N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--June 1998

Despite having MS, Ricky Yates refuses to give up on his dream

NEWTON - Chief Probation and Parole Officer Ricky Yates loves his job, and he’s not going to let anything stop him from giving his all each and every day - not even Multiple Sclerosis.

As a child, Yates dreamed of working in the criminal justice system just like his father who, for years, was a licensed private investigator and a special deputy. After graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in criminal justice, Yates went to work for the community service program before securing his first job with the Department of Correction as a probation officer in Boone.

"I really wanted to do probation," he said. "When I got the job as a probation officer, I knew I’d probably put in my 30 years with probation."

Yates was well on his way to doing just that when he was diagnosed with MS. Despite being wheelchair-bound and having to cope with the daily challenges that accompany his disease, Yates is still determined to work as hard as he can for as long as he can.

"I’m here everyday working," he said. "My job has never suffered because of this MS - I’ve made sure of it. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. When I leave here at night, I never feel like I’ve shortchanged the state."

Yates’ symptoms first appeared a little more than five years ago. Newly married, he had just been promoted to intensive probation officer in Alexander County. The year was 1991. Life was going great. But then, after his second year on the job as an intensive officer, Yates began experiencing some minor health problems.

"I was a one-man team back then," he said. "I’d be in the office all day, and then at night, I would have to go out and check curfews. At night, I started noticing that my legs were tired. They felt like they weighed a ton."

At first, Yates attributed the tiredness to just being out of shape. It wasn’t until after he was promoted to chief probation and parole officer in Catawba County that he was officially diagnosed with MS.

"I would be walking through the house, and I would just stumble. This kept happening, so finally my wife said we had to go get this checked out."

The diagnosis was tough news for Yates to swallow, but he said he was glad to finally know what was wrong with him. After his diagnosis, Yates continued to work as a supervisor for the probation and parole office, however, he was having trouble getting around. He said he got to the point where he dreaded going to lunch, because it took so much effort. Yates realized he had a tough decision to make - it was time to make the move to a wheelchair.

"It was a big challenge to say I was going to do this, but if I was going to do my job, I needed to function," he said. "Now, if I’m needed in court, I can be there in a matter of seconds."

One of the biggest obstacles Yates had to face was trying to maneuver around his workplace in the wheelchair. With the help of some community service workers, Yates completely converted the probation and parole office, making it handicapped-accessible.

"Since I’ve been here, we’ve had several people come through the office in wheelchairs," he said. "Before, they wouldn’t have been able to even get through the door. I feel like my situation has helped others in that area."

In addition to improving the conditions for handicapped people visiting his office, Yates also serves on the safety committee and helps get wheelchair ramps installed at other buildings.

"I look at things from a different viewpoint now," he said. "I used to be one of those people who would say, ‘Why are there all these handicapped spaces at the mall? There can’t possibly be that many handicapped people in the world.’ Now, I have a hard time finding a handicapped space because so many people park in them who aren’t really handicapped."

Making the most of his situation to try to help others, Yates also serves as the leader for a local support group for MS victims where he tries to give others in his situation hope and support. Yates credits his parents and his wife, Angie, for being his own source of support.

"I couldn’t do it without my wife or my parents," he said. "When we got married, none of this was going on. MS wasn’t part of the deal, but she’s always there for me."

With family being such a big part of his life, Yates said he couldn’t be more thrilled by his recent news that he is going to be a daddy for the first time.

"I’m pretty excited about that," he said.

One might say that life is pretty good for Ricky Yates. He has a job he loves, he is surrounded by friends and family who care about him, he has a child on the way and he is able to use what he’s learned.

NC DOC Correction News- June 1998
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