September 16, 2010

2 Kentucky faces

As we were leaving, Jacob sat down on the steps to his trailer and I took my last few photos of him. I see such potential in this kid but this cynical voice inside my head tells me what will probably come of him solely due to his environment. This makes me sad. I can only hope I'm wrong.

At the Huddle House restaurant in Harlan, Ky., about 2:00am, I saw this coal miner and a buddy finishing their meal. I walked over, introduced myself and told him I was curious as to how deep in the mine he had worked that day. He seemed eager to talk about his job and said, "Oh, about 7 miles." Thinking he might be exaggerating a bit, I asked if he was joking, he wasn't. He told me that each day at the beginning of his shift, he and 9 other men climb onto a waist high electric carrier and ride this thing lying on their backs for 45 minutes down a 3 foot high narrow shaft deep into the mine. Once inside they're digging out coal in a "room" that is only about 14 feet wide and still only 3 feet tall from 3:00pm to midnight. He runs the scoop. Which is basically an electric go-cart (you also drive lying down) with a blade on the front that you scoop the coal with and load onto the conveyor belt. I literally had a panic attack as he was talking about being down there. We walked outside to the parking lot so he could smoke a cigarette and he popped his trunk to show me his gear. Tall black boots and his small belt mounted air tank which is apparently very cumbersome and no one bothers to wear. Again, I felt a rush of panic and extreme claustrophobia just hearing about his job. He ended the conversation saying it was very peaceful and fairly quiet down there. He added that it sure beat working above ground dealing with "all the elements."

Dustin the coal miner.

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