State Corrections officer Erick Whitaker had the power to make everybody feel all good
Sergeant Bill Shorter had so much to say about his good friend, State Corrections Local 105 member Erick Whitaker, but he was struggling with the South Jersey cell reception on this December evening. No problem. He moved outside into the sub-40-degree weather to speak.
“To talk about my friend, I would gladly sit out in the cold,” related Shorter, who worked with Whitaker for 19 years at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton.
Whitaker gave them so much to talk about. Fellow Local 105 member and South Woods officer Erick Gould reveled at how the amount of wisdom Whitaker had was unbelievable. This about a guy he first met at the academy when he was gigged for an infraction in the mess line and had to do push-ups on a bush.
Whitaker’s son Jeson explained how his dad’s favorite superhero was Superman. To Jeson, he was Superman. He shared how his father once had his left leg run over and it was so bad that doctors wanted to amputate. Instead, Erick went on without ever getting the feeling back in his leg.
“He never wanted me to know how much he was hurting,” Jeson described. “He never wanted to see anybody down. Whether or not his situation was good, he wanted make sure everybody around him was all good.”
Erick Whitaker, State Corrections badge 6111, was lost on Dec. 4 due to CVOID-19. He had most recently been working as a medical officer at South Woods, where Shorter suspects he was exposed to the virus multiple times. He had texted Shorter he was feeling better, but an ambulance had to respond to his home on Dec. 4. Thus ended a 19-year career that highlighted the best in correctional police officers.
Whitaker was renowned for talking with inmates rather than just ordering them. According to Shorter, he wanted them to know that all corrections officers didn’t abuse their power.
Oh sure, he demanded they all greet him at the start of his tour by saying, “Good morning.” But he wanted to give them a sense of humanity that they could attain when getting out.
“That was his style of jailing,” Gould commented. “He felt you could get to them in better way by communicating then just giving demands. He was the type of person who wanted to teach you.”
Whitaker was all about others. When Shorter was out for three years battling an unjust termination that was ultimately overturned, Whitaker called him every week to remind him he had the strength to get through the ordeal.
They used to go out a lot after work, and he loved being the guy to pick up the check. Shorter recalled how he once ran into a guy he knew in Bridgeton who didn’t have enough money to buy dinner. So Whitaker pick up his check.
“He was a people magnet,” Shorter marveled. “You would be hard-pressed to find somebody who didn’t know him.”
Whitaker lived to spread the wisdom Gould noted. Jeson shared some of the life lessons that mattered most to his father.
He wanted people to know that world is larger than your city, your street or the house where you grew up.
He reminded people to not get wrapped up in their own environment. There was always room to grow, he said, no matter who you are and what you’ve done.
“And he said that you don’t only live once, you live every day,” Jeson added. “So wake up every day be who you want to be.”
Whitaker could be larger than life with the way he lit up every room he ever walked into. But he was always conscious of his big personality so he took to giving people a verbal or actual embrace so they wouldn’t be intimidated.
Combined with an intuition that truly endeared him to fellow officers, inmates and really anybody he met, well, that created an image that will last forever.
“He should have been a major or a captain or a chief,” Gould submitted. “He should have been running the place. That’s the amount of knowledge that man had, and he wanted to share it with everyone else.”