|Letcher County (Wikipedia map)|
Gary Bentley, who lost his Letcher County coal mining job in 2012, now works at a Dixie cup factory, Miranda Kennedy reports for NPR. Bentley, who regularly contributes coal-mining stories to the Daily Yonder, told Kennedy, "You grow up in this area, and the coal miners are the ones who are able to provide their families with things that not everybody else can have. The idea that these people go to work everyday, knowing that they might not make it home alive, in order to provide for their families and make a better life ... there's something about that just kinda tugs at you."
Shawna Gabrielle Coots, a 20-year-old single mom, doesn't feel the same way, Kennedy writes. Coots has a plan. She is taking classes at a community college in Whitesburg, where she does maintenance to help with tuition. After she graduates, she's planning to join the military. Her mom will watch her 6-month-old while she's away, she says. Then she wants to become a state trooper — but not in her home county, where drug abuse is a serious problem." She told Kennedy it would hard to arrest people she knows, saying, "A lot of my friends is gone downhill. And it would kind of suck if I put one of my used-to-be-close friends in the back of a cop car. So that's why I want to go away and be a cop. It's like everyday you see on the news, like people getting busted for meth. And I don't want to be around here no more."
Shawna Kay Rodenberg left Letcher County to go to college, but "something kept drawing her back," Kennedy writes. She "now commutes in to Eastern Kentucky, driving hundreds of miles to teach English once a week at a local community college." Rodenberg told Kennedy, "I love it here. There's nowhere else that I really feel like myself. In Letcher County, I don't feel like I have to have any kind of artifice, pretend to be someone that I'm not." (Read more)