Posted November 2nd 2010 at 9:48 am by
in Kentucky, The Thoughtful Coal Miner

Post Mining Career: Taking the Next Steps

Mountain Top Removal. Photo by D.A. Hawkins.

Since leaving my job in the coal mines my family has been faced with many questions.

Should we stay here?
Will I be able to get a decent job outside of the coal industry?
Should we start a business?
By living here are we still putting our family’s health at risk?
What will our kid’s future be like here?
Should we move to a better place with better schools?
Where should we move to?
Will our kids be okay with a move?
What kind of job will I get?
We want to go to college, but can we afford to do so after we start all over again?

On one hand we realize we have an immense opportunity to forge a positive future for ourselves and our children. We also realize we could make a huge mistake. We love our mountain home, and we want to be here to fight against the coal industry, but how will we make a living? My local job search has turned up very little in regards to family supporting income and benefits.

Having such a major decision to make is a good problem to have, but a daunting one none-the-less. We would like to move to a location just outside the coalfields in an effort to preserve our family’s health, but also stay within a close enough proximity to aid people within the coalfields. Of course this would hinge entirely upon getting flexible, good paying jobs (preferably with organizations involved in the fight against coal or a job in sustainable energy). We also intend to attend community college and work towards degrees, a goal we have been putting off for far too long.

We have also thought about seeking a complete change of pace and moving far away to a more opportune and wholesome area. A location with a better educational system for our children and better suited for starting a successful small business. Our ideas are many.  Colorado? Vermont? Canada (yes, we’ve been seriously considering this)? Western North Carolina? Maine? Alaska?

One of the most dedicated activists against Mountain Top Removal mining once told me, “I love these mountains but there may come a time when these eyes simply cannot bare to see the destruction anymore.” As those same softened eyes began filling with tears, she continued to say,  “I may have to leave them.”

I admit we sometimes become overwhelmed with the problems of our home. To state the absolute obvious, the majority of people living within the coalfields are pro-coal with little to no desire to learn more about what coal does to them and our environment.  They are ardently defensive of its economic benefits.

At night, when I step outside to see the stars, I hear the huge ‘dozers a mile away destroying the mountain above my third and fourth great grandparent’s resting places. The current land owners do not see it as destruction. They instead see it as an opportunity to have the land leveled and made usable with the bonus of making a small profit from the coal royalties.

Mountain people are set in their ways and will fight tenaciously for what they believe. This was evident when coal miners began to unionize, forcing coal companies to improve the deplorable conditions inside their mines and throughout the communities. In later generations the United Mine Workers has forsaken us, leaving the coal companies to turn the pride and resolve of coal miners and their families towards promoting the coal industry, pitting their hard working heritage against a continuously misunderstood foe. What will it take to get them to change? Many good people believe it is possible.

Sadly, I waver often. Some days I believe with all my heart we can change and do what’s right, and other days I believe we are doomed by our selfish monetarily driven ignorance. Morally I want to fight the good fight. I am a natural born hell-raiser as one of my friends put it. But… I also have to consider my family and their future. If we have an opportunity to move away and give them a better life, shouldn’t we?

Daniel Hawkins is a former coal miner from Virginia. Having finally gotten fed up with current labor practices and environmental destruction within today’s Appalachian coal mines, he has left the mines in search of a better future for his family. In this series, he looks into Appalachia’s past and possibilities for the future. You can find his full series on his own blog, This post originally appeared on Daniel’s blog onSaturday, October 30, 2010.

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