Founded in Kingsport in 1981, the Hay House, above, is a residential treatment program aimed at helping criminal offenders re-enter society as responsible and productive citizens. Photo by David Wood.
"Outcasts: Surviving the Culture of Rejection," the locally produced documentary that looks at the high cost of recidivism and its effect on communities in Northeast Tennessee, will be premiered at 7 p.m., April 26, at the Wellmont Regional Center for Performing Arts on the campus of Northeast State Community College.
Produced by Jane Hillhouse, of Hillhouse Video Works in Kingsport, "Outcasts" examines the high cost of recidivism, its devastating effect on families and communities in Tennessee, and some viable solutions that are making a difference by providing a second chance for individuals who otherwise would remain on the fringes of society as outcasts.
The film also explores the history of recidivism, as well as what writer/director Stephen Newton calls the culture of rejection and why it may unwittingly contribute to the high rate of recidivism in Tennessee, where more than 50 percent of offenders return to prison within three years.
"Outcasts" brings attention to Hay House, a residential treatment program in Kingsport founded in 1981 to help criminal offenders re-enter society as responsible and productive citizens. Hay House costs taxpayers less than one-tenth the cost of imprisonment and has been recognized as a model program by the Tennessee State Department of Corrections.
National recidivism rates indicate that more than 40 percent of released offenders return to prison within three years. In Tennessee, that rate is 50 percent. Hay House, in contrast, has a more than 90 percent success rate.
"When we started this project, we wanted the answer to one question: If recovery programs for former prisoners reduce recidivism and help them get a second chance, why aren't there more of them?" Newton said. "The most surprising thing was that we answered that question."
The documentary also features regional programs like SteppenStone Youth Treatment Services, Frontier Health, Families Free and First Baptist Church's Celebrate Recovery — as well as national organizations like the Justice Policy Institute and Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in Washington, D.C.
It took 2 1/2 years to complete the project, Newton said, and the resulting work is 71 minutes long. Although the content is safe for children, younger children may not understand it.
"We want people who view it to have a better understanding of the impact of recidivism and how the criminal justice system works. Most people's knowledge about it is garnered from what they see on television or the movies," Newton said. "That certainly was the case with us as well before we began this film."
Newton has been a communications professional for 40 years, including 23 years as founder and president of his own graphic design firm. In 2006, he started a new career making short documentaries for Tennessee nonprofits. "Outcasts" is his first full-length documentary.
Working with Newton and Hillhouse on "Outcasts" were freelance photographer David Wood, composer Paul Vanderbeck and motion graphics designer Sergei Prokhnevskiy, a graduate of East Tennessee State University. Vanderbeck, a multiple award-winning composer and music producer who lives in New York, has worked with Johnny Cash, Melissa Manchester, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen. He composed and produced the score for the award-winning "The RCAM Story: Building the 21st Century Workforce," produced by Hillhouse Video Works.
Wood's work for "Outcasts" will be showcased in the film's coffee table softcover book, "Outcasts: Stories of Survival."
After the screening, several people associated with the film — including Newton, Vanderbeck and some of the interviewed subjects — will be available for a question-and-answer session.
After the Tri-Cities premiere, the documentary will air on East Tennessee PBS based in Knoxville. East Tennessee PBS will also act as the presenter station for PBS affiliates nationwide.
Tickets are free, but you should visit http://cultureofrejec tion.org/ and use the RSVP button on the home page to reserve a seat. Tickets will also be available at the door. Northeast State is located at 2425 Highway 75 in Blountville near the airport.