GREENFIELD — Andy Craig’s ready to grow a beard.
He’s not even sure he’ll like how it looks on him; but starting at the end of this month, he’s going to grow one and let his hair go long simply because he’s never been allowed to before.
For the last 27 years, uniform protocols at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department kept Craig from ever sporting more than mustache. But as he retires this month, he’s making a promise to himself:
“I’m going to have a beard, some hair, and I’m not doing anything,” he said. “I may not keep the beard, but I’m going to have one.”
He’s certainly earned his retirement and the freedom that comes with it, his colleagues say. Craig has worked in every unit of the department, including stints as a road-patrol shift commander and as the head of the investigations unit. He’s spent the last seven years overseeing every corner of the Hancock County Jail as the facility’s commander, tasked with the daily care and protection of roughly 150 inmates.
The nearly three decades he spent as a local sheriff’s deputy have been a long and eventful ride, punctuated by moments that will always stay with him, Craig said.
He remembers holding a little girl’s hand as she cried over a broken finger. He can see himself running headlong into a home, in full SWAT gear, as a woman screamed for help from inside. He recalls putting pressure on the leg of a teen boy who’d been accidentally shot with a hunting rifle by a friend.
His retirement leaves a void in the jail staff during a critical time, as the community and its leaders argue over whether to build a new jail facility and how to fund the project.
Craig’s has been an essential voice in that debate. He’s advocated that a new structure be built and staffed with more officers.
He’s not abandoning that work; but he’s ready to step aside, certain that his colleagues will continue the fight without him. He’s packing up his life, his wife, his dog, and moving to Florida, where he can enjoy warm weather, new sites and fewer responsibilities.
Careers in law enforcement run in Craig’s family. He practically grew up inside the county sheriff’s department, he said.
His father was a reserve deputy in Hancock County in the 1960s. His mother worked in the county jail in the 1970s and 80s.
As a child, he played cards with inmates in the kitchen of the old jail, the building that now houses the county prosecutor’s office. He helped restock the cigarette and candy bar machines that were used for commissary in those days.
He planned to skip college altogether and begin working as a deputy after graduating from Eastern Hancock High School. But he attended Wabash College, where he studied economics and political science.
Craig started his long career as a jail officer in the summer of 1990. He began patrolling Hancock County’s roads as a full-time deputy in early 1991.
He spent the years that followed climbing the ranks of the department, working as a road lieutenant and then detective before Sheriff Mike Shepherd appointed him the jail commander in 2010.
It’s been exhausting, Craig admits. Overseeing the jail has presented challenges he never experienced in other areas of his career, he said.
In some ways, the weight of leading the facility led him to step away from the department, to finally retire and trade in his badge for a warmer climate and quieter days. And though he’ll miss his career, the friends he’s made and the community he served for so long, he won’t miss the jail, he said.
Shepherd said Craig’s loss will be felt across the department. His years of service and experience are unmatched and will be missed. And Craig was a fantastic jail commander, despite the stresses the job presented, the sheriff said.
And other staffers agree.
In the seven years Craig ran the jail, he was responsible for updating jail security protocols, implemented new drug-addiction treatments and counseling, and brought back educational efforts, like GED classes, said Lt. Keith Oliver, the deputy jail commander.
All these helped to push the jail forward, making it a better, more secure and rehabilitation-minded facility than it had been in the past, Oliver said.
Shepherd said hasn’t chosen a replacement for Craig yet. He hopes to make that decision in the coming weeks.