Tough life. Tough lady. Survivor. Sexually assaulted by a babysitter’s father at age 5. Grew up poor in Newport. Daughter of druggie parents. Little brother is an addict. Rejects victimhood. Single mother of a 16-year-old daughter. And loves her life and her job.
Meet Christina Marie Wallen, the only female deputy sheriff at the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) and the first-ever female deputy in the history of the department. She is 37, has been in law enforcement for 11 years and patrols the night shift in her SUV.
Is she ever scared? “No, not really scared. There is an element of fear at times, but I harness that fear and turn it into making a good approach, whatever the situation. Domestic calls are the worst. If they hurt someone they supposedly love, think what they’ll do to one of us.”
Wallen joined the LCSO in July 2022 after seven years as a deputy for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office and three years at the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office. Her first “brush” with the law came in 2006 when she spent a year as a corrections officer in the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office. She didn’t enjoy it. That’s also the year daughter Maleah was born, now a junior at Maryville High School.
She needed more money as a single parent and in 2008 became a certified nursing assistant (CNA), doing home health care work for four years in Cocke County supporting people with developmental disabilities.
And during that time, she began college at Walters State Community, eventually earning an associate degree in criminal justice in 2013, followed by an associate degree in applied science and public law enforcement. While working fulltime in Blount County, she graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Tusculum University.
During her home health job in 2012 she graduated from the Police Academy at Walters State and joined the Cocke County Sheriff’s Office.
Being idle is not on her to-do list.
She’s also a public service rescue diver and on the LCSO dive rescue team. “I love being underwater. It’s very quiet, very serene, calming and relaxing to me and we’re usually in black water with no visibility,” she said.
Wallen speaks openly about her troubling and tough early years. All of it. “I was 5 when I was assaulted and I didn’t know what was really going on, but I remember it all. I didn’t understand it until I was about 14 and found out about sex,” she said. And being so young she never told anyone about it. “I made the decision not to allow it to scar me for life. I am not a victim.”
Although she grew up in a home of four heavy drug users, she refused to be dragged into their world. “I only had two good years with my father before he died. My mother is still an addict and I have no relationship with her or my brother. I call and check on her and love them from a distance. It’s toxic what they do and I don’t need that,” she says. “But now I can spot an addict from across a Walmart.”
Her life at home ultimately did play a part in her career. “I saw what the lifestyle was like and being in law enforcement aligned with my values. It influenced my decision to get away from my family. I decided I can do something about it now for others. I can be that person to get them the help they need.”
Is life as a female deputy tough? Only if you make it so, she says. “It’s all about your attitude. I’m just as good as the guys, maybe in some ways better, well, not really. But everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses and I have some strengths they don’t have.”
That elicited the request, of course – tell us about those strengths. “I have my own way of being able to talk to people and get through to them. Everyone has had a mother and a female figure in their life. I’m not as confrontational and I have that to my advantage and use it. I’ve always had the ability and knack of coming up with solutions to situations that are not so obvious,” she explained.
Like when she pulls over teens and young people. “Hey, I do go Mama Bear on them. I know what it’s like for them. I’m like the really disappointed Mama talking to them. Their attitudes come into play and that helps me decide about what to do with them.”
This impressive deputy loves what she does, every shift, every day. She’d be bored silly behind a desk. “No two calls are the same. It’s always new, interesting, and it keeps my brain active. And now I’m hopefully making things better just by being there and I’m able to help instead of sitting on the sidelines.”
In these last 11 years and in the 26 previous years of her life, she’s developed a sage outlook about life. Lessons in life, perhaps. “There are good people in the world and seeing them breathes life back into your soul. It does not matter what your circumstances are,” she says. “Life is all about choices. Those choices are linked to change and the changes can be good, bad or indifferent. It’s very, very important what you choose in this life.”
And she added a brief postscript: “I want to be the change in the world that I want to see.”
And all of this from a deputy sheriff who is more afraid of a spider in the woods than the criminals and others she deals with daily.
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.