Sheriff Ian Parkinson, a Really Nice Tough Guy


When interviewing public figures like politicians, or in this case, the Sheriff, I expect to have to slog through barricades of P.C talking points in order to get a glimpse of the real person. Not so with Sheriff Ian Parkinson of San Luis Obispo County, California.

At 356 Main Street in Templeton,  CA, the Northern headquarters in the domain of the Sheriff of S.L.O. County, I was met in the front hall by the man himself and Public Information Officer, Tony Cipolla. Ushered into a large meeting room lined with Formica wood grained tables and plastic chairs, I pulled a chair around to face the Sheriff.

Strangely, I was not affected by the pure physicality of the big lawman. He did not put himself on display like some good looking men do. Apart from the fact that he’s 50 but doesn’t even look 40, there’s something indefinable about the tall, dark, handsome Sheriff.  (Don’t get your panties in a bunch girls; he’s happily married.)

The Sheriff gave me his full attention while P.R. man, Cipolla, faded mutely into the background on the other side of the table, signalling that his man could hold his own..

At a buff six foot three, Ian Parkinson has the quiet elegance of a big jungle cat. He’s comfortable with himself and has little desire to blow his own horn. I had to coax him to admit that he has a black belt in Kempo – a deadly fighting system of defensive and offensive methods that originated circa 527 A.D. in a Shaolin Temple in central China. The stillness that surrounds him is born from decades as a dedicated martial artist who knows he can erupt into controlled violence in a nano second. Trust me bad guys; you do not want to mess with this man!

“Kempo is the power of adaptability and yielding; the harmony of all things working together,” a quote attributed to Ying Kuchan, a Shaolin monk.

Adapting and promoting harmony in any given situation seems to be a Parkinson trademark. He has no jurisdictional issues with any Federal, City or State agencies, and gets along well with all of them. According to one associate, Sheriff Parkinson is easy to work with, doesn’t have a temper but he can be tough on discipline.

One of the first things he did when coming into office was establish an internal affairs unit. “We hold our people accountable,” he states.

In law enforcement for more than 30 years, he became Sheriff in 2011 and manages over 250 Deputies and 150 support personnel. While he admits that part of him misses the action of going out and catching bad guys, he says he really likes his current position.

It’s protocol to call the Sheriff to come out at night when something serious is happening, like a murder, a robbery in process, or a hostage situation. He laughs and admits that his wife, Ami, is used to being woken up a few times a week. When asked to describe her, he proudly says she’s gorgeous.

S.L.O County is a big territory to keep safe. Sheriff’s Deputies patrol 100 miles of coastline and 3200 square miles of territory, excluding approximately 100 square miles policed by the cities. Sheriff Parkinson says that his biggest concern is the growing gang problem with the northern gangs from Monterey and the southern Los Angeles gangs beginning to converge on S.L.O. County. His Gang Task Force is kept busy with gang members shooting each other, shooting at cars, drug dealing and their inclination for theft in general.

He points out that Google Earth has made it easier for rural theft to occur and recommends that citizens remember to lock their doors and not leave car keys in the ignition. Big dogs are good for home security, he says, but if you’re going to have guns, please get trained. Local gun shops can recommend various instructors for firearms training.

At the end of the day, Sheriff Ian Parkinson is a nice guy who doesn’t have to pretend to be tough – he is. San Luis County is fortunate to have him keeping his well-trained Deputies between citizens and the bad guys. Parkinson was elected in 2011 and  re-elected twice, lastly in June, 2018.


First published in The Paso Robles Daily News.

Suicide and Chocolate on the Beach

Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA.

That night, the roar of the surf crashing against the wooden pier a few hundred yards down the beach was somehow reassuring; like knowing that the heartbeat of the place was alive and well. A blustery wind had come and gone hours earlier, but the ocean was still hurling foaming whitecaps onto the shore as though trying to rid itself of something foreign to its depths. Instead of  kelp being thrown onto the sand, it might well have been her body if that first impulse had not been thwarted by a wild happenstance of nature.

