Children of the Mountains Struggle to Survive

People will do anything to support their habit: They climb telephone poles to steal copper wires, melt them down and take them to a metal recycler for cash. Police told ABC News it's not uncommon for copper pipes to be stolen right out of the walls of people's houses.

Erica's mother Mona is drinking again, but says she has not gone back to pills.

Courtney: 'We Do Not Have the Money'

Across the mountains in Inez, Ky., 12-year-old Courtney's mother, Angel, also struggled to stay away from prescription pills.

"I would have to have 10 pain pills just to get started, to not be sick," she said. "I would do 30 to 40 a day, easy. There were days I'd go to drug counseling, but as soon as I left, I'd sit in the parking lot and snort a pill."

Courtney said she used to lock herself in the bathroom and cry when her mom got high.

She and her three younger sisters bounced from place to place and are grateful they now have a place to sleep -- at her grandparents' house where their two uncles, one aunt, three sisters, and her mom's boyfriend, Bill, also live.

"Honestly, I'd love for me, my mom, Bill and us girls to have our own home," she said. "But we do not have the money to do that. Bill is wanting to get a job, but we can't because we ain't got a car to get him back and forth."

Angel, 30, was trying to get her life together for the sake of her girls, walking 8 miles -- 2 hours -- each way to her welfare-mandated GED classes. She said that if she can pass the test, she has a chance of getting off welfare and maybe even becoming a teacher. Angel is still sober today.

Angel's mother, Dinah, 49, is happy to have the family under one roof where she can keep an eye on all of them. Talking about her daughter's generation, lost in pills and hopelessness, she said, "This generation is a me generation. It's not lost. They took a U-turn."

She prays that Jesus will help her family and finds solace in the Homecoming Church, run by Pastor Elmer Harris. Ten miles outside of Inez, the church is home to a congregation of families of Calf Creek Hollow. It's not unusual for the daily offering here to be $1.85.

Pastor Elmer said he "prays for God to send someone to help them. Help the poor."

Jeremy on Working in the Mines: 'I Love It'

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky., said America should pay attention to the conditions in Appalachia.

"When the banking industry melts down, it's like, 'Oh, no, we have a structural problem. We need to reinvest in those people.' But when the folks in Appalachia or the inner city are poor, it's their fault," Davis said. "It's a lot easier to blame people for their poverty than to figure out what's next."

Only one in 10 men in the region will get a college degree -- less than half the national average. For those who do not, the only employment options are Wal-Mart, fast food, the drug trade or the mines.

Sixteen percent of America's coal comes from the hills of Appalachia.

Diane Sawyer traveled down into a mine to meet some of the men who work there. The mine, owned by Booth Energy, has a reputation for safety and caring about the men below. The miners work 9- to 12-hour shifts, six days a week, in return for one of the best wages and benefits in the region -- a starting salary of $60,000 a year.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • 4
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...