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Monday, September 5, 2011

James Arthur Ray-Open Letter to "Civil Matter" Theorists (sweat lodge)

I have seen the most amazing chatter on the net about what happened to three people in an Arizona sweat lodge and the man who kept tight control of that sweat lodge, James Arthur Ray.

Today I would like to address legal chatter incessantly repeating that the three victims were responsible for their own "choices," especially as evidenced by the releases they signed. This theory is often propounded on websites run by lawyers not involved with the case.

Author Camille Kimball at Yavapai County Courthouse.
pointing to 2nd story courtroom where James Arthur Ray trial takes place.

May I share a personal anecdote about "releases?" When I was in my twenties, I found myself being wheeled into an OR for emergency surgery over the 4th of July. I was in a great deal of pain and was suffering from dehydration, nausea and other distressing medical findings. I was frightened emotionally and physically very weak. With tubes coming out of me, I remember the green one that traveled over my head vividly, and orderlies chafing to speed up my gurney, my doctor leaned in and handed me a release.

"Just sign here," she said.

Even at that fragile moment, I still had the soul of a journalist: I read it.  The release essentially indemnified the doctor for everything that could possibly happen including error and malice and, oh, say, sewing an earring into my gullet cuz it looked cute and cutting off a foot cuz it didn't.  I looked up at her and said, weakly, "I don't think I should sign this."

"Well," she said, sitting down, "we'll have to stop all this until you can find a doctor you trust, then."

Remember this was emergency surgery...on a major holiday.

I stared at her from the gurney. I reviewed all my physical miseries.

"I would just add," she said, clearing her throat, "that every other surgeon who comes in here will require you to sign the same form."

I signed.

I'm still kicking up trouble today, no earrings in my gullet and all my feet accounted for, but I was forever bothered by the exortionate circumstances of having signed that release.  I cheered and felt appropriately smug when, some years later, courts ruled that such waivers are, in fact, extortion and not at all valid.

So let's look at the circumstances of the sweat lodge waivers required by JRI (James Ray International).  The participants had paid about $10,000 each to be there. Some had tried to get out of it--many had signed up during a high pressure sales blitz--but had found their money unrefundable. $10,000 is a lot to walk away from for anyone. An amount, one might even say, that sounds like extortion.

The waivers were presented to the folks in a haphazard fashion as participants arrived and were not included in sales or orientation materials that could have been reviewed in advance. The people handing out the waivers were untrained and, according to their own testimony, answered "I don't know" when some participants asked for more details or explanations.

The waivers do not reveal that:
  • a sweat lodge is planned, nor that the sweat lodge will be "kickass" and "much hotter than those wimpy sweat lodges;" 
  • nor that plastic tarpaulins will be used instead of traditional "breathable" materials; 
  • that excessive amounts of hot rocks will be used; 
  • that the lodge will continue much longer than traditional sweat lodges; 
  • that it will be tiny and packed with over four dozen people nor information given to compare to a traditional sweat lodge that typically houses  6 - 10 and the upper limit is usually considered 15 people; 
  • that no one associated with the lodge is trained in CPR or heat death and specifically that the leader of the sweat lodge who controls the heat and the doorway has no training; 
  • nor does this waiver list symptoms of heat stroke for participants to use their own judgement. 
  • And, finally, the waiver does not inform the participant that others have experienced serious injury including death (just 3 months before) while participating in one of these seminars. 
  • The person signing the waiver is also never told, certainly not in writing, that they will be deliberately kept on a protein free diet to keep them "off balance," will be deprived of sleep all week, and will enter the sweat lodge only after a 36 our "vision quest" involving a total fast and for many, no water.

If the participants had been furnished with a list of symptoms of heat stroke, they would have seen that symptoms relating to mental confusion are prominent. It turns up on every list. Here, at random, is the CDC--
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing  
Symptoms of heat stroke include:            
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache                             
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech       
    Symptoms of heat syncope include: (a fainting or dizziness episode that can also be associated with lack of acclimatization)
    • Light-headedness
    • Dizziness
    • Fainting
    In the law we recognize that a criminal act may be mitigated by the fact that the perpetrator was under the influence of an intoxicating or impairing substance. We charge him with second degree offenses, not first, and give him lighter sentences. We don't let people drive when they are impaired. Impairment is a well established legal concept.

    Therefore, by definition, once the people had heat stroke, even as they were on their way to heat stroke with the much milder conditions of heat exhaustion or heat syncope, they were incapable of making good decisions or communicating properly what their condition or needs were.   Much is made that Liz Neuman said "no" when she was asked if she needed help. Who knows what question her mind was answering? who knows what word her brain thought her lips formed?

    Right now in Arizona we are suffering from a prolonged heat wave. 122 to 112 every day. Tempers flare, cars break down, traffic snarls. And our emergency personnel want us to know to take it seriously. They have us under an official "excessive heat warning."

    I remember a story I did on heat deaths as a TV reporter several years ago. Indelibly recorded in my mind is the county medical examiner telling me on camera, as he cheerfully described the medical process of a human being dying by heat, "we are, after all, meat." With that medical/culinary description in mind, at this time, it might be helpful to invoke the image of an iconic ad campaign against illicit drugs.

