work prisoners and things like that. It used to be when you had prisoners you could take them out on the road and you had a guard there with a shotgun. It looked like hell, and the NAACP doesn't like the looks of that because a big part of the prisoners are black, and you could have them cleaning up the road.

“Now you can't do things like that. So people get a little drunk throw beer cans out the window. Who's gonna pick them up? The people who live there (in shacks) ought to get off their rear ends if they are paying $14 a month for rent, and fix it themselves. They have plenty of money. They spend it all on gasoline.

“Giving them all this government money makes them lazy and sorry. That's what the trouble is if you want to get down to it. They're too damn sorry. They don't even pick up their own garbage, because they got government money. And government money gets votes.”

I visited Harlan County twice—first in the summer when the lushness of the vegetation covered the mistreatment of the land, creating a bucolic backdrop for too many people who live anything but idealized country lives. I returned in the winter to find all illusions stripped bare.

As the people say, Harlan County is a “sorry place.” In winter, there is no way to camouflage this truth. No matter how much money is made here, the health and well-being of the people and land come second to the extraction and transportation of coal.

“In winter, that's when it really hurts,” said one mountain man. “The leaves fall and you see the strip mining.” “Winter,” he reflected, “that's the saddest time of the year.”

In these Appalachian hills and in the hearts of the people, the curse of coal hangs heavy: