Self-Help Shamster Behind Sweat-Lodge Homicides Released From Prison
James Arthur Ray, the purported self-help guru who went to jail in 2011 for negligent homicide after three people died in his sweat lodge, is out on parole.
The 55-year-old author and entrepreneur left state prison near Phoenix on Friday July 12, the Associated Press reported. Though he is not barred from conducting self-help seminars or sweat lodge ceremonies, AP said, “his brother said Ray has no immediate plans to resurrect his business,” though he left it open by maintaining that the tragedy was not Ray’s fault.
The deaths occurred after things went awry about halfway through a two-hour ceremony back in 2009. The incident killed a 38-year-old and a 40-year old man, injured 18 and led to the death of a third man in the hospital a week later, AP recounted.
Ray went to trial in 2012 and was sentenced to two years—concurrent sentences for each of the deaths. He was required to fulfill at least 85 percent of the term and was ordered to pay $57,000 in restitution to the victims’ families, ICTMN reported upon his sentencing. AP said that his release means he has served that amount of time.
The tragedy resonated deeply in Indian country, not least of all because the ceremony bore little if any resemblance to an actual sweat lodge ceremony.
“It was a bastardized version of a sacred ceremony sold by a multimillionaire who charged people $9,695 a pop for his ‘Spiritual Warrior’ retreat in Sedona, Ariz.,” wrote ICTMN’s now West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman at the time in an award-winning opinion piece.
Related: Selling the Sacred
Ray’s brother did not elaborate on whether his brother would try to resume the sweat lodge practice.
"At this point, he wants to get out and hide out, and start putting his life back together, which has been completely turned upside down," Ray’s brother, who was not named, told AP just before the release. "I say that with all due respect because I know a lot of people's lives have been turned upside down because of this unfortunate incident."
Dozens of people were in the sweat lodge that day outside Sedona, Arizona, the culmination of a five-day Spiritual Warrior retreat, AP said. The sweat lodge’s advertised “hellacious hot” temperatures were supposed to generate breakthroughs.
“The man responsible, self-help spiritual entrepreneur James Arthur Ray, claimed the New Age retreat would absolutely ‘change your life,’ ” Taliman wrote. “It did—it took the lives of a father of three children and a healthy young woman. It also caused burns, respiratory arrest, kidney failure, loss of consciousness, and dehydration for other paying customers who were hospitalized.”