A jumpsuit for Jimmy
But I breathe yet
And for some the sky is bright
I cannot give up hoping for a morning light
So I ask that killer, "Can you sleep at night?"
Those three are on my mind.
(Apologies to folksinger Pete Seeger)*
As everyone who has been following the story is painfully aware by now, James Arthur Ray, convicted in June of 2011 on three counts of negligent homicide for the October 2009 fake-sweat-lodge deaths of James Shore, Kirby Brown and Liz Neuman, was sentenced on Friday, November 18, 2011. For his role in ending the lives of these three fine people, he received a mere two years in prison, minus 24 days served in jail last year after he was arrested. Those two years actually represent three two-year terms -- one for each death -- but the terms will be served concurrently rather than consecutively. As was the case of the verdict on the lesser charge of negligent homicide (as opposed to reckless manslaughter), the sentence represents only a tiny victory for the victims and their loved ones.
For the first few days after his conviction, Death Ray was officially listed as being in the Yavapai County (Arizona) Jail infirmary, leading to all sorts of speculation on Salty Droid's blog. As of this writing he is apparently in transit to somewhere else.
Though I was unable to follow the whole trial and post-trial goings-on moment by moment, and I certainly have been remiss on my blogging, I kept up with the story through Salty Droid's blog, LaVaughn's Celestial Reflection's blog, Connie Joy's Tragedy in Sedona Facebook page, and various Twitter feeds. The mainstream news media were of very little help. And despite my capricious satellite connections here at the Edge of Nowhere, I was able to tune in to a live CNN feed on November 18 to see the tail-end of the sentencing. At the time I tuned in, Death Ray was engaged in what was certainly the most important performance of his career, issuing a tearful, cracked-voice apology. Among other things he whimpered that if he'd had any idea whatsoever that the people in his fake sweat lodge were really in any distress, he certainly would have "stopped immediately." (This is, of course, contrary to mounds of eyewitness testimony.) He also promised to never, never, never, never run another fake sweat lodge.
Comparing his past arrogant, in-your-face performances with that courtroom drama, I was reminded of the creature Gollum in Lord of the Rings: one moment plotting his evil deeds to wrest the Ring from the Hobbits, and then the next, when confronted and threatened (usually by Frodo's loyal pal Samwise Gamgee), cowering and whining that he was just an innocent soul who was only trying to help out, and he never meant any harm at all.
Unfortunately this was real life, not a fantasy film. Following Ray's pathetic histrionics there was a break, and then a beet-red, faltering Judge Warren Darrow came back to pronounce his judgment. My first thought when I saw him was that this man was seriously hypertensive. It also seemed apparent as he rambled on that he was having some deep emotional conflicts about the case. I kind of felt sorry for him at first, particularly when it seemed for a moment that he wasn't going to let Ray off easily. But I was quickly dispelled of all illusions as he began nattering about “educated adults” and “responsibility” and “common sense,” the clear implication being that the people in distress in the sweat lodge should have taken more responsibility for saving themselves. It sounded to me as if he also mumbled something about suffering being one purpose of a sweat lodge. I can only imagine how Native Americans felt when listening to that.
I was also appalled when Darrow said in all seriousness that he believed Ray sincerely thought he was helping people. And when he said that Ray had committed no prior similar offenses, I found myself shouting at the computer screen. What about the previous sweat lodges where people almost died? What about Colleen Conaway, who died at a Ray event in San Diego in July 2009?
And what about all of the aggravating circumstances?
Granted, Judge Darrow couldn't legally base his sentence on some of the things many of us found most objectionable, such as Ray's apparent lack of remorse up to the time of the croc-tear performance. But he was allowed to take into account many aggravating factors -- that was the purpose of all of those hearings following the verdict, after all -- and it seemed to many of us who were watching this that his sentence displayed either abject naivete or willful ignorance of the greater context. Or perhaps something more sleazy was going on. I don't know and, obviously, I'm not a lawyer, but I think this kind of "justice" stinks.
In Ray's camp, the attorneys immediately began the process of reversing what little justice had been done, and The Spin began as well. According to an article by Mark Duncan that was published on the site for the Prescott, Arizona Daily Courier:
Ray's family was somber but upbeat after the sentencing, making plans to return to their homes in San Diego and Kansas City. They think Ray is strong enough to endure his prison experience.
"We want to express our condolences to the victims' families again and hope they can find forgiveness in their hearts," said Ray's brother Jon. "We were fortunate enough to meet with James after the sentencing. He was in good spirits and said this would give him the opportunity to help people in prison who need it."
I can just imagine the type of "help" James could offer to his prison mates. There's been a lot of speculation about what manner of new frauducts or flopportunities he'll be able to dream up behind bars. Even though he has promised never to conduct another phony sweat lodge, there are still plenty of ways to scam people and to inflict financial and emotional, if not physical, harm on them. He proved that time and again at his other pricey, emotionally and physically abusive events. (Colleen, for example, did not die in a sweat lodge.) Moreover, being behind bars has never stopped a first-rate scammer for very long. In fact, prison is often just another incubator for scams. In many ways it is a hucksters' paradise.
