|Tue, Jul 22, 2014 01:32 PM
May 21, 2014 | 11:27 AM
Ninth District U.S. Congressman Todd Young was the featured speaker at the fourth annual Police Officer Memorial and Appreciation Day last Thursday at the Harrison County Justice Center, but comments made by a former inmate at the Harrison County Jail may have highlighted the event, which was presented by the Harrison County Prosecutor's Office.
Chris Combs, who was born and raised in Harrison County and was arrested for a variety of drug-related charges in 2008, talked about how he got his life turned around after years of using drugs, beginning with marijuana when he was 8 and, he said, it's only by the grace of God that he was at the memorial last week.
"I was doing hallucinogens and, by the age of 17, was doing methamphetamine and cocaine on a daily basis," Combs said. "I led that life for a long time, about 14 years. It just revolved around drugs and alcohol.
"I was about 20 years old when someone showed me how to make meth, and my life went on a downward spiral," he said. "I was reckless; I was hateful; I was angry; I was bitter. I hated everyone, but, most of all, I hated myself."
Combs served time in jail from his 2008 arrest and got out in 2010. He said he still had the desire to do meth but changed from his standard method of use (snorting or smoking) to injecting it with a needle.
Again, his life crashed. He said he didn't want to live; he had a daughter who had never seen her father and his mother was worried sick about him all the time.
"I was needle junkie, I was a meth cook, I was an absentee father, I was hateful and I was bitter," Combs said. "So, I decided that I wasn't going to live anymore."
He said he had been using heroin and decided he was going to kill himself and make it look like an accidental overdose so his mother wouldn't know it was a suicide.
"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Combs said.
The following morning, Combs said there was a knock on his door, and he opened it to find Harrison County Officer Steve Coleman smiling at him.
"I didn't see the blessing then, but I see it now," Combs said. "I got here at the jail and I hated authority, but thank God for (Harrison County Sheriff) Rod Seelye for opening the door to jailhouse ministry here.
"I was convinced by fellow inmates to go to church, listened to what Gary Decker had to say, knew there had to be something more to fill my life," he said.
Combs accepted Christ and was baptized last Easter.
"My life has not been the same since," he said. "Now, I get to come back to the jail and witness to inmates. And it's all because of the doors of the jail being open to ministry. (Seelye) flung the doors wide open for the ministry, and it's impacted my life so much."
Combs then turned to the gathering of law enforcement officers.
"I want to thank the officers because not only do you save the innocent, but you also help the not-so-innocent," he said. "Thank you and God bless you."
Prior to Combs' testimony, Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk made a few remarks to the crowd of about 115. He said he didn't want the day's message to get lost.
"It's a very simple but a very clear message: Thank you. This is for you and your families. We can't tell you enough 'thank you'," Schalk said. "More importantly, as a father of two young children, I say thank you. We know evil is present. We see it on the news; we read it in the papers. For most of us, we see it each and every day in law enforcement. However, I know that my children are being raised in a county where law enforcement is truly second to none. I know that I'm raising my children in a county where law enforcement truly has a sense of not only purpose, but pride."
Seelye also spoke.
"I'd like to thank all the survivors to those lost in the line of duty; they have paid the ultimate price and so have you," he said. "My father passed away in the line of duty in 1981.
"I would like to focus on the good and the lives that are saved and changed not only by the people that have been lost, but the officers that go out every day, strap on their helmet and go out and change lives," Seelye said. "If it wasn't for the officers out on the street, doing what they do day in and day out, stories like (Combs') wouldn't be possible. They do a remarkable job. I'm proud of each and every one of them, regardless of what color uniform they are wearing."
Congressman Young said jobs in law enforcement are about changing communities, one life at a time. He used Combs' testimony as an example.
"Uniformed men and women of dauntless courage remind us that strong communities cannot endure without strong protectors," Young said. "Our police officers have earned our trust and respect because they are even-handed."
The 2014 Harrison County Prosecutor's Award was given to Officer Michael Andry of the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept. The inaugural award, made last year, went to Steve Coleman of the HCSD.
Chaplain Richard Goodwin gave the invocation and closing prayer, and flowers were presented to family members of past and current law enforcement officers. Agencies represented at the memorial were: Corydon Police Dept., Harrison County Corrections, Harrison County Animal Patrol, Harrison County Horse Patrol (which presented colors to start the day), Harrison County Sheriff's Dept., Indiana Gaming Commission, Indiana State Police, Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources, Lanesville Police Dept., Milltown Police Dept. and Palmyra Police Dept.
Also, Nathan Ranke and Nathan Banet of the HCSD and ISP Troopers Chris Tucker and Greg Pate were in the Color Guard, with fellow ISP Trooper Matt Marshall as the bugler.