    Crack an egg.
    Drop it in a hot frying pan.
    This, quite literally, is your brain on heat.

    So this is my open letter to those who rail against an Arizona jury for what they claim as "confusing what should have been a civil matter." Please check your lawbooks about things like "informed consent" and "impairment."  Then check the thermostat in the hallway, undoubtedly set to a pleasant number, and give thanks that your brain is not in a frying pan and therefore you can actually still read.

    Camille Kimball's books:


    1. Thank you for this excellent analysis.
      It should be published in every news release about the sweat lodge case. And sent to Judge Darrow and defense lawyers prior to sentencing.
      James Arthur Ray is a disgrace.

    2. Thank you very much. I have been astonished at how underrepresented this angle is. If you have any awareness of heat stress--and if you are running a heat event (sweat lodge) for profit you certainly should--this should come to mind immediately. At least it does for me. Tweet it, FB it, link it--spread the word!

    3. Would you please send it to the Tragedy in Sedona
      FB site. Readers there would probably appreciate it.

    4. I will be glad to you. Thank you for your interest.

    5. Thank you for echoing my thoughts in a more coherent manner.Everyone who flaps their lips regarding "choice" in this case needs to read this.

      You mention that they were not told about the fasts, etc. Not only were they not told, the materials they did receive in advance mentioned regular meal breaks and meetings ending around 11 p.m. Nowhere did the provided schedule mention fasting nor sleep deprivation, much less going without water.

      James Ray is an inhuman bully and I do not understand how the jury listened to the description of his indifference and inaction once it was obvious people were in trouble, yet found him not guilty of the more serious charges. Because of his depraved indifference alone, he really cannot hide behind the "tragic accident" defense, but they bought it.

    6. For all of your drama, you are commended as a writer. For all of your lack of reality of people, students of James Ray, you are ignorant as a human. We are all at choice. People who died that day are at choice as we all are in our death. A coach does not say on the field: "You suck at improving, you'll never make it so you may as well give up now." They push for the forward march. Your ignorance of this fact keeps you from your own greatness as it keeps us all from our own. The people in that tent that night were poisoned, probably purposefully. Ray has no purpose in poisoning his students, if you would think about it, "duh", he was set up. So as a crime writer, look at another angle. Perhaps it will make you the writer you are looking to be. There was indeed a crime committed here, not by James Ray.

    7. Wow at first I thought this person is totally confused. Then I thought maybe I was missing something and needed to read it again and reflect, to see and absorb the message; ponder it. I did that, read it three times, and it is confirmed, you are full of hot air and foolishness. I would like to welcome you to the United States of America, where we have free elections, freedom of religion and speech,etc.. We also have a wonderful, albeit at times flawed judicial system. Make fun of it if you want but it is one of the best in the world. James Ray was tried by the state and the facts as presented resulted in a jury of his peers finding him guilty of charges and now he faces his judgment. The lawyers he hired are high powered, expensive California folks. What reader here or anywhere would think for a second that he would not have gotten off if there was evidence these poor folks were poisoned. EVIDENCE WHERE WAS THE EVIDENCE? OOPS MAYBE THERE WAS EVDIENCE IT DIDN'T CONVINCE THE JURY. Were you at the trial? This is preposterous to even mention, however, if I was at a James Ray alter and my head was below my ass for an extended period of time I would be behind the power curve of life, foolish and mean myself, as you seem to be.
      Coaches and mentors look and analyze what they are working with. They study their profession and understand it; they see what works and what doesn’t work. Then they try to figure out how to do it better. They get their game plan, business plan etc. and tailor it to best utilize their assets, tactics, strategies, logistics, tools. As Donald Trump said (I am not a fan of his), in order to work outside the box one must understand how to work inside the box. James Ray works with folks that are trying to improve their lot in life, they are trying to empower themselves, get on top of life’s power curve. They are human and to their credit they have recognized a need and are trying to improve their lives and looking at things differently. James Ray who was taking in around $10,000,000 per year must have had staff and people around him that planned and schemed on how to continue filling the coffers and the folks headed their way. Incumbent upon them with this influx of previous followers and new followers were his and his staff’s responsibility to take care of them. When you take people to their physical limit (for a good example of understanding what people can take read Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell) or mental limit (ever hear of water boarding? We do it to our own people in survival training school) it is important to understand what you are doing. Where was Ray in the sweat lodge? He was at the door, (the coolest location) the folks that died were in the back, hotter, poor air circulation. Sometimes maybe folks get haughty and busy counting money and lose sight of the big picture. They forget who they are working with, they start thinking they have the answers and believe me we don’t. At the risk of putting you into a grand mall seizure I would recommend you read Psalm 118:8 the middle verse of the Bible and make sure you see the middle two words and ponder them.

    8. The comment above was addressing the James Ray disciple above posted 9/12/11 @ 7:42PM

    9. @Anonymous of Sep 6, I can not post on that FB page. I tweeted it to the page owner, but I don't think she's seen it.