An oft-cited (at least on this blog) example is infomercial king Kevin True-Dough, who served two years in prison in the early 1990s on on various felony charges, including credit card fraud. In prison he met another scammer and cooked up more scams, and when he got out he went on to bigger and better schemes. Perhaps his biggest current scam is the Global Information Network, or G.I.N., which, because the main money-making ops come from selling memberships to others, is basically a pyramid scheme — despite the protest-too-much disclaimers on various sites run by some of his minions. He apparently manages to get around the U.S. authorities by basing G.I.N. offshore, in Nevis/St. Kitts. He also retains expensive lawyers, and has a legal defense fund which he aggressively promotes — the result being that the same folks he’s screwing with his frauducts and flopportunities contribute to the great cause of keeping him out of jail. If they contribute $1,000 or more they get a chance to have dinner with him and their fellow suckers, and more opportunities to contribute yet more money to the cause.
No doubt about it, KT has a great shtick going, and he has many people convinced that he’s a fearless consumer advocate and First Amendment champion whom the government, the medical profession, and the pharmaceutical industry are trying to squash.
But I digress. It seems that the Death Ray case was Judge Darrow's swan song. According to the Daily Courier article cited above:
Judge Darrow, who spent nearly two years refereeing a consistently contentious adjudication, has announced that he will retire early next year. In an email, he wrote a brief summation of his thoughts on a decade on the bench.
"I cannot overstate my appreciation for the opportunity I have been given to serve in this position of profound responsibility," he wrote.
While Judge Darrow recovers from his ordeal and Ray's lawyers work to further muck up the wheels of justice, James Ray's fans and defenders are also out in force. A core group of loyalists insist he doesn't deserve prison, according to this ABC News piece. One said, "Wherever James goes, he always does good." Some of the most revolting remarks can be found on the Official James Ray fan page on Facebook. If you follow that link, be prepared for some nauseating victim-blaming ("those three sheeple deserved to die") and Ray-worshiping ("those who hate James Ray aren't worth even one of his turds") remarks. I have to wonder if some of the people on that site are just being cruelly provocative, or if they really are as deluded as they sound.
My point is that although there may be more than a bit of schadenfreude in the critics' corners at the prospect of Jimmy Ray in an orange jumpsuit, we can't necessarily count him out of the selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality game. Granted, as Salty Droid and others have noted, at least that two-years-minus-24-days sentence is something. And perhaps Salty is right and JAR has been crippled. Like Voldemort when Harry and gang started destroying the Horcruxes, Ray may be seriously weakened. Not only does he face scads more civil suits, there's the Colleen Conaway case, which her family is actively pursuing. Maybe Ray will never regain his full power to hurt people emotionally, physically, and financially.
But others will surely rise in his place, so it’s up to those of us who wish to fight what Salty has often referred to as the “sick machine” in our own way to keep reminding people of the nature of the beast.
I've wondered if some of the stigma of James Ray's conviction and imprisonment will also leave a bit of a smudge on the other New-Wage gurus, particularly the stars of The Secret, who used to boast that Ray was their friend. One that comes to mind is our friend Mr. Fire, who, in happier days (that would be the heyday of The Secret), bragged that James Ray was his friend. Joe hasn't said much about his friend, at least not publicly, since Ray's troubles began. Others in the selfish-help game have been bolder. For instance, there's Scientist Bob Proctor, quoted in this article on the Arizona Republic site (this was just after Ray was convicted):
Bob Proctor, a self-help leader and longtime friend of James Arthur Ray, said although he did not support the sweat-lodge retreat, he would have liked to see Ray vindicated.
"Anybody had the right to leave there (the sweat lodge), and they didn't. Some did," Proctor said. "It was a tragic thing that happened, but I don't think (Ray) should be the one that's held responsible.
"He's not a bad guy. He's been portrayed as something that he's not. He's actually helped a lot of people."
And the aforementioned Kevin True-dough, not a star of The Secret but an even brighter star in the scamosphere, spun Ray's conviction as part of a U.S. government conspiracy against the selfish-help industry and the true innovators and entrepreneurs in society.
But I really don't think Ray's jail term will have much of an effect on the activities of the busy hucksters. Jimmy Ray Jumpsuit may be temporarily incapacitated, but the selfish-help industry is thriving -- scams, scammers, and all. There are laws in place to protect consumers, but those responsible for enforcing the laws have their hands and their plates full. The battle cries of "cages for sociopaths" and "cages for psychopaths" are heating up, and I admit that they have a certain ring to them, but I can't honestly say that I believe even now that cages are appropriate for all scammers -- and besides, as we've seen, cages have never stopped the really determined ones. And there are many more scammers outside of cages than in them.
Whatever happens in the future, it is my hope that the families of the victims will find a little comfort from the November 18 verdict, and if not from the verdict, at least from knowing that there are many of us out here who are in their corner. Even if the public in general has a short memory, we do not. And we will be mindful as we sit down to our holiday dinners that because of James Arthur Ray, several families will be facing yet another holiday without the loved ones he took from them.
* Lyrics quoted are slightly modified from "Those Three Are On My Mind," from Pete Seeger's 1967 album Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Other Love Songs. "Those Three Are On My Mind" is actually a protest song about the 1964 shooting deaths of three Mississippi civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Of the eighteen men arrested for this crime -- a group that included law enforcement officers and Ku Klux Klan members -- only one was ever charged with murder, and that was four decades later, when the accused was 80 years old. The other killers were either acquited of lesser crimes, were convicted but served short sentences, or their cases ended in mistrials. In the song verse I quoted, the actual lyrics are, "So I ask those killers, 'Can you sleep at night?'" You can listen to and purchase "Those Three Are On My Mind" here.