‘Didn’t say much unless it needed to be said’
This kid can’t be a rookie. He knows too much about the job for somebody who just came on. How could he walk right into the Hudson County Corrections facility and be that good?
Hudson County Corrections Local 109 State Delegate Hassan Estrada recalls Zeb Craig starting his tour in the jail in 2014 at 50 years old. Craig had spent seven years working as a juvenile detention officer in Hudson County, so he knew the game. He was a marine, so he knew the drill: how to command respect and give it; how actions always spoke louder than words.
“He came on a seasoned vet,” Estrada praised. “Not very much had to be explained to Zeb about security protocols, policy and procedure. He knew what the job was all about.”
Craig’s quiet demeanor might have made him appear stoic or even distant to members and perhaps inmates. Rest assured, that was not the case.
“He was one of those guys who didn’t say much unless it needed to be said,” Estrada added.
The loss of the 56-year-old Craig on May 11 due to complications from contracting coronavirus further devastated a facility where 62 percent of correctional officers and 41 percent of the inmates tested for the virus came up positive. This was the second loss of a Local 109 member to the pandemic in six weeks after Bernard Waddell Sr. passed on April 1.
But after being out for a month and being in the hospital for a week, Craig had been preparing to return to work in early May. And that commitment, that fortitude has given Hudson County Corrections something to keep the faith, to honor and to even celebrate in mourning Brother Craig.
“We have mastered the art of perseverance,” Local 109 President Derrik James declared. “Every time we bury an officer it is painful, but we have managed to bounce back and be stronger than we were the day before. If you make it in this department beyond five years, you begin to understand perseverance, adapting and overcoming. You understand what is at stake for the facility.”
James grew up in the same Jersey City neighborhood as Craig, and even lived on the same block for a few years. Craig stayed in that place, and James described how he became one of the elders in the neighborhood.
“Almost every neighborhood has a ‘Mr. Willie’ or a ‘Mr. Charles.” We had ‘Mr. Zeb.’ He was the kind of guy that if a kid was riding his bike past his house and the chain came off, Zeb would go in the garage and get a wrench to fix it,” James continued. “He commanded respect from everyone, and the kids loved him. If he spoke to you, it was something profound. He was the uncle or the grandfather to the neighborhood.”
In addition to leaving behind his beloved wife and daughter, Craig was also one of the respected elders in the Local 109 extended family. And in remembering Mr. Zeb, Estrada didn’t need to say much about his legacy.
“Zeb always did his job and never complained, and there will always be a place in our hearts for him,” he confirmed. “What we are all taking from this is that life is short and we shouldn’t take it for granted.”