GREENFIELD — There’s a black and white photo perched on a shelf in Wayne Addison’s office in the Hancock County Courthouse.
It shows a group of men, shoulder to shoulder in matching uniforms, gun belts strapped around their waists and star-shaped badges pinned proudly to their chests.
They’re sheriffs and deputies from years long past, his idols growing up, Addison said; the men he looked up to and got advice from as he ran around the old Hancock County Jail, where his father worked for years.
They inspired him to take on a career in law enforcement, encouraged him step into the position of Hancock County’s Chief Probation Officer.
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And 35 years later, the photograph sits near his desk, never far from view, an ever-present reminder of what brought him to this place and what kept him going.
Addison will retire in middle of this month; his last day on the job is slated for Sept. 15.
As the date grows nearer, any free time he has is spent packing up the office that has been a second home for decades, piling years of community service into boxes. Soon, he’ll have to dust off that old picture frame and tuck it away with the rest. And he can only hope the men staring out at him from behind the glass are proud of the person he’s become.
When Addison first joined the probation department in 1982, it was a much different place, he said.
He’d left Greenfield four years earlier to study criminal justice at Ball State University, and he returned just as the state handed down new guidelines for how probation officers should be trained and appointed.
Up until that time, judges across the state oversaw probation themselves, sometime with the help of their wives or secretaries, Addison said; but the state’s new rules called for all probation officers to have a college degrees.
Addison came back to Hancock County with the hope of becoming a sheriff’s deputy, just like those men he’d admired for so long. He’d worked as a reserve deputy throughout college. There weren’t any full-time positions available when he was looking to begin his career, said Nick Gulling, the county sheriff at the time.
Gulling said he encouraged Addison look for another way to serve the community. Addison was a tough but calming presence, and he was eager to give back to the place that had raised him.
So Gulling directed him across the street, encouraged him to consider a position in the county’s fledgling probation department, where he could meet men and women after their sentences are handed down rather than when they were in handcuffs, help them ease back into society.
And Addison did just that.
He thought he’d work for probation for about six months before finally getting that job at sheriff’s department. But because he was one of the first to fill the probation post, building the department never seemed to stop, and the moment never felt right to leave, Addison said.
So, he didn’t.
Those cardboard boxes that now dot his office can’t possibly hold the pride he feels for the program he’s about to leave behind.
He’s taken the department from just two officers to now 17. He’s split the department into adult and juvenile divisions and expanded monitoring programs to address specific crimes, like substance use and sexual abuse.
He’s hired on counselors who have helped balance prevention and punishment. And he credits all that success to the leaders around him who have let him run with what he knows were at times wild ideas, Addison said.
Throughout it all, Addison’s goal has been to help others, he said.
The folks he interacts with day in and day out are criminals. Some are as bad as that title would make them seem; but more often than not, the probationer staring back at him is a good person who has made a mistake, Addison said.
A probation officer’s job is to help that person find the confidence they need to get back on their feet, to right their wrongs and become a better person, Addison said. He’s strived throughout his career to make sure his clients, as he calls them, know they can come out on the right side of a bad situation.
That mentality has spread through the probation department, officer Josh Sipes said. Addison’s team has for years taken cues from their leader on how to treat others.
Sipes has worked for Addison for nearly 20 years, learning from him as both a friend and mentor. Addison’s professionalism and the values he brings to work with him each day are part of what make him a great boss and officer. He approaches the ever-changing criminal justice system with an intelligence and creativity that can’t be matched, Sipes said.
Most importantly, Addison makes the department feel like family, Sipes said. He brings an air of happiness with him to work every day that helps to lighten the load of a job that can weigh heavily at times.
“Everything I am professionally, I owe to Wayne Addison,” Sipes said. “He’s part of the foundation here, an integral part of the criminal justice system.”
The future is a mystery right now, Addison admits; but he plans to spend more time with his family, especially with his wife, Carrie, who is battling cancer.
But he’ll miss coming to work at the courthouse every day.
“I’ve loved the job,” Addison said. “I’m dreading the 15th, I really am. But I’ve felt like I’ve done everything I can do here.”