Therapy comes in many forms. Some seek professional help; others confide in loved ones.
Kevin Parker is comforted by hanging out with murderers and bank robbers.
Parker is a recruiting assistant for Cal's football program, but that doesn't begin to define him. Shaped by a rough Oakland upbringing, a college football career at the University of Oregon and an innate urge to give back, Parker is a self-proclaimed "servant of others" who has become a big brother to Cal football players while simultaneously lending a hand to his community.
"The thing about KP is it's not just about football," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It's more about life. It's about making good decisions. He's been through a lot of hard times. The players and staff respect and admire him so much for who he is and what he does."
Parker played running back at Oregon when Tedford was the offensive coordinator there in 1998. Parker had a short stint in the Arena Football League before Tedford brought him to Berkeley when he became the head coach in 2002.
A few years later, Parker was introduced to S.Q.U.I.R.E.S, a program at San Quentin State Prison where hard-core inmates meet with troubled youths to show them how they might end up if they make the wrong decisions in life. Parker, who saw lots of crime growing up and had always dreamed of going into law enforcement, was awed by the experience.
He came up with the idea of getting Cal's players involved in the
"The first thing I thought was we have to get some of our guys over here," Parker said. "I thought our players needed to see it because we're only one bad choice and one bad decision away from coming here. That's true for anybody. I think anybody and everybody should go visit a prison, just to keep you on the straight and narrow. You don't want to be there."
Parker said he brings a group of Cal players to the program about three times a year — there will be another visit next month — but now finds himself going on his own as much as possible. Parker tries to go every Saturday, just to listen to the inmates' stories and keep him as grounded as possible.
"I get over there pretty often," Parker said. "My wife gets mad at me for going over there so much. When I'm feeling bad, I go over there and hear their stories just to keep me on the straight and narrow. It's big-time therapy. Sometimes, I just sit in the corner and listen."
In between his playing career and his arrival at Cal, Parker worked for the East Bay Conservation Corps, an Oakland-based organization that offers at-risk youths community-service jobs and help with tutoring. He also helps run Marshawn Lynch's Family First Foundation, an organization put together by the former Cal football star that provides assistance to the Oakland community.
Lynch, now a running back with the Buffalo Bills, says Parker made an impact on him from the day he set foot on Cal's campus.
"You see where he's come from, he's turned a little into a lot," Lynch said in a phone interview. "It's just a wonderful blessing. When you've seen everything he has been through, you can either have a negative attitude or take it and run with it. He's a role model to all young black men. He's not just a role model to Cal athletes. Cal is blessed to have him on their staff."
Word has gotten out about Parker's interest in S.Q.U.I.R.E.S, and he says he now receives unsolicited phone calls from parents asking him to take their kids to the program. While there, the kids spend a few hours in a classroom setting talking with inmates, many of whom are incarcerated for severe crimes. They also get a tour of the prison, including a walk through cells and a visit to the yard. At the end of the day, they go back to the classroom to discuss the experience.
"As you hear the stories and meet the guys, you realize they made a bad choice," Parker said. "They're just like us, but something persuaded them to do something bad that day and they got caught up in it. I tell everybody they need to see this. Some quiet guys who don't even speak here get in that setting and tell their story. As we walk out of the prison, everybody is talking."
Parker's official duties at Cal are to work in all aspects of on-campus recruiting, but his unofficial duties have become just as important. Parker is a confidant to the players, an inspirational leader who has earned respect throughout the program.
"He just has a huge heart. He's one of the best people I've ever known," said Andrew McGraw, Cal's primary recruiting assistant for football. "He's really like a big brother to everybody in the program. It's really difficult to put into words. Some people you just get that feeling from and you trust them, and it's hard to articulate why it is that you feel that way about them. Kevin has just been incredible since he's been here."