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Officer of the Year Award Winners
Officer of the Year Award Winners
2023 - Renee Nichols
Renee Nichols, a Corrections Officer at the Saginaw Correctional Facility, received the 2023 Michigan Department of Corrections Officer of the Year Award.
Officer Nichols has been an MDOC Corrections Officer for seven years. She is known for having a high level of integrity and moral standing. She works well under pressure and is highly adaptable.
Officer Nichols was an Institutional Training Instructor for two years and has been a Field Training Officer since 2020. She is the backup Grievance Coordinator and Hearing Investigator at the Saginaw Correctional Facility.
As an officer at Saginaw Correctional Facility, Officer Nichols is often sought out for her creativity and attention to detail. She assisted in the creation of a new template and in updating the Visiting Room post orders, ensuring proper inventory and usage of children’s tablets. She created a sanitation checklist for audits and revamped prisoner payroll and training records for front house porters. She has assisted in the yearly sanitation and lock audits, ensuring accountability and security.
She volunteered as the Durand Band Booster Treasurer from 2019 to 2022, handling finances and ensuring competition fees were paid. She was also a chaperone for statewide competitions. She was a Girl Scout Leader from 2012 to 2015 and a 4H Leader from 2011 to 2015.
Officer Nichols has been a firefighter with Venice Township since 2005, responding to house fires, car accidents, and medical emergencies. She holds fundraisers and public relations events with the fire department, participating in community events such as parades and open houses.Image of Corrections Officer Renee Nichols
2022 - Neil Costello
Neil Costello, a corrections officer at the Michigan Reformatory (RMI) in Ionia, received the 2022 Michigan Department of Corrections Officer of the Year Award.
Officer Costello has been an MDOC corrections officer for 19 years. He is known at work for his decision making, sharp attention to detail, and ability to work well in high-pressure situations. He is respected by his peers and supervisors alike and has been an asset to the safety and security of the Michigan Reformatory. Because of his skills and attentiveness, he has made multiple difficult split-second decisions that have saved the lives of his fellow staff and prisoners. He is always looking out for the safety of others.
As an officer at RMI, Officer Costello has covered numerous positions, including volunteering to work out of class as a sergeant to gain experience and help the facility in a time of need due to a shortage of sergeants. He is a backup grievance coordinator and hearing investigator.
Officer Costello volunteers at the Ionia Free Fair every year on COPS Day to help with officer recruitment. He also helps fundraise for ACS Relay for Life and the ALS Association.Image of Neil Costello with the Officer of the Year Award
2021 - Vikas VijVikas Vij, a corrections officer at Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, received the 2021 Michigan Department of Corrections Officer of the Year Award.
Officer Vij, of Macomb, has been an MDOC corrections officer for nine years. He is known at work for his positive outlook that uplifts others. He has proven to be an asset to the safety and security of Thumb Correctional Facility. For example, he once stopped a visitor from bringing $1,200 cash and a lighter into the prison. He has received the Warden’s Coin more than once for finding contraband.
Officer Vij immigrated to the United States from India in 1995 when he was 8 years old. He is the first person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree or to choose a career in public service.
Officer Vij has helped raise thousands of dollars for Special Olympics and volunteers with WATCH D.O.G.S. at his daughter’s school.
He holds a political science degree from Oakland University, where he volunteered translating documents to Hindi.Image of Corrections Officer Vikas Vij
2020 - James SimsJames Sims, a corrections officer at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, received the 2020 Corrections Officer of the Year Award for his exceptional service to the State of Michigan and dedication to giving back to his community.
Officer Sims began his career with the MDOC in 1997 at the former Southern Michigan Correctional Facility. He has served as a positive role model for both staff and prisoners. He has worked as a field training officer for new corrections officers at the corrections officer training academy and is trained to support his peers through the Traumatic Incident Stress Management Program.
Officer Sims is also dedicated to serving his community through a variety of organizations and charitable efforts. He is an active member of the LGBTQ community and has attended numerous LGBT Criminal Justice Professionals conferences across the country and abroad.
He regularly participates in and coordinates fundraising events through the Special Olympics Michigan Law Enforcement Torch Run, Shop with a Hero, Harvest Gathering, State Employees Charitable Campaign and Relay For Life, and is a charter member of the Jackson Lions Diabetes Service Club. He is also a U.S. Army veteran, who served in Operation Desert Storm and in Somalia, and is and an active member of his church, Edgewood United Church of Christ in East Lansing.Image of Corrections Officer James Sims
2019 - Stephen Cooklin
Stephen Cooklin, an Absconder Recovery Unit investigator based in Macomb County, received the 2019 Corrections Officer of the Year Award.
Investigator Cooklin, who is also a Task Force Officer with the U.S. Marshals Service, keeps communi¬ties safe by apprehending dangerous parole absconders. He handles a demanding caseload but is always willing to help other investigators and other law enforcement agencies. Last year, Cooklin received the MDOC’s Meritorious Service Award.
Cooklin started with the Michigan Department of Corrections in 1994 as a corrections officer. He has been an ARU investigator since 2011.
Cooklin also spent 22 years serving in the U.S. Army and Michigan Army National Guard. He has volun¬teered with the Cub Scouts, Hampton Elementary in Bay City, and Macomb County little league organi¬zations. Cooklin is married and has two children.
Cooklin’s wife, Toni Narvais-Cooklin, is the MDOC’s 2018 Candice Dunn Parole/Probation Agent of the Year.Image of ARU Investigator Stephen Cooklin
2018 - Elwanda Ray
Elwanda Ray, a corrections officer at Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, received the 2018 Corrections Officer of the Year Award for her compassion, integrity and professionalism.
Officer Ray has worked for the MDOC for 17 years and worked with youthful offenders for about 10 years. She volunteers at two nursing homes, delivers food to those in need and participates in a youth deterrent program with Flint Community Schools, where she talks to students about the importance of making good choices.
Officer Ray said she was humbled to be named Corrections Officer of the Year and was proud of the other finalists for the award.
Officer Ray is a firm believer in the power of a positive attitude. She is a mentor in her community, to coworkers and to inmates in the Burns B unit at Thumb Correctional Facility. She hopes the lessons offenders learn in prison will help them lead better lives after release.Image of Corrections Officer Elwanda Ray and Director Washington
2017 - Cary Johnson
Cary Johnson, a corrections officer at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, received the 2017 Corrections Officer of the Year Award for her integrity and dedication to public safety.
Johnson began her career as a corrections officer in 1995 and has been a union leader at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility since 1997. She is currently the only woman serving on the Michigan Corrections Organization State Executive Board.
Johnson also previously received the MDOC’s Lifesaving Award for her efforts to help a prisoner in distress and has been commended for her role as a leader and mentor at her facility. She has served on the Scholarship, Civil Rights and Mentorship committees for MCO and has participated in the Traumatic Incident Stress Management Team to assist with crisis situations. She is a member of the Training Committee at G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility and has been involved in the Officer Dignity Initiative.Image of Cary Johnson with Director Washington