She was sitting at the edge of the beach on a concrete wall, her feet dangling above the sand, drinking coffee from a thermos and nibbling on a brick of Trader Joe’s dark chocolate. Dressed in an over-sized dark blue hoody, cutoff jeans and black flip-flops, she might have been anywhere from 30 to 60. It was difficult to pinpoint her age in the dark. Elizabeth isn’t her real name and her real occupation is different. The name of the other player that night is changed as well for privacy’s sake. This is her story in her words.

“A funny thing happened on the way to my death tonight. I had an overwhelming need to pee,” she chuckled. “Walking into the water to drown myself with pee running down my legs just wasn’t in my movie. You know, the one where the star walks into the water and just before she dives under, she turns and smiles tearfully as we flashback to the faces of the angry people in her life screaming insults at her. Then we fast forward to their guilty looks when they find her body washed up with the tide the next day.”

She took a bite of chocolate and smiled, chewing and staring out toward the dark water.

“I had three cigarettes to smoke and I’d finished two. I was just about to take off this sweatshirt and leave it with the chocolate and coffee for one of the homeless guys, before I walked into the water to swim to Japan, when the urge to pee hit. So, I bundled everything into my pockets and headed at a run for the public bathrooms down the beach.

“I barely made it in time. And there I was, sitting on a dirty public toilet seat – I’d covered it with toilet paper first – crying my eyes into a bloated mess, thinking maybe I’d finish the chocolate first. What kind of idiot bothers about germs on a toilet seat when they know that they’re going to be dead in an hour?”

When asked what brought her to this moment in time, she explained:

“I loved the same man for decades. We had a perfect life until he changed completely after a heart operation in 1996. I left him for a long time but we never got divorced, probably because I didn’t find another man to love. I went back a couple of years ago. He said he loved me and I hadn’t really stopped loving him, but it had become more like you love a naughty child than a man. He’s 50% asshole and 50% nice guy.

“There was a question of money involved. He thought that I was going to steal the house out from under him for some paranoid reason – he’s a pot-head – smokes way too much as a medical marijuana patient and goes into vicious rants every day. I came here, an emotional wreck, to sell my car and get away from his rants.  A relative took me and my old dog in. I’ve been staying on an enclosed porch in the house where she and her friend live. The friend’s a really nice, understanding guy, but she’s fed up with my emotional wretchedness. My Irish temper gets the best of me at times. So there are problems there.

“Anyway,  I had three daughters – one of them, also my closest friend, died in 2007 after a long illness – but the other two have joined in my crazy husband’s rants. I emailed them a long letter several months ago, telling them all how I felt about getting yelled at and called names and to start over. Didn’t work. Now he’s filed for divorce and my kids won’t talk to me. I’ve been shunned by my whole family. Even the daughter of the relative I’m staying with has turned against me after talking to one of my kids, calling me a liar and a victim and such. They’ve thrown love and kindness into the crapper where I’m concerned. It’s too much.

“When your only priority for your entire adult life has been your family, and they suddenly think you’re some kind of monster, your heart actually hurts. I thought I’d die, literally, of broken heart because I’m in so much emotional and physical pain. No such luck.”

Elizabeth started crying here and took a few minutes to compose herself before continuing.

“I met my husband when I was studying  Scientology. That was decades ago and neither of us are have been associated with Scientology for a long time. He used to be pretty well versed in L. Ron Hubbard’s policies.  What he’s doing to me now is right out of a Hubbard policy letter for treatment of suppressive people, one’s enemies.

“First they must be disconnected from entirely, no communication whatsoever. Then they may be deprived of property or injured by any means and may be tricked, sued, or lied to, or destroyed. You can Google it.

“He won’t talk to me; he’s gotten himself a lawyer and filed for divorce. I have no clue what he’s telling everyone, or what I’m supposed to have done. I’m not allowed to go back to our house, which is in my name, by the way.

“Anyway, on the way back from the bathroom, I walked by a guy sitting on a bench with his bicycle parked beside him. For some weird reason I sat down and we began talking. His name is Bob. He told me he was homeless by choice, that he’d made a lot of money in his time and was happy now that he’d chucked it all in. There was a rare kindness about him, like I mattered, like I was important.

