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Long-time corrections officer retires

May 09, 2012
Crawford County's most senior corrections officer, Jon Combs, recently decided to retire. Combs, who had worked at the Crawford County Sheriff's Department since 1988, worked his last day at the jail on April 13.

The Combs family owned The Crawford County Democrat and The News-Messenger for years and Jon, who enjoyed doing photography for the paper, worked there with other family members. Eventually, he decided to pursue other interests, heard that they were hiring officers at the jail, and applied.

Jon Combs, of English, recently retired after almost 25 years as a corrections officer at the Crawford County Jail. At the time of his retirement, he was the jail’s longest tenured corrections officer. Photo by Lee Cable
"Pete Eastridge was the sheriff at the time," Combs said. "I was the third jailer they hired. Since then, they have hired 121 jailers. Some only stayed one day, and some stayed two days. There's a lot of pressure at times, and a lot of stress. Some people have a hard time dealing with that."

When Combs started, the county was still using the old jail that still stands next to the former courthouse in old English.

"The new guys don't know what they missed," Combs joked. "That was an eye-opener. You had to be more careful there. There was little in the way of security; actually, there was no security to it. It was risky. We didn't even have enough handcuffs. There were four full-time deputies and one part-time. They had two police cars, and the officers shared them. The cars were used 24 hours a day back then."

Even with limited security at the old facility, Combs never had an inmate escape on his watch.

"Some escaped after my shift was over," he said, "but I never lost a prisoner. And it was often my job to walk the prisoners from the jail to the courthouse. But one time, a jailer got locked in a cell and there was an escape then. I had worked the day before, and I could tell something was up. I could just feel it. And as it turned out, I was right."

When Combs was hired, his job also included issuing gun permits, performing VIN checks on vehicles, writing crime reports and even occasionally serving warrants.

"Back then, we didn't have a kitchen at the jail," he said. "Before that time, the sheriff's wife would cook for the prisoners, but that stopped after they tore down the old sheriff's residence near the jail. After that, the meals for the prisoners were catered by local restaurants. But we had to serve them to the prisoners. It was a busy place.

"And there were times when I was there alone. Before Tim Wilkerson became sheriff, back in the 1990s when he was the English town marshal, he would bring me coffee. Even when he was on vacation, he'd show up with coffee. I've never forgotten that. And Neil Richard, who used to be jail commander here and is now retired, used to show up on weekends just to make a pot of coffee for me. He's a great guy."

Combs worked for four sheriff administrations, including, besides Wilkerson, Alvin Crecelius, Richard Scott and two separate times for Eastridge.

"I got along with all of them," Combs said. "They were good to work for. I was never written up, so I guess I did OK. I never had much training when I started. They showed me the keys to the cells and how they worked and showed me how to do the paperwork, and that was it; I went to work."

Combs worked with several law enforcement agencies through the years, including agents from the FBI, DEA, Railroad Police, Indiana State Police and even the Secret Service.

"One guy was released from jail here and the following Sunday was arrested for counterfeiting," Combs said. "That was handled by the Secret Service, who investigates all counterfeiting offenses. They were interesting, but, basically, the agencies are all the same, just enforcing the law.

"In all my years here, I never really saw politics interfere with the sheriff's department or the decisions we made. I've seen a lot of family crisis when someone's family member has been arrested, but we still had a job to do. But I've always liked running a happy jail. Not a place where they can do what they want, but a place where everyone got along. It's worked out well for me."

"He'll be missed," Wilkerson said, adding he was going to take Combs to dinner on his last day. "I hate to see him go."

But Combs isn't ready for the rocking chair. He's been working on a book for a long time and hopes to finish it soon, and he wants to continue with his photography.

"I had a good run," he added. "And when I started here, I wasn't really looking for a career. It just worked out that way. But when one door closes, another one opens."

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