Harlan County LP Ready for Action
HARLAN, OCTOBER 29: People are selling pills to pay their bills. That message was repeated over and over in the four hundred interviews collected by local residents as part of the Harlan County Listening Project.
On October 22, Joan Robinett told a group of fifty gathered to hear a report about drug abuse and the future of Harlan County that, "We can't understand how to respond to drug abuse until we understand its roots in our economic situation."
Over the past nine months, Robinett and S.E. Kentucky Community College Professor Roy Silver have coordinated the work of over sixty Harlan Countians who have conducted over four hundred in-depth anonymous interviews. Those interviewed include judges, convicts, drug users, ministers, students and dropouts, and residents from all parts of the county.
"The people we talked to remind us that drug addicts and their families are human beings, too," said Listening Project staff member Laura Harris. "Until we understand how they got where they are and what they need to recover, we are not going to solve the problem of drug abuse."
On Saturday, Harris and Robinett were joined at the Godbey Appalachian Center podium by Alisha and Bonnie Thomas and Tony Sweatt, who have all served on the Listening Project coordinating committee.
The questions Listening Project interviewers asked focused on the roots of drug abuse in the county and how to use community strengths to combat the problem. One comment often heard from those interviewed by the Listening Project, according to Tony Sweatt, is that for many, help with substance abuse came only after people get in trouble with the law."
"People wish there was more to help the drug abuserómore rehab, more counselingóbefore they get arrested," said Sweatt.
Alisha Thomas said that many of those interviewed said that current rehabilitation options are inadequate. "Many people told me that you can't send people to a thirty day detox and expect them to get out and lead normal lives."
Bonnie Thomas told the common story of well-meaning neighbors who share medicine with those without health insurance who are trying to cope with pain and depression.
According to Thomas, a pill taken to relieve pain leads to addiction and a "hermit's life" where "people are afraid if they aren't on pills people are going to beg or steal their money; and if they are on pills they're afraid someone is going to turn them in."
According to Robinett and the Listening Project staff, many of those interviewed said they were concerned with fairness on the part of the courts and law enforcement. "People are confused." said Robinett. "They see confidential informants who are paid with drugs and money to catch drug traffickers, continuing themselves to abuse and sell drugs. And people don't understand when people up on the same charges get different sentences."
The group reported that people also see signs of hope. "Many people see Drug Court and Celebrate Recovery as positive," said Harris.
Bonnie Thomas said that people want things that protect the closeness of the community. According to the interviews, residents think the county needs more activities that bring youth and adults together for positive reasons. "People have to have something to do, some-thing to give them hope," said Thomas. PACT is now ready to take 400 listening interviews and develop an organizing strategy based on what they have heard from their fellow citizens.
Fall 2005 Newsletter
"Our lives here have been steeped in the tragedy and problems of a community long exploited from within and without. We've been disempowered far too long. But we are stubborn and the Listening Project has helped us mobilize our stubbornness into determination and new possibilities."
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