge. But Judge Darrow overruled the objection and allowed Haley to draw from her 28 years of experience as a hair stylist to explain how people -- especially women -- are affected by losing all their hair.

Haley also stated her belief that part of what was driving Liz Neuman and other Dream Team members after being chewed out by Ray during the wine incident, was to prove themselves to him. She thinks that may have been part of Neuman's refusal to leave the sweat lodge despite her extreme discomfort.

Dr. Nell Wagoner

Dr. Nell Wagoner, an OB/GYN from Alaska took the stand later in the day and testified to seeing numerous people being dragged out of the sweat lodge; some after every round. She testified that Ray never left the sweat lodge to check on them or inquire about them. She also described Ray's temper tantrum over the "flashlight," when a "sustained period of light" affected part of the sweat lodge. Ray became upset and angry, demanding the flashlight be handed over because it was a sacrilege. There was no flashlight. The light came from someone rolling out from under the tent to make a hasty exit.

She also testified about Lou Caci's fall onto the fire pit. When she heard people say he was burned she told Ray, "He really needs to get ice on that right away." Ray responded, "It's taken care of. We have a nurse." He never checked on Lou Caci himself. She also became concerned when Caci came back into the sweat lodge because a recent burn should not be exposed to more heat.

Towards the end of her testimony, Wagoner pointed out that it says on the release form that there "may" be a sweat lodge so she had assumed that after the intensity of the vision quest, that would be it. She did not anticipate the sweat lodge and Ray actually sounds, in his pre-lodge lecture -- which they played in its entirety late today -- like he's springing it on them as something of a surprise. Wagoner had had breakfast but no lunch. They had been told to hydrate after coming in from the vision quest with its 36 hours or more of total fasting. It was not made clear that they would need to hydrate for a "heat endurance challenge," until it was time for them to change into their swim suits and shorts, quickly hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, and go in.

Dennis Mehravar

Dennis Mehravar, who began his testimony at the end of the day, hated listening to the Holosync meditation. A recording of him describing his reaction to one Holosync cd and Ray's response to his upset was played. The following, I've taken from Li's reading of the transcript before Mehravar's testimony. Li, who was trying to have the recording excluded, was openly derisive of Mehravar's extreme reaction to meditation and construed it as hyperbole. Having had similar experiences myself, I can say with some certainty that it's not hyperbole.

The first one we did this morning, I feel really comfortable, and I was feeling really good, and I didn't actually want to leave the meditation. But this one from the first moment I thought, oh great, I can sleep for one more hour and start working on stuff... But I couldn't. I was very uncomfortable. I was so tight I couldn't even breath. I was literally, I was just literally have to had a hard time breathing. I felt like I was in a closed space. My left side of my body was twisted and I just couldn't stop. And even. It was really weird and I was hoping it was gonna be over. And it felt like it was going on for hours and hours. I just wanted to take the headphones off and run outside.

Ray's response to Mehravar's reaction? "Threshold." He explains that it's only recommended to listen to Holosync once a day but because it was an accelerated learning experience, they were pushing the threshold and pushing past discomfort. I don't know how much Ray had them listening to Holosync but Mehravar's reaction sounds an awful like what is described in the Holosync FAQ.

Can I listen to the soundtracks all night?

No. Listening for extended time periods can give the brain too much input and bring too much unresolved unconscious material to the surface, just like too much exercise can be harmful to the body. Listening all night, or even for several hours, can often create a state of severe overwhelm. Again, it is best to follow the instructions closely. [emphasis added]

There was some other legal wrangling, beyond the Mehravar recording issue and one bit jumped out at me. Judge Darrow was not explicit about what incident or incidents he was referring to but his phrasing was very critical. He was referring to impeaching witnesses with prior inconsistencies and said that it was improper to "set up a straw man" to do so. I may be over-reading this but my hunch is that this was directed at Truc Do. I say that because several times, in listening to her cross of Jennifer Haley, I thought that was exactly what she was doing. She was not so much asking questions as trying to get Haley to accept her interpretation of events as "correct." I'd have to dig through the available testimony to find the exact statements, but there were a few times when I thought she had really pretzeled something Haley had said previously and tried to get her to sign off on it. At one point Haley really lost her patience and accused Do of putting words in her mouth and twisting the words that were in the transcript of a previous interview; something Haley could see clearly because the transcript was right in front of her. Do picked the wrong person to do that to. My husband and I were watching Haley's cross examination earlier and he said something very funny. He said her testimony should be studied as a tutorial in how not to be submissive to authority... and I completely agree.

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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