Longform

Joe Parham Stands Up

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Mecham refused to hand the holiday brouhaha over to the Legislature, but agreed, with some reservations, to visit the churches.

Although Art Hamilton remembers the church visitations as something of a fiasco, both Parham and Mecham say the visits, which were cut short by the 1988 impeachment proceedings, were successful.

"I was never treated more courteously by people anyplace, as I was treated in black churches," Mecham says during a recent interview. "Black people don't dislike Ev Mecham."

With characteristic clumsiness, Mecham then cites evidence for that statement: He volunteers that black "porters" at the airport are "kind and courteous" when they help him with luggage.

"At least," Parham now says, "you knew where the governor was coming from."
After Mecham's impeachment, Parham remained an active Republican. He kept up his affiliations with former House leader Mark Killian, Tom Freestone and others. He's still "very active" in the Arizona African-American Republican Committee, which he founded, says Fred Taylor, director of Community Outreach for the Governor's Office and the current president of the committee.

When asked why he didn't tell his political friends about his predicament with the state board, Parham says he was embarrassed.

His silence also surprises Taylor.
"He has contacts," says Taylor. "He knows the governor; he knows more people in this town than I do."

Shortly after Mecham was impeached, Parham's father died, which, Parham says, was "the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life." He began having panic attacks. He testified before the state board during a hearing that the panic attacks were similar to "walking down the street and thinking that you're losing it" and feeling as if "the ground is falling away from under you."

He now says the attacks came on because he had bottled up too much, had been alone too long on top of the mountain.

A psychiatrist prescribed medication to ease Parham's depression and anxiety, but Parham told his family the pills were for a persistent sinus condition. He feared that the pills would be viewed as a sign of failure and weakness by his family and peers.

It's a typical perspective for blacks, says Gibson, the psychiatrist. "Taking prescribed drugs or being in mental health [treatment] in general is not seen as something desirable in the black community," he says.

Gibson suspects that during this period of his life, Parham may have worked so hard that he failed to monitor a high-blood-pressure condition and perhaps suffered a series of tiny strokes that caused the brain damage that the state board refers to.

No one knows what happened.
But by 1994, Parham began receiving notice of the complaints that ultimately led to the series of tests that, in turn, led to his current suspension.

For a reason that is unclear, the Board of Psychologist Examiners sent Parham to a white psychologist in Scottsdale for his first evaluation. And it is that evaluation that has driven the board's decision to strip Parham of his ability to practice his profession.

"There are a number of black therapists they could have sent him to," says Gibson. "There are black psychologists who do that kind of testing."

Gibson says studies show African Americans generally score better on psychological tests when the tests are administered by black therapists. When confronted with a white test giver, Gibson says, an African American's "fear level is twice as much, because of a history of a lot of abuses in that system."

Parham also inadvertently affected his testing ability by not taking his anxiety medication on the day of the test. Parham's doctor later testified that failing to take the anxiety medication had the effect of plummeting him into a panic attack during the testing process.

Parham scored so low on the tests as to seem barely functional.
Parham was sent to another doctor, who later wrote "judgment appeared normal." The doctor asked Parham if he took medications. Parham said no, and he hadn't taken any drugs that day. But a urine test showed residues of the previous week's antidepressants and anxiety medication.

The board sent Parham to a neurologist, Allen Yudell, who concluded Parham was "perfectly normal."

"The man I saw today would not appear to be the person described in the notes of [Scottsdale psychologist] Dr. Beck," Yudell wrote. "I saw no significant deficits of intellectual function in cursory examination today."

Yudell suggested weaning Parham from antidepressants and anxiety medication that might have caused the earlier poor test results.

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Terry Greene Sterling