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Three days before Thanksgiving in 2013. At the end of a cold, late fall day in Westtown, New York. Brown was up late cooking when she heard her husband George yelling for her to come to the living room. She rushed in and when she saw what was on the TV, her jaw dropped and I had to wear shackles to the shower. You know, you get to shower twice a week and you have to be escorted in shackles to the shower.
And it was amazing experience, you know, but humiliate well, humbly there on the screen, on prime time television was James Arthur Ray. I can be arrogant and I think there's a lot of hubris that comes in my former business. You know, people flying all over the world and asking me how to have a better life. And it tends to go to your head. You know, Jenny already knew James was out of prison and now he was live on CNN.
Sitting across from the interviewer, Piers Morgan. It was the first time Jenny had seen him since his prison release.
I thought he looked pretty awful. And in a perverse way, I felt kind of good about that. He didn't look so fit and trim and handsome, you know? So, yeah, he looked pretty. He looked pretty kind of beat up.
His hair was long and slicked back. His voice cracked as he spoke. Morgan asked James about the incident that had landed him in prison. When you were told that people had died, three people had died. What was your immediate reaction?
It's the greatest pain I can eat. I can imagine is to really care about helping people in India, seeing them getting hurt. I mean, people who hug you said earlier reacted quite strongly and said, well, no, the greater pain is to be a relative of somebody who died in your lodge that day. Now, Jenny saw herself on the screen. It was a clip of her from an earlier appearance on CNN for more than four years earlier.
How many people walk past my daughter in her last moments trying to grasp gasp for breath and didn't help her? How do you live with that? Someone was working to revive her outside the tent, and I don't know that they were even trained to do CPR. How do you live with that?
How do you live with that? And what do you say to a mother who has lost a daughter in such circumstances? I'm terribly sorry. Jenny and George sat stunned.
George and I were watching it and, you know, screaming at the television at the same time using some colorful language as we were watching. Can you believe this city? Can you believe what he's saying?
I didn't know, nor did anyone know that anyone was in in a death, a life or death situation. I've been very physical all my life. And what I noticed was a lot of people having challenges, much like you would see at a marathon or any other physical activity. Had I known, I wish I would have known.
Our son is calling back and forth then friends who who saw it, you know, started calling us. Everyone being pretty angry and outraged.
Her youngest daughter sent out a flurry of angry tweets at CNN. Kept watching, incredulous.
I was furious and angry at Morgan for giving him the encouragement to continue to teach people these great things.
That night, Jenny couldn't sleep. I remember thinking that.
Oh, God, what now? I hope he doesn't go back into the self-help industry. You know, I hope he just tries to sell cars or something. He'd be a really good car salesman.
But selling cars was not what James had in mind. In the interview, he called the self-help industry his former profession. But there was nothing former about it. James was a free man again, and he was ready to make a comeback. We are pleased to have simply safe as our presenting sponsor. Here's the thing about home security companies. Most trap you with high prices, tricky contracts and lousy customer support. So are there a lot of options out there?
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While James was in prison, he'd spent his time reading self-help books like The Way of the Superior Man and Outwitting the Devil. And Tear-jerker is like the art of racing in the rain. His music playlist included Andrea Bocelli, Guns and Roses and Queen. He was released on July 12th, 2013, with about four months left to go on his sentence. He would eventually write a memoir about his experience called The Business of Redemption in State Prison, where I spent my sentence.
You're an animal at worst and a number at best. Quote, Property of the state is what your label. And that's exactly how you're treated. Not a human being property. At one point I was living in a dorm room with thirty five angry man and hundred and thirty degree heat in the middle of the Arizona desert. No air conditioner.
There's nothing like trying to meditate at 4:00 in the morning and hearing the slap slap slab of Addicks searching desperately in the darkness for a fresh vein.