“I told him the bare bones of my story, that I’d made tons of money as a loan officer but am broke now. I didn’t tell him I was getting ready to kill myself. As we chatted, I found myself thinking that instead of dying, I could become an Urban Camper, that’s what they call the homeless now, and just disappear off the grid entirely. Bob convinced me that any life situation could be handled.

“He warned me that choosing to be homeless wasn’t just a science project and to think it over carefully. He explained where and how to get food, wash clothes and one’s self, sleep and not be robbed or bothered. Talking to Bob was like being soaked in the feeling of absolute freedom.

“I think Bob was the angel who saved my life tonight. There he was, a clean nice looking 60 year old, surviving in the outdoors and loving it.

I’m starting to feel really stupid. I think I’ll be homeless instead of dead.”

Elizabeth said that she was going to sleep in her car for a few hours and then go back to her relatives’s house, where she was staying, pack up her things and start her life over.  She hasn’t been seen at that beach for weeks. Hopefully, she’s found a way to live well.

The Center for Disease Control reports that there are roughly 38,000 deaths by suicide each year in the U.S. and that suicide is the 4th leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18-65.

You never know when a few moments of kindness and understanding could save a person’s life.

First published in the Epoch Times International 2015

(c) Susannah Morgan author

Smalley’s Treasures, Goldfield Nevada

Finding a man like Bryan Smalley in a tiny town like Goldfield, Nevada is like discovering a good Bordeaux wine in your teatotalling Aunt Hattie’s old cupboard.

Bryan in the Trading Post

When you first walk into the Hidden Treasures Trading Company, the quiet man behind the counter seems hardly there because your senses are assaulted by the hundreds of objects on the shelves. However, once you start asking questions about any item in the shop, Bryan Smalley steps up and his knowledge of history immerses you in the past of glass, miners’ carbide lamps, ball and chain or railroad tie date nails. He tells you that the ball and chain, circa mid-1800s, was used to transport prisoners who were barely able to lift the heavy iron ball and shuffle while hunched over the short chain which was manacled to their ankles. The railroad tie date nails, he says, are 1890s vintage and have a date on them, signifying when the wooden tie was installed so that the railroad workers could keep track of replacement schedules.

There are shelves of books with everything from Western novels to a biography on one of Nevada’s early neurosurgeons.

 Smalley’s passion for collecting anything with a Central Nevada history was an after hour’s hobby during his 26 years as a Deputy Sheriff in Esmeralda County. The hobby grew into a part-time trading business by the year 2000 when the Trading Company first opened to the public and then became a full time occupation after his retirement in 2012.

Bryan Smalley tells the story of lawmen Virgil and Wyatt Earp like he knew them personally. Postcards and books with their history are sold in his store. Virgil Earp was a Goldfield resident. Wyatt was a U.S. Deputy Marshal living in Tonopah from 1902 while Virgil became a Deputy Sheriff in Goldfield in January of 1905. Both brothers had several careers as drifting law men, prospectors and gamblers quite apart from the well-known shoot out in Tombstone Arizona. Virgil suffered severe wounds in the shooting, but at 6’2”, even with one bad arm, he was said to be a soft spoken man with a hard core, a sheriff who bad guys avoided. He died in October 1905 caught by a pneumonia epidemic which hit Goldfield that year.

He says, “This place is part museum and part store. Goldfield’s history has been scattered all over the place. Some of us are bringing it back.” But it’s not just history for Smalley, “I’m trying to re-create what we had as kids, a place that has the coolest things.” He points to a fossil, said to be 180 million years old.

You can’t help noticing the huge buffalo head mounted on the wall, still peering at you with the inbred dignity of his kind, silently reminding you that he once ran with herds in the tens of thousands – that all things change.

As the story goes, Smalley’s friend called and said,

The King

“I bought a buffalo head. Please buy it from me; if not my wife and daughter are going to kill me. They don’t want dead animals in the house.” Smalley continues, “He was my friend. I had to do it.”

Looking up at the buffalo, Smalley says, “He’s over a hundred years old. I call him, ‘The King.’ He’s not for sale; he’s part of my collection.”