      @Renatae, thanks very much, very kind of you to say. Thanks for the extra details, too. I think a juror has since revealed that 8 of them did want to go for the manslaughter verdict, but acceded to the 4 in order to get a conviction on the lesser charge instead of, presumably, a hung jury.

      @Anon of Sep 12, I think there's a compliment in there somehere. I thank you for that, friend. As to your "purposeful poisoning" theory, I urge you to contact Yavapai authorities if you have evidence of such a thing. The accidental poisoning theory, on the other hand, was argued as vigorously as an platoon of the best lawyers in the country can argue yet was rejected by the jury. Lastly, you say we are "all at choice in our death." I have to take umbrage at this statement. If you read my book, A SUDDEN SHOT, you will get a taste of why. That book is full of real people who met their deaths and incapacitations in the most random of all possible ways. Not a single one of them put themselves in harm's way or "attracted" an evil force to them. And if anyone argues that they did, I will have to get out my boxing gloves and throwdown. So many lovely people were shot on sidewalks, it is my job to protect their memories. The people who died via the sweat lodge were also lovely. I was in the courtroom to hear their loved ones describe them. James Shore is a hero by any standard, pulling Sidney Spencer to safety and attending to Kirby Brown in her last moments. They were there seeking a beautiful life, not a sweaty, choking, "Jane Doe" death. BTW, professional coaches who encourage unconscious athletes to push for the "forward march" instead of call 9-1-1 are handcuffed and led away in squad cars. Believe me.

      @Anon of Sep 13, thank you for your thoughtful remarks. I especially appreciate your underscoring that the victims were trying to do something admirable, whether others agreed with the particular path. Seeking a better way of living, as you say, is certainly a commendable goal.

      All are welcome here and I'm glad you all shared what was on your mind. Thanks.

    10. Just stumbled on this site, and was much interested. Must say, I was not surprised, but am continuingly dismayed at "thinking" such as that displayed by Anon, of Sept. 12, 2011. Anon (like many) seems to take fierce refuge in idealistic theory, with not even a dim recognition --or perhaps with an avid denial-- of the mechanics that brought this event about.

      Ray, like many "spiritual leaders" today, is/was really good at getting people to follow him. Sure, there is talent/"charisma" involved, but believe me, skills and techniques for doing that have become high art, and are available for study. I understand that Ray spent some time studying such skills and techniques in earnest, prior to embarking on his "spiritual leadership" business.

      Like many, however, he did not seem to spend much time learning about the territory he was going to lead people in to. That leaves avid and non-critical "followers" in a pickle if the "leader" happens to be sending them, like Ray did, off a cliff.

      Occasionally, as we see, someone may be physically hurt or killed; but the potential for more subtle injury may be as pervasive as it is foreseeable.

      Student may leave with clouded understandings, or troublesome confusions; but may also carry a compounded reluctance to admit -- even to themselves -- that their "convictions" were mislead. Indeed, some of Ray's students continued to profess trust in him even after these events. (While partly a product of a great sales job, that's also partly from "confirmation bias", and partly from the risk of feeling foolish. There is also usually something of value in the teaching, that this denial can be based on, in spite of the bull it may be mixed with. That makes the product more marketable.)

      At any rate, in my opinion, this sweat lodge incident is representative of the worst consequences of the arrogance exhibited by many "spiritual" trainers these days, when combined with the vulnerability of those who are emotionally willing to follow without critique.

      Sure, Anon-of-Sept-12, from the student's point of view, "followers" must take responsibility for their own decisions -- although hopefully that starts BEFORE they act on them;

      BUT, from the leader's point of view, this is the worst kind of betrayal of the sacred duty to his/her students. The fact that students screwed up in following this guy IN NO WAY mitigates Ray's crimes -- not even a little.

      By the way, I have experience both as a follower and as a leader. I was also aquainted with Ray, having been a fellow student in seminars some years ago.

      Thanks for this discussion, Camille Kimball.

    11. Anon of Dec 7, thank you so much for sharing your insights here. You make a very excellent point about it being very difficult for people to let go of their beliefs. It is extremely painful to admit that a philosophy, a religion, or a person has failed you. It is more comforting to the soul to defend what you have embraced, perhaps with great zeal, and feel heroic than it is to face ugly facts and feel betrayed.

      This dynamic is at work in, around, under, over, through and through the sweat lodge story. Tragically, the people inside the sweat lodge were given lethally flawed information, "you'll FEEL like you're dying but you WON'T die," at a moment when they were already physically and mentally compromised (a week of poor nutrition, psychological bullying, visionquest, etc.). The painful choice to reject a philosophy and person now betraying them was beyond their reach. Hard enough for someone well fed, rested and confident. Impossible for someone slipping into unconciousness and the finiteness of mortality.

      Ray's team in court often made the argument that liability may have extended to JRI, Inc. but not to James Arthur Ray the person. The argument failed in court but even so, businesses are required to keep their operations safe. You just can't lock people in a theatre, or set off fireworks in a crowded nightclub, or sell raw sushi in Phoenix in the summer at a drive-thru window. Telling physically compromised people to ignore the signs of impending death, as decided by 12 jurors, falls at least into that category.

      Glad to have you join us, Anon Dec 7, and hope to hear from you again.