James came out of prison to predictably reduced circumstances. No Beverly Hills mansion, no staff waiting for him. But James still had people who've respected him who wanted to help him get back on his feet. People like Dr. Glenn Doyle, a psychologist who is really into self-help. Glenn friended James on Facebook while he was in prison at the time. James, his brother, was managing his page. I would send messages of support.
I'd be like, you know, like tell James to hang in there and, you know, when when he gets out. I've been a fan for a few years and I'm now a licensed psychologist. If he ever needs help getting back on his feet, contact me. And he did.
Not long after James was released from prison, he sent Glenn a Facebook message and it was imagist to the tune of thank you for the kind words and thank you for the support.
And I am getting back in the industry. And I, I messaged him back and I said, hey, now you're at your work has been meaningful to me and there's anything I can do to it to be helpful.
Glenn believed in self-help. He'd gotten into it as a teenager.
When you're depressed, you tend to be up late at night a whole lot. And I remember catching one of these one of these infomercials, Tony Robbins infomercials.
This was the late 80s. They were all over TV.
In the last year, over 50 million people met a remarkable man named Anthony Robbins here.
It was a whole infomercial of people saying, hey, you know, read this book and listen to these tapes and maybe you can figure this out for yourself. And you wouldn't have to involve the school counselor. You wouldn't have to involve your parents. So about my 16th birthday, I asked my parents as a birthday present. I told them I wanted Anthony Robbins book titled Unlimited Power, as he pursued a career in psychology.
Glenn kept up with self-help. And along the way I discovered James Arthur Ray.
He had at the time the book that he's really known for called Harmonic Wealth. It's a really good self-help book and I've read lots of self-help books. So I read his book and I became a fan.
I became a follower. He even found himself using some of James's concepts with his therapy patients. And so when he'd heard about the deaths, that spiritual warrior, he'd been devastated for the people who died. And for James and I remember having the thought, oh, man.
Now, this is one of those things where, you know, people are going to use this as as just proof that self-help is exploitative quackery. And I was really dismayed. And I remember thinking, oh, man, you know, I hope James know, like, I hope you can weather this.
So when he got James, his Facebook message after he got out, Glenn was beyond excited.
And James is like, I tell you what, we can talk on the phone, you know, and like we can.
So he he did. And he actually gave me a call. Look, I saved the voicemail. It was an exciting moment as James attempted to mount a comeback. Glenn followed online, like, again, like self-help is banned, just a hobby of mine for so long. So it's not unusual for me to follow these figures really closely and to be like I was the guy who, you know, if if James would advertise like, yeah, I'm going to be doing a live chat with someone.
So like I was and, you know, only five people would tune in. And I was one of those five people to an end like five o'clock in the morning to see his interview with this obscure podcast or whatever. James posted a video on his YouTube channel. Have you ever asked yourself the question, why is it that bad things happen to good people? And so when these people approached, they said, James, I've got to talk to you, because given what you've been through the last four years, I think you're the only person who could potentially help me, maybe even.
The only person who could understand and as a result, I've decided to put together a video series about turning crisis and challenge into opportunity, because I truly believe that that potential is there. But it's up to you. There were links to download his e-book in the video description. It was titled Answers to Life's 11 Most Burning Questions. But something was beginning to feel off to Glenn about James's new sales pitch.
Start to move forward with your limiting beliefs. Because I have them. We all have them. No matter how much you try to eradicate them, they will still be there. Move forward with your fear. Move forward with your Dowton uncertainty.
Like he knows that there is a subset of people that that message will really resonate with them. That OK. I'm not producing the result that I want. This is my fault.
He started to think that James hadn't really taken the Sedona experience seriously. If anything, it seemed like he was using the experience to rebuild his career, not in spite of those things, but because of those things, turn them into fuel.
You know, when I do a one on one mentoring, we get more deeply into how specifically to do that. To turn those things that we think are negative and uncomfortable into fuel.