Crime in Esmeralda County is minimal, most likely due to the fact that there are less than 3000 people in the whole county. Bryan Smalley says that over the years, they had occasional murders,    kidnappings, assaults and robberies but, “We never had a bank robbery because there aren’t any banks.”(Locals drive 26 miles to Tonopah in bordering Nye County to do their banking.) He received a commendation from the FBI for his handling of one crime episode. He said, “Like police work anywhere, you have crime, you live with it and you deal with it.”

With a relaxed command presence, like all good cops, he’s more of a listener than a talker. Accompanied by a ready smile there’s a definite warmth about Bryan Smalley, but the hint of sadness in his eyes was no doubt etched there by a lawman’s hard won understanding of the frailty of human nature. He doesn’t offer an opinion unless you ask for one, and when he has something to say, you find yourself wanting to listen.

In a town with a population hovering between 200 and 300, Smalley knows just about everyone. At 58, he’s watched children grow into adulthood, seen some leave and some come back. Over the years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, he was a trusted adult called, “The Deputy,” by all the kids in Goldfield. Smalley’s wife of 27 years, Elva, says that Bryan considers local kids to be part of his family and that they still come to him with their problems. Elva and Bryan Smalley have three children and, “A bunch of grandchildren.”

Elva still looks great in jeans and her smile is accompanied by a charming sincerity. Now that the children are grown, she works part time at one of the hotels in Tonopah, cheerfully, claiming, “It gets me out of the house.” She brings to mind that old adage, “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman.”

Small town policing has its advantages. Smalley says, “When you know everybody, when somebody calls and says, ‘Hey this is Mitch,’ you know exactly where to go.”

He doesn’t drink or smoke, is a voracious reader, a Central Nevada historian and a true rock hound. He says, “I love rocks!”  He is devoted to cutting and polishing rocks for everything from heavy rock blocks for the old 1907 High School, currently under reconstruction, to turquoise for earrings and rings. There are several buildings in the Hidden Treasures Trading Company compound, all of which Smalley built himself. The separate rock house is where Bryan Smalley, complete with diamond blade saws, tools and a multitude of rocks completes his masterpieces.

The rock store sign reads: Hidden Treasures Trading Company, rocks, gems, fossils and more.

Smalley also has a building devoted entirely to wood cutting, which includes carved solid wood doors, hand-carved signs and various other crafts. He spent many hours carving the “Musical Mules,” on the wood front of the stage in the local opera house.

He works 12 to 14 hours a day and says he doesn’t want a vacation, “I have to accomplish something to make the day worthwhile,” he says. “I start early and work on wood carving or polishing rocks for about 4 hours and then let people buy, sell or trade stuff for the rest of the day. I do it in little parts so it doesn’t get old. I enjoy it all.” Smalley also treks out from time to time to buy Goldfield and Central Nevada historical items and brings them back to the trading company.

Amongst his collection are four 1926 Dodges, right out of the “Roaring Twenties,” wooden wheel spokes and all, plunked around the property like pieces of art. The ghosts of flappers in short skirts and the sound of tinkling champagne glasses wander in the breeze, just beyond the corner of your mind.

You’ll find Bryan and Elva Smalley and Hidden Treasures Trading Company along with hundreds of unique treasures at 489 Bellevue Avenue in Goldfield, Nevada – about half-way between Las Vegas and Reno, 26 miles south of Tonopah on U.S. Hwy 95. Once you reach Goldfield, turn on Oasis Avenue and then go right on Bellevue. Phone: 775-485-3761.

Smalley’s Treasures June 2018. As published in Pahrump Life Magazine by Susannah Morgan






Catching the American Dream

The American Declaration of Independence is a beacon of hope to millions across the globe who want a better life:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Those words are the preface to the American Dream – elusive, like a butterfly on the path to some, the top of the mountain they’re climbing to others.

Thirty four years ago, Irma and Elio Ruiz, strangers as yet to meet, came to America from Mexico. They were both chasing the American Dream. For Irma, who lived close to the border, it was a lessor challenge than for Elio because she had the knowledge and the contacts to obtain a U.S. work visa.

With their heads full of visions of better lives, Elio, his uncles and two cousins drove north for three days non-stop from the Mexican state of Michoacán. They snuck across the border at San Ysidro, California, and then continued on to Los Angeles.

