By Monicia Warner

The Bulletin

At a ceremony in a big warehouse in Salem two months ago, Meredith Allen was “completely shocked.”

Allen, a release counselor at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras, was named the Oregon Department of Corrections Employee of the Year at the ceremony. She has worked at Deer Ridge since June 2008, and said she didn’t even know she was nominated for the award and definitely didn’t expect to win it.

“I was at the awards ceremony and when Colette Peters, the (ODOC) director, announced the statewide award, it was a complete surprise,” Allen said. “It’s certainly a huge honor.”

Allen started out as a contractor with the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem before moving to Central Oregon to work briefly with Deschutes County Mental Health.

“I found that was really my passion and my love really fell with corrections,” she said. “I came back as a release counselor and don’t perceive that I’ll ever leave this department.”

Hank Harris, Oregon Department of Corrections release services manager, has worked with Allen since 2005 and nominated her for the award. Harris said she goes above and beyond the normal requirements for her position, and many of the DOC staff, including himself, trust her opinions.

“She’s just a terrific person with a really good heart, and she portrays that in her work,” he said. “She’s got a really important role and does it well.”

At Deer Ridge, Allen works with inmates who are six months from release. She helps prepare them for a smooth transition back into their communities by talking with them to get a snapshot of their support system, employment and residential needs. She then compiles that information for the parole board.

Kevin Hormann, acting Deer Ridge superintendent, said Allen has been an integral part of the pro-social movement at the prison, serving with him on the pro-social committee, which seeks to find ways to promote positive change and personal growth for the inmates’ re-entry into their communities.

“(Allen) has been with me every step on this and has encouraged this,” Hormann said. “She will come in on weekends and help facilitate workshops and forums held in the dining hall. She has consistently prompted our guys to follow this line of thinking, and they know they can count on her to give them the straight story.”

To Allen, the award was unexpected, but she said it has shown her that she’s on the right track and given her a spark of confidence.

“I feel really blessed, I really love my job,” she said. “The most rewarding part is to be part of possibly making a difference in someone’s life and being able to provide them with opportunities and encouragement to make positive changes.”

—Reporter: 541-633-2117,