And he was really trading on this like as as he was kind of doing this this comeback spiel like he was he was really putting out there the stuff that, again, I think he knows from experience is really resonating. And it wasn't cheap. And he was starting out with these really small events. I set off all sorts of alarm bells because he's like, yeah, he's like, come on out. Like, you can pay thousands of dollars. Plus, Glenn noticed that James was branching into other areas of expertise.
And he says coming out for five days and I will teach you all these things that he's not qualified to teach basic. I will also teach you how to exercise. I'll teach you how to eat. He's he's not a registered dietitian. Like like he doesn't have kids. He's like, I'll introduce you to bio hacks. Like, he's really into cryotherapy. And I don't know what makes him think that he should be messing with temperature anymore. I'm just putting that out there.
But it struck me as really problematic.
Glenn decided to reach out not to James, but to Ginny Brown. Right now, we're all spending more time at home than ever. And that means finding new ways to have fun. When my friends and family tell me they're having a hard time keeping their minds busy, I always recommend Best Fiends. Best Fiends is a unique and exciting puzzle experience. Unlike other puzzle games out there, your job in the game is to match blocks of the same color to solve each level.
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Subscribe to American scandal on Apple podcasts. Spotify or listen ad free in the Wonder Yapp. For Ginny Brown, the nearly 20 months that James Ray spent in prison had been a gift. A break from the nightmare of Kirby's death and everything that followed.
I felt safe. I felt safe. And I felt safe that he couldn't hurt anybody else. That safety gave her space to think about how to honor Kirby's life. She also considered how to make sure other parents didn't lose their kids to so-called self-help teachers like James. And we wanted to give them the tools to help make their journeys more effective and safer. She started on a journey to learn more about the self-help industry as a whole, and she didn't like what she saw.
Ginny had gone through four years of graduate school to become a licensed clinical social worker. She had extensive training to delve into this sensitive, fragile waters of her clients trauma. Meanwhile, unlicensed self-help teachers like James were out there getting people to share their deepest secrets. In large groups without any qualifications.
I always use the expression, you know, spilling your psychic entrails. It's dangerous. People regret what they say. Sometimes they're shamed if they've shared too much.
They often had levels of offerings, beginning with free seminars.
They put out teasers. They're good speakers. Sometimes they're pretty charismatic and they drew people in. You click on something that sounds really interesting and it's pretty instructional. And then before you know it, you've gone down the rabbit hole of 15 minutes and you get to the end point. And if you really want to understand this sign up for this event, buy this book, be present for this, whatever, some kind of instructional thing that I need to buy.
And their teachings would have real consequences. We learned that people are harmed every day. They lose their life savings. They have emotional breakdowns. Some people are harmed physically. And it doesn't get reported. People don't come forward with their stories. They're shamed. They're embarrassed. And it wasn't just James Ray. They heard about plenty of other self-help gurus who'd been accused of financial misconduct, sexual harassment and manipulation.
It became pretty clear to us that there was so much in this industry that was pretty messed up.
Jenny found other people who shared her concerns and she started reaching out to them.
We felt that we wanted something positive to happen as a result of Kirby's death. And if we could try to do something to help the practitioners be more ethical and and promise safety to their participants and also help people who were seeking growth and expansion in their life to be cognizant of red flags and really pay attention to them.
It all led Ginny and her husband George to launch a new organization, Seek Safely. It was designed to educate the public about the self-help industry, to shine a light on it, to say there may be some great leaders and teachers out there. But there's also a lot of charlatans and you're in danger of being scammed.
We wanted to empower seekers to have more understanding and knowledge. The six pillars of these six safely promise are to be truthful about a leader's degrees and accreditations, to be accurate about what is opinion and what is fact, to be respectful of seeker's personal opinions, to be protective of people's privacy, emotional safety and confidentiality. To be safe when taking risks and to have integrity. That the leader lives by the principles they teach.
The Browns picked a specific, important day to officially launch sex safely.
