by: Nick Stump
posted to www.raisiningkaine.com
Over the years, George Allen has spent a ton of money on cowboy hats
and boots in an unsuccessful attempt to identify himself with the folks
of rural Virginia. Southwest Va, or coal country as some think of it,
was the location where Allen forever buried his political career with
the now infamous macaca statement.
Southwest Virginia is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
It is the region settled by Jim Webb's Scots-Irish ancestors and to
this day, Mr. Webb still has kinfolk living in the area. These rural
Virginians and their neighbors in Eastern Kentucky have much in common.
They have dug the nations coal, cut the nation's timber and throughout
our history have provided our country with more than their fair share
of soldiers to fight our wars.
But beneath the romantic history and the scenic beauty of the mountains
there have always been underlying economic struggles. The coal business
has always been a feast or famine proposition, dependent on prices and
demand and as coal is a non-renewable resource, there is no stable
future for rural Virginians in coal mining. The family farms of the
past are gone everywhere in rural America. Though many Americans
picture a relaxed bucolic life away from the hustle and noise of the
city, the reality of Southwest Virginia show workers competing for
minimum wage jobs, and those who do better sometimes spend eight hours
a day or more just driving back and forth from work. Making a living in
the mountains has never been more difficult than it is today for the
people of Southwest Virginia.
When George Allen was Governor he had an answer for jobs in Southwest
Virgina. What the area needed was a new industry–an industry that
would never shut down and one that would provide jobs for generation
after generation of rural Virginians. But George Allen didn't didn't
bring Toyota or Ford into Southwest Virginia. There were no new high
tech jobs for Wise County. The new industry coming to the Virginia
mountains was the prison industry.
In a new film, Up the Ridge, filmmakers Nick Szuberla and Amelia Kirby
have produced a masterful piece of work, giving a raw and unflinching
picture of the prison industry, the politicians behind the plan, the
guard, and especially the prisoners in Wallens Ridge State Prison.
Up The Ridge is not just a film about what happens inside a Supermax
prison. As much as anything we see the tough choices faced by
communities in rural Appalachia.
As we see more and more prisons built
in Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, and prisoners shipped in from as far
away as Hawaii, New Mexico and Connecticut, I find myself wondering,
can't we do better than this. Is Southwest Virginia to become the
prison captitol of the United States. When will the nation realize
rural Americans can do more than dig coal, fight wars and guard
criminals sent so far away from home and family. Below are the places