Irma moved in with her sister and got a job in housekeeping at a Los Angeles hotel. Elio found a place to live and began working as a bellman in the same hotel.

“There’s a very strong work ethic in our families, everybody works,” Irma tells me. “Elio was born on a ranch. He was a ‘Vaquero,’ a cowboy. I think he was born a Vaquero, he loves horses,” she laughs. Elio now rides and trains Andalusian horses on Sundays.

Living with the constant fear of deportation, they worked in the shadows, paid their bills, and sent a part of their paychecks home to their families in Mexico. In 1983, they met and fell in love.  In 1986, Elio and Irma were married. That same year, the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, also known as President Reagan’s Amnesty Bill, was signed into law. The young couple applied to become legal residents.

Irma explained that it was not easy to be accepted, “You had to prove you came here to work and were a good person.”

She tells me that they had to fill out an application with reference letters from their workplace and relatives, submit to fingerprinting and a thorough background check, speak some English and know a little U.S. history. Once they passed those requirements, Elio and Irma were given work permits.

“Three years later, we got a letter requesting more work history, proof of residence and more references. Then we got our green cards. We were allowed to apply for citizenship five years after that,” Irma explained. “You had to prove you have value to the country.”

In 1994, Elio and Irma, now with a young family, moved from the Los Angeles to San Diego. Irma was worried about the developing gang situation at the time, “Kids were taking guns and knives to school. When that big earthquake hit; that was enough. I told Elio that we had to get our kids out of there.”

Neither of them stopped working for more time than it took to move their family and re-settle.

As her sister’s side of the family was in the trucking business, Elio became a driver and Irma worked in the office. By 1996, Elio had found his true calling, that of a finish carpenter. Irma was asked back into the hotel business by her former Los Angeles employer who owned another hotel in San Diego.  Today, Irma is the executive housekeeper at that same hotel. She’s responsible for the housekeeping in 470 rooms and manages a staff of 70. She has worked for the same company for 30 years.


Feisty and proud, Irma says, “The word, ‘benefits,’ is not in our dictionary. In order to survive, we worked. We have never asked for unemployment pay or free medical. The only time I got disability pay was when I was having one of my three kids.”

Elio has now been a finish carpenter for 25 years. They paid for their children’s college education. “Sometimes we struggled, but when you’re trying to do something good, God is on your side,” Irma smiles.

Their son has a degree in civil engineering. One daughter is a licensed veterinary technician who is pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine; their other daughter is an executive secretary.  All five in the family are U.S. citizens; all five are working full time.

From 1881 to 1920, more than 23 million immigrants who came to the U.S.A. needed only a friend or relative to vouch for them and proof of their identity. In 1921, Congress passed the first quota law and they’ve been arguing about immigration in Washington, D.C. ever since.

The polls today show that a huge percentage of Americans do not want another event like the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, a one-time amnesty, which gave almost 3 million illegal aliens legal status in the U.S. Times are different. There’s a sputtering U.S. economy. Good jobs are scarce – college grads can’t find jobs in their field while major U.S. corporations hire degreed workers from overseas for minimum wage; median household incomes are down, and there’s a general fear that terrorists will cross our borders disguised as immigrants.

Because a plan to secure the borders was not part of the 1986 amnesty bill, some argue that it didn’t work. If the Ruiz family is any indication, the benefits far outweighed the risks at that time.

Regarding another amnesty program, Irma tells me, “It’s difficult. Good people might not apply for fear of not qualifying and the bad eggs just won’t apply. Everything changed in 1998; we lost 37 employees in my department in one day because they had no papers. Every worker had to prove his or her status. Illegals can’t get hired now in companies who have 50 or more employees, we are asked to E-verify everybody.”

They’re still in love; still work hard, have three successful children and own their home. Irma is a Notary and says she wants to plan weddings when she retires in 10 years. Elio sings on Saturday nights with a band in a local restaurant.

“He sings in the shower and sings to his horses too,” Irma giggles.  

Elio and Irma Ruiz chased and caught The American Dream. Sometimes everyday heroes simply make their dreams come true, thereby quietly inspiring us all.

Previously published in The Epoch Times Internationl.