July 12th, 2013 live at Lewis Prison, where James Arthur Ray is expected to be released just at any time now. He served 20 months in prison for negligent homicide.
We did a press conference when he was released from jail the day he was released from jail.
The Browns press conference was held across the country from where James was being released, but it got a lot of media coverage. Jini unveiled the promise as he walked out of prison. They were calling on James to be among the first to sign it. He didn't respond. Four months later, Bob Magnani would ask again, confronting James during his deposition about Colleen Conaway's death. James still refused to sign. Five months after that, James Ray held his first event.
When Dr. Glenn Doyle first heard about Sikhs safely, he liked it, he thought the Sikhs safely promise was the bare minimum that someone should agree to before putting on any event designed to open up people's vulnerabilities. But he also knew how hard it can be to warn people off something that can seem so positive.
And nobody goes in thinking, oh, I'm going to be the one who gets victimized. Nobody does. Just like nobody joins a cult thinking that, OK, I. I care. I think I'm going to join a cult today.
Glenn sent an email about James to Ginny Brown.
My boy, I don't know how close. And I you're keeping on James, but boy, you know, I was a fan, but I'm really turning quickly. And I'm curious, is there anything that I can do? And I got back a very nice e-mail from Jenny herself. Thank you for. Thank you for the email. And let's talk soon.
They were on the phone.
I think she realized that I could be somebody who, you know, in addition to the fact that I was interested in James and I knew a lot about James. I was willing to keep up with James, but I was also in the field. I also knew what I was talking about. Glen was still connected with James on Facebook and he decided that one thing he could do was push back against James, his message, where his followers would see it on his public Facebook page.
So he started responding to James, his posts, pointing out inconsistencies or claims he thought were overblown and misleading. He did the same on Twitter. It became sort of a side hobby. And eventually James got tired of it. It was blocked on Facebook. I was on Twitter, finally earned the badge of honor. It was a badge of honor for Glenn. And he wasn't the only one. After getting out of prison, James would sometimes respond to his critics online or sometimes ignore them or block them.
But he didn't stop. He didn't even seem to be slowing down. It's easy to forget, but podcasts are businesses, too. Here at one three, we do all kinds of businesses stuff accounting, payroll, shipping, but sometimes all that can take up way too much time keeping track of things like who gets what we're shipping care you should use and whether or not you're getting the best rates can be overwhelming. Especially now that businesses are adapting to this changing world to meet the demands of our new delivery culture.
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In blood ties season to Michael, played by Josh Gad and Eleanor, played by Gillian Jacobs, are on a journey towards a dark truth with Richland Health rebuilding. Michael and Eleanor each take their own paths to move on from their father's death and the criminal scandal that shocked the world. But when they discover the new CEO's nefarious motives, they are confronted with an all too familiar question fight for the truth or protect their fortune. Stay tuned until the end of this episode to hear a short preview of blood ties season two.
The first time I met James Ray was in 2015, just about two years after his prison release.
People talk about the dark side of pursuing your passion and purpose. It scared. And in today's world, we are asked to step up to that line every single day. And in that moment of decision, we have two choices. We either step forward and faith in power or we step back in fear.
He knew I was there to write an article about him. He was speaking to a crowd of about 30 people in a suburban Phoenix community center. The event didn't include anything like a sweat lodge, but a lot of what he said would have felt familiar to anyone who'd been a spiritual warrior in the struggle.
You see, it's in the struggle that greatness or that willingness to push against our own self-imposed limitations, beliefs, assumptions, things you didn't program did so well in the end. That leaves you out of the ground. To hell with that.
This kind of talk about pushing through limits might sound like something you'd hear from any personal trainer or sports coach. But it's exactly the kind of talk that was raising red flags for Dr. Glen Doyle. James calls it the inner resistance. He's got a whole spiel that he does around it. You're coming up against your resistance and you need to push through. Now, how does that come off to somebody who has invested 10000 dollars to be there and they're being told all these physical signals that should, by rights, signal to me to get the hell out?
I'm being told by my guru, this guy, that I have invested him. That is me quitting. If I if I get into that, Glenn said that this was the same type of rhetoric that kept people from leaving the tent in Sedona.
It really offends me when James has a whole spiel that he does now where he says, well, you know, look, the accident happens because the accident had to happen because it was the next step in my evolution as a teacher. No. Three people did not have to die. They died specifically because, one, he didn't really know what he was doing, but two, they had been told that any signal that that would have been a danger signal is actually that's exactly what you need to confront that Phoenix event.
I went to cost around five hundred dollars. After each hour long segment came a break where James promoted other events, which turned out to be more expensive. Today, he's not getting the same sized crowds he once did. But he's also finding new ways to reach people.
Hey, this. There's James. And, you know, let me ask you, have you ever just looked in your partner's eyes and this is what heaven must be like?
Yeah, it is very hard to maintain that. You know, we're here today to talk to you about our new redemptive relationship experience.
This is James Ray in a YouTube video sitting alongside his wife, Bare.
We're qualified to help you because we've literally built our relationship over the last seven years through war. And yet I believe we're stronger and better for it. Yes. Absolutely. That war.
James is referring to is the seven years since he got out of prison. In another video, he talks about those struggles again.
You know, in 2009, my company and I had an event and three of my friends lost their lives.
And I say friends, because regardless of what the media tells you, regardless of what you saw on the Internet, I cared about these people and it hurt deeply, but it didn't end there.
So I subsequently lost my in 500 company. It took me the better part of 20 years, working seven days a week to build. I lost my life savings. I lost my home. I eventually I lost my so-called friends and I eventually lost my liberty.
James His message evolved into one of recovery and redemption of not giving up, especially in the face of hardship. Look, are you in. In less than ideal circumstances right now? Most of us are. What are you doing with it? Because, you see, life does not begin when this is over. This is your life. And I'm going to challenge you to get up, to stand up, to take your power back. It's time to rise.
I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get an on the record interview with James. He has always declined for this series. We tried calls and interviews and Facebook messages and pleas through intermediaries. And really the main thing that I wanted to know is whether he understood not if, but why what he did in Sedona was dangerous. But I only have what he said publicly. James cooperated with CNN for a 2016 documentary. And he went on Don Lemon's show to promote it.
He said he had apologized profusely. He said he was heartbroken about what had happened. When you were being sentenced, the judge said, you know, something to the effect of the power. You are a very powerful person. Did you realize but doing something like this, the power that you had over people? Well, I don't really believe I have power over people. I don't think any of us do. I think we have power over ourselves.
Now, if we give that power away, then that's a decision that we make. You know, the people that participated, you know, as much as the the media has wanted to vilify me or whatever historically for this situation, they participated willfully. They were told about the dangers. And so they made a choice and they did that willfully.
James doesn't mention Jenny by name in the interview, but when confronted with her words, Jenny Brown saying her daughter had been cooked to death because of her belief in James's teachings. James says that no amount of his apologizing will ever be enough. What is a self-help teacher's responsibility? What is their power and what is the best way to confront them when they're asking for large amounts of money, no matter a person's income or when their claims don't ring true? If a licensed clinician were to be convicted of a crime, they would lose their license and not be able to practice again.
But after James did his time behind bars, he came out with virtually no restrictions on what he could do or how he could teach. I asked Glenn what he thought of this. Do you think that James is dangerous at this point?
Absolutely. He explicitly preys upon people who are willing and able to make an investment and his products and services because, again, they are seeking and they haven't yet come come into their answer. They like what they've seen of his. And a lot of times when we're in that position, too, like when we are vulnerable and when we are hurting and when we are seeking and when we have the money to invest in these things, we are less inclined to to investigate somebodies background and credentials because again, we want it to work.
