Story by Sara Paul
It was 2011, and New York State (NYS) Department of Corrections Sergeant Joel Benedict was looking forward to his well-deserved, long awaited retirement. After 29 years of service, Benedict exited the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility for, what he believed, would be his last day of employment at 122 State School Rd. in Warwick.
So, it was with great irony and surreal state of mind that, in 2018, the allegedly retired Warwick resident had his second first day at the facility he bid farewell to seven years prior. Benedict is currently the chief maintenance associate at Hudson Sports Complex (HSC), a soccer and recreational complex run by professional soccer star Christian Fuchs and his wife, Raluca.
“It’s like Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave,” said Benedict.
On a more serious note, the Warwick native ponders, “It’s funny to be back in the same realm again, but in the beginning, it was very strange, and the adjustment was difficult, even more so then you’d imagine.”
An ostensibly affected and concerned Benedict sadly had to watch as the majority of the property fell into disrepair after it was sold in 2011 to a private company. The vast grounds were essentially abandoned, and as a nearby resident, Joel went for frequent walks on State School Rd.
“The worst part was just how badly it was treated. It was just a terrible shame to watch the place disintegrate, and there was nothing I could do,” said Benedict, who, in a serendipitous turn of events, was then powerless, but is now empowered as one of the many individuals working to restore the grounds to their former glory.
According to Benedict, thieves, vandals, and weather damage were the main culprits in the location’s demise. Electrical wires and transformers as well as valuable copper piping were all stolen, for example.
“All the things that were taken or destroyed now have to replaced, and that’s a tremendous financial burden on the owners. Unfortunately, when there’s a skeleton, the vultures will come to prey on it,” said Benedict of the multi-phase operation, which he says has “come a long way in a short time.”
He comments of the Fuchs that, “They are definitely going to continue to push forward to make this as nice as they can. It’s going to take some time, but the strides they have made in less than a year are pretty overwhelming.”
Christian and Raluca are equally optimistic about both their new Warwick venture and their loyal maintenance man.
“Apart from being a character, Joel is such a pleasure and asset to have on our staff. He walks in with a smile every day and nothing scares him. You need a screwdriver? Joel has one in his pocket. The roof is leaking? Joel will have it patched in 10 minutes. Helicopter on the fritz? Joel can fix that too. It’s very hard to get any stories out of him from his time at the correction facility, but we’re still hoping…,” commented Christian Fuchs.
The property was originally a boys’ school before becoming a prison. The Fuchs purchased a parcel of property in November 2018 after the former business in that location had fallen into bankruptcy.
Born & Raised in Warwick
Joel was born in Warwick in 1962 at St. Anthony Community Hospital. His father, Raymond, was a plant superintendent in Comstock, NY, while his mother, Margaret, was a postmaster in Bellvale. Raymond passed away in 1978 due to complications from Mesothelioma.
It is worthy of note that Joel’s ancestor Elder James Benedict came to Warwick in 1765 and his Irish and Dutch relatives arrived sometime thereafter.
Joel attended Kings Elementary School, formerly on Kings Hwy., Warwick Middle School and Warwick High School, graduating in 1980. He then went on to attend a trade school and a community college, working for a small phone company before joining the NYS Department of Corrections in 1981. He served as an Officer for 25 years and then a Correctional Sergeant for four years.
He married his sweetheart Maryann in 1984, and the couple have five children.
Now at HSC, Joel Remembers His Old Job
When Joel learned that HSC had opened, he was compelled to stop by. He struck up a conversation with former HSC CEO Eric Stover, who thought Joel’s knowledge of the grounds would be a good fit on the facility’s staff.
“I saw the money that taxpayers put in, and I saw all the good things this place had to offer. With proximity to NYC and highways, we had something here that other places didn’t have,” commented Joel, who still questions, “why they closed the place and sold it. This was not a choice of wisdom as much as political convenience. We were the best Medium A facility in NYS by far.”
On working in Corrections, he says, “You need to have an expectation, and once it’s established you maintain it. If you lower that expectation, then the behaviors will change. I found that the more you expect from someone, the more likely they are to give you at least a portion of what you expect.”
“With 800 different personalities plus employees, conflict is to be expected. To have it work as well as it did was a testament to the philosophy of the place,” Joel said.
For Joel, time spent with family is the reason he has always worked so hard. Family gatherings are a big deal, and Christmas Eve has always been a special night in his home. Due to Maryanne’s Polish heritage, perogies and fried shrimp flow from the kitchen. Joel even recalls a favorite Eve a few years back, when 70- degree weather allowed guests to take in the holidays on his deck.
The adventurer also loves traveling with his wife, with favorite spots including Yellowstone and Yosemite Parks, the Mayan Pyramids in Mexico and the Pacific Coast.
With a country man’s heart and a mild-mannered gentleman’s soul, Joel matter-of-factly proclaims, “My family is most important, and I do all this for that end. There’s also some self-gratification in hoping that you can be part of making a difference in the world.”