Posted December 9th 2010 at 10:59 am by
in The Thoughtful Coal Miner

A Different Man

“I love you so much!” I grab my wife and kiss her, smiling and just feeling full of life. She smiles back at me, beaming at the husband she thought she had lost, a man who only months before was ground down by life in the coal mines. The kids come running out of their room and jump on me. I wrestle them down, tickling them both until they beg me to stop. I think to myself, “This is how life should be. Damn, it feels good to be alive.”

Only a few months before I was utterly miserable, suffering from a deep depression. I felt trapped. My body suffered from continuous fatigue, a result of the odd shifts, hard work, and unhealthy lifestyle I was living. My nerves were continuously frayed from dealing with the dangers of coal mining and the back-stabbing assholes looking to get ahead within the company. On top of it all, I couldn’t help but realize each and every day just how much we were all being screwed by the company and how no one was willing to do a damn thing about it.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep from bringing it home with me. My fuse was always short from a lack of rest and everything I once found enjoyable lost its appeal.

My family suffered as I suffered, something that should have never happened. For over three years this had been our life. Was this happiness? Was making more money worth this?  I knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way, but I thought I would be a complete idiot if I were to quit and give up the high wages and health insurance. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I smile now, I laugh now, I feel great. The longer I’ve been away from the mines the happier I have become. I decided why stop there? I’ve quit smoking, started sleeping and eating right, and I am running two miles a day. The entire family is doing the same (except the two miles of running a day). The difference in the way we feel mentally and physically is amazing. It doesn’t stop there either. Everyday it seems we meet more and more wonderful people and make great friends within the movement. We have been truly blessed.

Even the knowledge that tough times are ahead as I am still unemployed and our savings are dwindling, that has not been enough to bring us down. We feel as if the sky is the limit. All we are worrying about now is having a great Christmas, and afterwards, well…that’s when the adventure will begin!

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 on Saturday, December 4, 2010.

3 responses to “A Different Man”

  1. Alison says:

    Great post! Sounds like you’ve found what’s important in life.

  2. Friends in Boston says:

    Your fan base in Boston came together to try to think of some ideas for next steps for you. We know that we’re ignorant of several important factors – we don’t know how many kids you have or how old they are, whether or not you have some employment, whether your wife is employed, what you want next, and several other things. Additionally, we realize that most of us come from big cities and have stayed in big cities.

    Still, sometimes it helps to have an outsider perspective at a turning point. We’ve read your posts, and this is what we’ve come up with so far:

    1. You (and your wife?) could apply to UVA and seek a full scholarship Sometimes people get 2 years of community college under their belts, and then apply to a prestigious state school (UNC, U Mich, Cornell, UVA) and get in-state tuition, then graduate with a great degree but only pay for 2 years of it.

    2. You could run for public office, like state senate. You have an opinion and you could develop a platform for change in your region.

    3. You could try to get a book deal with a cash advance, although we have no idea how to go about this. Have you read The Secret Life of Bees? It’s kind of corny in the beginning, but it’s a good read and theoretically you could follow that model, interviewing people in your area.

    4. You could seek a fellowship from a DC or NYC-based organization and convince them to let you work primarily from your home in VA, where the cost of living is so much less than it would be in a city. Fellowships usually don’t pay much, but the money would go a lot further for you if you were able to stay where you are. Have you seen this fellowship:

    5. If you don’t find a suitable fellowship, you could think one up. Find an organization you admire and try to pitch a fellowship to them – ask them for the money and tell them what you have to offer them.

    6. You could get a job within ‘the movement’ in Appalachia, but we’re sure you know the possibilities there much better than we do

    That’s all we’ve got for now.

  3. I have probably rewritten this response a dozen times in a fleeting attempt to communicate my feelings. There are a lot of words that could potentially describe how I feel and the closest would be thankful and humbled, yet they still come nowhere near describing the warmth and appreciation I feel towards everyone who put it together. When my wife read the comment she smiled and said, “You have a fan base?!”

    I really appreciate all of the ideas and will start checking into them. At the moment I have several applications pending for some very good jobs, a couple with the movement, and a federal job I would term as a “career”. Unfortunately the unorthodox system the agency uses to hire applicants can take an excruciatingly long period of time. I could be called tomorrow, I could be called in six months, or I may not be called at all. My skills and experience place me amongst the highest qualified on a short list of applicants. It is a waiting game unfortunately. If I do get it the schedules, benefits, and well…everything would allow us to go to college and provide us a lot of other great opportunities. It’s one of those true “opportunities of a lifetime”. I don’t want to rush into anything until I know for sure I’m not getting the position. In the mean time we are using the wait as an opportunity to enjoy life, something we haven’t done in a long while.

    No matter what my wife and I are planning on attending college as part of our new life. We have two children, a five year old and an eight year old and we’ve often wondered how to make it work. It’s going to be a challenge to make an income that can support us while going to school and also spending a healthy amount of time together as a family. I’m still looking into it and hoping to perhaps find a job working for a college or university while also attending if the federal job doesn’t turn out. I’ve also heard of some colleges that cater to families in situations like ours.

    I’ve been making a few attempts at a book but haven’t gotten around to sending proposals to literary agents yet. I think it’s definitely time to get around to it though!

    I had never heard of a fellowship. I’m going to check that out first thing in the morning! I don’t know about running for a public office though…I’d love to, but I don’t think I could handle my family’s life being made so public and open to ridicule.

    I can’t tell you all how much your suggestions mean to me. It’s good to know there are some truly great people out there!