Ginny Brown continues to run Sik's safely as her full time job and to try and get more people to understand what responsible self-help looks like. As for her feelings about James Ray, people have asked me, you know, do you forgive him?
Of course I forgive him. I'm not going to live with on forgiveness and bitterness. But I'm not going to go on public television and say, oh, James, you're forgiven because people will hear that is what he did was OK. It's not OK. I may have forgiven him, but I don't trust him because he doesn't understand that what he did was so dangerous. And either he doesn't understand and he's delusional or he does understand and doesn't care. No.
One, it seeks safely ever heard from James. To this day, the only time James ever reached out to Jenny was shortly after she received that visit from the state trooper in 2009. The one no parent ever wants to receive. James considers Sikh's safely a hostile organization. In spring of this year, he tweeted that the group had a personal agenda and that he'd been ambushed into saying whether he'd sign the pledge, said he wrote, The mission of six safely is to create a better self-help industry like Seek Safety is not about destroying the self-help industry or tearing anybody down.
It's not even about tearing. James Arthur Ray Downs, really, really not like like Jenny and George are really into, you know, creating a responsible ethical self-help industry.
Glenn considers himself a self-help practitioner and a fan of the industry. He just wants it and its leaders to act better, more safely. Over one hundred self-help practitioners, including Glenn, have signed the six safely promise. Jenny still hopes James will, too. For Kirby's sake.
Each year, Ginny and George hold a celebration of Kirby's life in upstate New York. It's called Kearby Jam.
It's always known as the it had so much fun together.
She was teaching me to do the high spirits, elegant, joyful. He had this incredible spirit and that twinkle in her eye.
They invite her friends, family like Bob Magnini and also other survivors from Sedona. They dance together. They eat together.
They remember Kirby, really awful, horrible things can happen to you in your life. It doesn't mean that you die, too. Your life can still be good.
It can still be rich. It can still be beautiful. We honor Kirby by having adventures, by loving life, by really living and laughing and enjoying each other and gathering with others. I know that that's what she would want. From one jury, this is the final episode of Guru, a story about the dangers and the dark side of enlightenment. If you want to help us spread the word, please give us a five star rating and a review on Apple podcasts.
And be sure to tell your friends for more detail on James Arthur Ray and the scandal that shocked the self-help industry. Check out the podcast Real Crime Profile. As professional criminal profilers and analysts, they break down the criminal behavior of James Arthur Ray. To figure out what he was thinking and why he did what he did.
In these pivotal moments, you can find real crime profile on Apple podcasts, Spotify or add free on the Wonder app. If you have a tip about a story you think we should investigate. E-mail us at TIPS at Wunder eCom. That's tips at Wunder AECOM. This episode was written and reported by me. Matt Stroud, associate producer, is a SEAL Kepi story editor is Casey Miner, Sound Design by Jeff Schmidt. Fact checking by Sarah Maclure. Producer is Alex de Blonsky, managing producer is LACA Pandya.
Additional Production Assistants by Melissa D'Wayne. Yes, Chris Siegle, Daniel Gonzalez and Tracy Eggless. Music supervisor is Scott Velasquez and executive producers are Jorge Lavender, Marshall Louie and Hernan Lopez for wondering. You're about to hear a preview of Blood Ties, Season two, starring Josh Gad. Gillian Jacobs. Dominic Monahan and Wayne Knight. To listen more to blood ties season. To subscribe on Apple podcast Spotify. Or you can listen early and ad free by starting your free trial of wondering.
Plus in the new wondering app, download the app today.
They're still out there, huh? Oh, yeah. You think they'll ever stop attacking Dad like that?
You know, maybe the driver should take us in through the garage. Hi. They're not attacking dad. They're protesting the lawsuits. They're protesting against the women they're protesting against. You watch these people go to the doctor or the drugstore whose logo? Do they see dads who built the synthetic valve that's keeping their parents alive? Dad, you threaten his company. They feel like you're threatening their health.