If you could use only one word to define Paul Parks and you chose “courage,” you’d be right. Paul died in a culvert, where he was living outside the Roswell city limits some time around Jan. 10.
Paul had grown up in Roswell. His father Dudley still lives here.
“As a child, he really liked skateboards and bicycles,” Dudley said. “He’d get out there and build a ramp and do jumps all day long.”
Paul’s twin brother Gary was in awe of him.
“He was the first person I’ve ever seen who could ride a wheelie for blocks at a time,” Gary remembered. “He was jumping skateboards back when they had the cheap plastic wheels before they started putting good wheels on them.
“Paul rappelled down cliffs, he camped out in snowy weather. That’s why he probably survived being homeless like he did because challenging himself was part of who he was. Paul took life by the horns.”
Their older brother Dale remembers how self-directed and brave his kid brother was even when he was very young.
“When we lived over on Chamisal,” Dale said, “he was 2 years old, dad put him in the go-cart. You couldn’t see his head above the seat. It looked like the go-cart was driving itself. We were near Alameda and he’d driven it down to El Capitan school. I remember dad standing there, just stunned that he could drive it. We wondered what he was going to do and when he came to the end of the street, he turned it around and came back home.”
Dale remembers Paul had a very even temperament, never showing anger or lashing out.
“I never saw him get his temper up,” Dale said. “He was always mellow with his cadence. If he thought something was funny, he’d just ‘mmph’ and that was it.”
Gary said nobody in the family ever suspected that Paul had a problem.
“We never suspected the drugs,” Gary said, “because he was always quick-witted and made the same jokes.”
Dudley learned a valuable lesson about addiction from his son.
“When they took Paul to Sunrise,” Dudley said, “I went up there and I said to him, ‘Paul, I couldn’t tell you were on anything.’ And he said, ‘It isn’t when I’m using it that you can tell. It’s when I’m not using it.’”
Dale, who lives near San Diego, remembered the last time he spoke to his brother.
“I talked to him the Wednesday after Christmas,” Dale said. “I call Dad every Wednesday and he happened to be here so I talked to him for a few minutes. He had the same sense of humor, the same rhythm, he was clearheaded. The week after that, I told Dad, ‘I wish I could sit down with Paul, like an interview with no judgment and find out where his mind went to say, ‘this is the answer to my problem.’ It’s like I have a craving to know that answer without condemning him for doing it.”
Jeneva Martinez, board member of the Roswell Homeless Coalition, had become close friends with Paul. She remembered how that friendship started and talked a bit about what it meant to her.
“When I first started working with the homeless,” Martinez said, “I was told by a police officer about Paul, ‘Now that guy, I think he has schizophrenia, so you might want to be careful.’ So I was afraid to approach him for about six months.
“Then I approached him at Walmart and he was so coherent and helpful to me. That’s when we started recognizing each other when I’d go down to the riverbed and we’d started with the meals. Conversations would come out of that. I’m a breast cancer survivor so he told me about his mom. My husband and I own a refrigeration company and he would talk with my husband about jobs.”
Martinez saw firsthand what a good man Paul was underneath the rough exterior and homeless image.
“I get the whole idea that when he was using, he felt normal,” she said. “I see a lot of guys that are using need it to feel normal. He was self-medicating, I believe. He had a lot of pride and determination to make his own way. He worked every day. He never panhandled. He would never ask for help. I know you (referring to Dudley) had offered to let him live here and he wouldn’t. If he had 20 bucks and somebody asked for it, he would give it to them, every time.”
As painful as this has been for him, Dale continues to work to understand both sides of an issue.
“I understand there are people who want to push homeless people aside and get rid of them,” Dale said, “but I also understand that they’re people, too, and they need help. There are so many degrees of homelessness, from the person who lost their job and end up on the street but they don’t turn to drugs, to those who do turn to drugs and can’t function well, so they lose everything. But so many people just think, ‘Boom. You’re a homeless person. Go away from me.’ When you treat homeless people like they’re bad people, you’re being a bad person for judging them.”
Paul had made an effort to beat his addiction.
“About six months ago, Paul was in a Narcoholics Anonymous program,” Martinez said. “He was getting counseling. I don’t know if it was court ordered or not, but he attended every program and he did well while he went. He might not have felt like himself anymore. He cycled back.”
Gary voiced thoughts common to those who have lost a loved one.
“I didn’t really know my twin brother for the last 20 years of his life,” Gary said. “I gave myself excuses, but I became complacent. It was easier to not acknowledge it. When he died and people who knew us in school reached out to me on Facebook, it helped me to know that his life still mattered.”
Paul had lived in “The Wash,” the nickname given to the Berrendo riverbed by the Roswell Mall, by the homeless people who lived there for years. His homemade shack covered with blue tarps could be seen from North Main Street. On Nov. 17, Roswell’s tenting ordinance was enforced and he was made to leave his familiar shelter.
“He’d been in his little hut for years,” Martinez said. “He was only in the storm drain for a short time before he died. He had no access to anything from there.”
“We’ve wondered if the police had left Paul alone where he had been,” Dale said, “he might still have been alive.”
At first Dudley Parks had not wanted a current picture of his son published, but after thinking about it, he changed his mind.
“If it helps anybody, it was worth it,” he said.
Paul’s memorial service will be Monday at 1 p.m. at Harvest Ministries, 601 N. Main St. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Roswell Homeless Coalition.
By Curtis Michaels