Recidivism is a Big Word: Remembering Sheriff Anderson
We arrived at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s office one morning in 2012 loaded for bear—lights, cameras, and mics—and several interview questions including, “What does the word recidivism mean?” Within a short time, we were buzzed in and rode the elevator to the second floor, where Wayne Anderson, county sheriff for more than 20 years, welcomed us to his office.
I liked Anderson the moment I met him. A picture perfect sheriff, blue eyes, silver hair, and an authentic East Tennessee accent to match his natural graciousness. Anderson had agreed to the interview weeks ago, as well as granting our request to film the jail.
For more than an hour he answered our questions. He was a natural in front of the camera, which may have been a factor in his television debut in National Geographic’s series, “Southern Justice,” in which he played himself, a life-long law enforcement officer, who made the journey from beat cop to county sheriff.
His role in our feature documentary, “Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection,” was one of my favorites. In his segment, Anderson describes how generational poverty in Southern Appalachia contributes to crime, incarceration, and high recidivism rates. “Recidivism is kind of a big word to a lot of people, I guess,” he said. “But basically, it’s those people just keep coming back.” Anderson ends his interview by admitting that he’s discouraged to know that, statistically, the individuals locked up in his already overcrowded jail will reoffend and end right back in jail within three years, or as soon as a few weeks.
We thought Anderson was brave to voice his concerns in our film, which was not favorable to the US criminal justice system, but that’s who he was. He displayed the same courage when he sued the county for more funding to bolster his efforts to patrol a county that encompasses 430 square miles with a population of nearly 160,000.
When our film premiered in April 2014 at the Wellmont Performing Arts Center on the campus of Northeastern State Community College, Sheriff Anderson and his wife were among the more than 300 people in the audience. It was a great honor, and a confirmation that our film was a success. Later, Anderson would use “Outcasts” as part of the training program for new deputies.
After more than 40 years in law enforcement, Wayne Anderson died Saturday, September 5, 2020.
Thank you for your service, Wayne. May you rest in peace.