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frequently asked questions

The trailer the Johnsons lived in when "Country Boys" first began filming

I am one of the many viewers who would like to help Chris. What should I do?

A trust fund has been set up for Chris to further his educational needs and the monies will be directed to this goal under the oversight of "Country Boys" co-producer Erin Anguish. If you would like to contribute, mail should be sent to PO Box 163, Waban, MA. 02468, with checks made out to "Chris Johnson 2006 Trust, c/o Erin Anguish, trustee." Please email drsutherland@earthlink.net with any questions or concerns.

Why was Chris getting Social Security benefits? How much did it help his family's budget?

In elementary school, Chris was diagnosed with a behavior disorder that limited his functioning severely enough that he qualified for Social Security's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. SSI provides economic support to disabled children like Chris who come from homes with limited income and resources. As long as he stayed in school and didn't work, Chris was qualified to receive SSI benefits until he turned 18.

Chris' family covered their monthly expenses through a combination of three roughly equal income sources: His mother Sheila's income from working, his father Randall's SSI check, and Chris' SSI check.

Chris's room in the adjoining small trailer

How did Chris become a student at the David School? Did his family pay for him to attend?

After struggling at several local public schools, Chris and his family decided he should try the David School, which caters to troubled teens who have failed to thrive elsewhere. Tuition is drastically reduced for students who come from low-income homes. Randall, Chris's father, had also attended the David School for a few years. The David School's founder and director, Danny Greene, talks about Randall back then in his interview with FRONTLINE.

How is the David School funded?

The school operates strictly on private contributions and support from some foundations. It doesn't receive any public funds such as tax funding or federal and state support.

How many siblings does Chris have? Did they all live together?

Chris has a younger brother and a sister, Amy and Daniel. Before his mother Sheila moved out, Chris, his parents, his maternal grandmother, and his two siblings all lived together in their trailer, but Chris sometimes slept in an adjacent small trailer they kept on their property. After Sheila moved out, Amy and Daniel stayed with Chris and his father and grandmother. But later, when Sheila left Kentucky, Amy and Daniel went with her. Chris helped in the move by driving a truck down to Florida with the family's belongings, but he then returned to Kentucky.

Does Chris plan to go to college?

Chris still very much wants to attend college. With some guidance in getting the paperwork done, he hopes to be able to apply in the near future. However, with no family resources or money of his own, he will need full financial aid, which complicates the process.

Chris working at Taco Bell

What has Chris been doing to support himself since graduation?

He has tackled a range of jobs to support himself since graduating from the David School, including working at a rehabilitation facility for the mentally handicapped and odd jobs like delivering pizza and manning fast food counters. In the spring and summer, he runs a lawn care service with his friend Jay. He's thinking about entering some local amateur wrestling competitions and trying for the prize money.

Is Chris still living with his mother?

No. After driving household belongings in a U-Haul down to his mother in Florida, he stayed there a few days and then drove back to Kentucky. Several months later, after paying off his truck, Chris drove back to Florida intending to move in with his family. However, once he arrived, he discovered that finding a job was more difficult than he'd imagined, and he also missed Kentucky. So, after a couple of months in Florida, he came back to Kentucky and is living with his friend Jay.

Randall Johnson, Chris's father

Did Chris's father, Randall, receive Social Security payments because of his alcoholism?

Yes. Because of the severe health problems caused by his alcoholism, Randall qualified to receive monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments

What were his health problems?

Due to years of alcoholism, Randall had terminal cirrhosis of the liver. He died the summer of 2005.

When did Randall stop working due to his alcoholism? What did he do before he became unable to work?

When Randall was younger, he served in the army and started a career in carpentry. But as his disease worsened, he moved to less demanding jobs such as working in fast food chains. His condition became notably worse when Chris was about 12 years old, and Randall became unable to work.

Did Randall graduate from high school?

No, he dropped out of high school.

Sheila Johnson, Chris's mother

How does Chris's mother, Sheila, make a living? Did she receive any public assistance in addition to Chris' and Randall's SSI checks?

Sheila has held a variety of jobs to support her family. During much of the filming of "Country Boys," she worked 60 hours a week as a hotel maid. After she moved out of Kentucky, she worked regularly at fast food restaurants. She currently is living in Indiana where she was working at a factory manufacturing engine parts. But recently, she hurt her back on the job and for now is unable to work. During the period when "Country Boys" was filmed, she did not receive any public assistance beyond the SSI money that was sent to Chris and Randall.

Did Sheila graduate from high school?

She dropped out of high school, but later earned a GED.

JAY PRITCHARD

How long has he known Chris?

They have known each other throughout most of their growing-up years.

At Jay's house

What is Jay's family story?

Jay's mother was a teacher and his father was a miner. Both parents graduated from Alice Lloyd College, a four-year liberal arts college in Kentucky. His mother died several years ago and his father, despite having acute hearing loss and black lung disease from years working in the mines, continues to provide a home for Jay and Chris while selling used goods at local flea markets.

Did Jay attend the David School too?

Jay was a student there for a short time, but didn't finish. As for work, his learning disability has prevented him from working "standard" jobs such as at Taco Bell or Pizza Hut. However, he is very active in local politics and does quite a bit of political consulting, especially around election time.

Why are Jay and Chris friends?

Jay is very nurturing, caring, and also extremely focused, which helps Chris tremendously. With Chris's family largely absent, Jay and his father have become his surrogate family. In addition, Jay's political contacts have been a great resource in helping Chris get his odd jobs.

How does Jay get by financially?

Jay receives full disability from the government for his health problems and his learning disabilities (he still can't read or write).

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posted jan. 9, 2006

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