‘Never saw this man afraid of anything’
When Hudson County Corrections Local 109 President Derrik James started on the job 26 years ago, he was assigned to a training officer who nobody dared to fuss with. He had the career-shaping opportunity to train with Corporal Bernard Waddell Sr.
Now, Waddell cast such a giant shadow that they had him running things in the Special Handling Unit. Special handling is the disciplinary unit where inmates who have been sanctioned for smuggling contraband and other violations are banished. It is jail within the jail. To even drop off paperwork there, a correctional officer had to have at least six months on.
“My first impression of him was that this guy is big and scary,” James recalled. “For him to navigate that that particular housing unit for eight hours, sometimes 16 hours, he had a very significant working understanding and knowledge of what is supposed to happen in the unit.”
Waddell had 32 years on the job when he was lost on April 1 at the age of 56 due to complications from contracting the coronavirus. He could have retired any time, including when the pandemic hit.
But Waddell wanted to keep working until his sons got married later this year. And then when the pandemic did hit, he wanted to work even more, continuing to show his sisters and brothers from Hudson County Corrections Local 109 how it was done.
“He chose to be here until ultimately he couldn’t come here anymore,” James added. “That’s a testament to his character.”
Further testament to the first New Jersey law enforcement officer to be lost as a result of COVID-19 could be found in Waddell’s illustrious record. The Hudson County jail does not exactly feature a lot of good posts for correctional officers, but Waddell never refused to work any one of them.
In fact, he could step into any post and run it like he had been there six months. And even after countless reassignments, he never showed any signs of wanting to leave.
“To have someone on that long and make it look so easy was truly an inspiration,” Local 109 State Delegate Hassan Estrada submitted. “People might think of him as a dinosaur, but they don’t understand how much he accomplished.”
Among those accomplishments was Waddell’s impact on younger officers. James is part of an extensive group who learned a great deal from the man who might have seemed big and scary but was pretty much just the opposite.
He had a way of showing them the ropes that would keep them from getting caught in the ropes. It was this way that probably led his son, Bernard Jr., to follow in dad’s footsteps and become a detective with the Union County Police Department and a Local 73 member.
“If he ever saw that you were doing something wrong, he would pull you to the side and teach you,” James noted. “He wouldn’t chastise you. He would say, ‘Did you try it this way?’ And he always spoke with respect. He never belittled you.”
Outside the jail, Waddell’s passions included his family, fishing and muscle cars. That is something he and James had in common.
“If you started a conversation about a Corvette or a 1969 Camaro, we would be there until tomorrow talking,” he revealed.
When he got sick and had to be admitted to the hospital, Waddell wanted to make another lasting impression on his fellow members. Before going in, he made a video that was posted for members in the Local 109 Facebook group to see.
“He asked us to pray for him,” James reported. “I’ve known him for 30 years, and I never saw this man afraid of anything. He was a gentle giant among men. If every department had 50 Waddells, every department would have an army.”