We continue to work each day in Mount Hope. The boys are talking to me now but are still very quiet. They love to ask me, “Can’t you find something to paint?” when they see me standing around. Painting seems to be the area they stick me- until today when I actually got to cut and hang drywall. Brian has been the one to talk to me the most. He has an amazing story of trying to get himself set straight.
Brian is 24 years old and has been with SALS (Southern Appalachian Labor School) for about five years. His Dad left he and his three brothers when he was young and he was raised by his step Father who died a few years ago. Brian only has an eighth grade education. He spent six years in a four year school and quickly discovered the best gig there was to be the bully. True to his red hair, he had a temper and was kicked out of several schools for fighting. Finally, the courts had had enough and told him that he could no longer attend any Fayetteville schools. They wouldn’t bus him to another district and his family couldn’t drive him, so he dropped out of school. After being sent “away” to juvenile prison for 6 months and “going crazy from counting the blocks on the wall,” he decided he never wanted to go back there. He was then sentenced to go to work for SALS.
Most people have to apply to SALS. You have to fill out the forms and then take a proficiency exam. SALS requires you to obtain your GED while you are in the program. There was a time where they accepted just about anyone willing and wanting a second chance. According to Billy, “There were a bunch of thieves, drunks, and drug addicts that you couldn’t trust. They would steal from the site or home owners or anyone. They would let them in straight out of prison.” He said that he used to steal but no longer does it because he now knows how hard you have to work to get stuff and he doesn’t want anyone ripping him off so he wouldn’t do that to anyone. Although he has tried his best to stay out of trouble, he was recently arrested when he slapped a coworker who he caught stealing. The coworker was sent to another site and hasn’t pushed through any charges. He also has to go testify in a case where he is being accused of pulling a knife on a woman. He says that he has witnesses to testify that all he did was yell at her, but with his previous record it might be hard, even with witnesses, to prove his case. Apparently the woman called his mom a “pill popping whore” and I have found, Appalachian boys are very protective of their mothers.
Brian is having a hard time passing the last two sections of his GED. He struggles in math because he never got to take high school math classes. Until then, he can stay with SALS and receive a stipend of approximately $600 a month. He says that it is easy money, and for now he can live on it since he is still living at home with his mom, his three brothers, his girl friend, and his brother’s girl friend. When he does complete it, he plans on going to electrical school.
Through all of this, Brian is taking the right steps to help himself. He is trying to stay out of trouble. He is looking ahead to electrical school, and when the supervisor leaves the site, Brian is in charge. He can do the plumbing, run electrical, hang drywall, and a whole host of other things. It is different for the kids working on these sites. They have to do all the jobs. They are the electricians, the plumbers the trim guys, and the painters. You name it, and they can do it. As I was sitting talking to Brian, I asked him about the F.T.W tattoo that he had on his hand. I had seen it before a few days earlier on another boy. The letters stand for “Fuck the World” or on a good day “For the Women” he told me. He also has the words “Rock Life” across his knuckles. He told me that it used to say, “Fuck Life”, but now that he has to get a job he wanted to make it more respectable.
Brian’s story is the story of many here. He is one of the lucky ones who found SALS and is getting a leg up on life. In a county with no movie theater, no teen center, and no bowling alley, there is little else to do, so the kids find trouble. The supervisor on the site, Jim, is running for mayor. He hopes to try to start finding things for the kids to do. He would like to create places for them to go to try to keep them out of trouble. The father of three, he knows how important this is. For now, the job site in Mount Hope is teaching them the skills they need to make their lives a little better.
For now, some say that Brian is taking advantage of Youth Build since most kids usually leave the program within a year. The supervisor relies on him heavily, and it is felt he might even be sabotaging Brian’s education. For only 24, Brian knows what he has to do, and he sees that a better future is right around the corner.