By Tim Gardner
The North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice has named High Country native Bret Bullis as the new warden of the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, located in the far Southern end of Avery County in the Kalmia Community.
Bullis had been the associate warden for custody and operations at the Marion, NC Correctional Institution, a close and minimum custody prison, since 2020.
“Warden Bullis is a longtime resident of Spruce Pine and has earned vast experience with all aspects of managing the operations of a large prison,” said Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons. “He’s an excellent addition to our team of wardens who work so hard to protect the staff, the offenders, and our communities with caring and compassion.”
In his new position, Bullis is responsible for all operations at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, a medium security facility housing approximately 850 male offenders. It sits on a 100-acre tract of land near the Avery and Mitchell County line. The prison is designed with three dormitory-style units, supported by a central administration building and 40 segregation cells.
In 1992, a legislative study committee recommended building more efficient, larger prisons that would allow for the consolidation of small, older units. The General Assembly authorized construction of Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in 1995.
Watauga and Yancey County correctional centers closed in late 1998 and early 1999. The prison’s employees were assigned to work at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution and nearby prisons. Avery Correctional Center continued to operate to house offenders working construction and cleanup until September 1999.
The prison’s three dormitories are named Avery, Watauga and Yancey for the three facilities that were consolidated. The prison cost $26.7 million to build.
Offender assignments there include prison’s kitchen, clothes house, maintenance and janitorial positions. Additionally, offenders participate in the educational and vocational training offered through Mayland Community College.
Bullis declared that one of his top and lasting goals as warden is to hire and retain high-quality staff members.
“We have important jobs with good benefits for dedicated people who want a career in public service, to help to protect their families and communities,” he said. “We work together closely, in many ways as a family, on a vital mission.”
A veteran employee in North Carolina state government, Bullis began his career with the Department of Public Safety in 2005 as a food service officer at Mountain View Correctional Center located next to the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution. In that post, he managed the feeding and nutritional needs of hundreds of offenders three times a day.
In 2007, he was promoted to correctional officer at the prison and to sergeant in 2010. In 2012, he was chosen to be an assistant housing unit manager.
Bullis was promoted in 2015 to be one of the facility’s housing unit managers and was promoted once again in 2018, as the security coordinator for the prison system’s western region. He was named the associate warden for custody and operations at the Marion Correctional Institution two years ago.
Bullis is a certified general instructor for the Department of Public Safety, with specialties in firearms, control restraint defensive techniques, baton and pepper spray use, cell extraction and employee fitness and wellness. He is a member of the American Correctional Association, the Correctional Peace Officer Foundation and the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
He is a graduate of Mitchell High School in Ledger. He also attended Mayland Community College, where he studied electrical engineering.
His hobbies include playing guitar and performing live, traveling, and he is an avid Michigan Wolverines fan college sports fan.
(Some information used in, and the photograph included with this article, was provided courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice)