Dear Frontline,(I would like for you to post this. For once in my 49 years I feel that no one is making fun of me for being from Ky. I must say thank you to so many people who wrote such wonderful response to "Country Boys".)I grew up in Knott County, next to Floyd County. My heart went out to Cody and Chris. They have been in my heart and prayers since Monday. As some one who left Kentucky and "Made It", I feel my duty to go back and help. I know that I will. We may be poor and talk different, but we are all God's children. We laugh, we cry, we fight, we love with all our heart and we do bleed red just like everyone else. As someone who has been made fun of and discriminated against because I was from Eastern, Kentucky, I just want to take the time to thank all the people from around the U.S who wrote such wonderful letters to this web site. You made me cry and so proud to be from Pippa Passes, Knott County, Kentucky. Thank you so much.God Bless,
What I saw in you Chris was a guy who could understand his feelings and had a charisma that enabled you to lead other students in various projects. If I understood what happened, was that often you would get to the threshold of following through with a project (newspaper as an example) and allow yourself to become sidetracked with a family problem or something else that you could make a good excuse in your mind as to why you couldn't finish what you'd started.
Appalachia doesn't offer very many options for its children. I saw that very starkly when, as a college project, I was invited to teach a high school class at Middlesboro High in Bell County. At the time, I was taking a special semester program at Union called at the time, the Appalachian Semester, where we met with coal miners, writers, former Governors, lawyers, etc. Full of myself, I proposed a well worn theory that Appalachia was treated as a colony by the rest of the country, especially the coal interests. The images of coal trains that punctuated the film you were in deliberately set the scene of resource exploitation - both of the coal and the people involved in its delivery to customers. My social (or perhaps I should say my Socialist) views were politely tolerated by the class until I asked how many of them thought they could remain in the area after graduation and make a decent living and raise a family. Even I was suprised by how few kids raised their hands.
Education becomes the most important variable between being able to make a decent living and struggling with marginal jobs and pay. I last visited Knox Co. in April, 2003 for a get together of former and current Union College students in a community improvement program that I and other 1960's era students helped start. I saw that while some changes had taken place, the amount and type of work available was still basically the same as always - fast food joints and Wal-Mart. Chris, keep on keeping on - it was great getting to know you.
Cody, a lot of what I wrote Chris applies to you as well. You're fortunate in having your musical skill and an interest in carrying a religious message through it to others. About your physical appearance - I had to laugh with you over some of your comments about people's reaction to your hair and body piercing. I grew a beard my Sophomore year at Union, and later, let my hair grow out to my shoulders. This was 1968, and local folks in Knox Co. were not crazy about the "hippy" appearance since they tended to compare it to the way Communists looked (see pictures of Fidel Castro, etc.) and I had local kids go out of their way to harass me or make fun of me. Most of the people reacting that way had pictures of their grandfathers with beards, and I now see I was way ahead of my time when I see you and your fellow students freely wearing long hair and beards as a matter of personal expression. One story you might find amusing. On Saturday nights, I would get together with other musicians to play old time country and gospel music. We had a very informal group, but one of the members wrangled an invitation to play at his church for their homecoming. My instrument was a wash tub bass, which consisted of a tub, a stick (a broom handle) and a thin cord like you'd use for clothes line. Perhaps you've seen one - the cord is tied to an eye bolt in the middle of the tub bottom, the tub is placed upside down with the stick (notched in the end) fitted on the rim of the tub and the cord is tied to the top of the stick. You put a foot on the rim to keep the tub on the ground and, while plucking the cord, you pull on the stick to tighten or loosen the cord producing a variety of notes.
When the preacher got a look at my appearance, tub and all, he took the church member who played in our group aside and told him he didn't think I should be playing because I might play rock and roll! The group member was offended on my behalf, and the group decided that if I couldn't play with them, no one would play. We took our instruments and went up the road to the group member's home and played on his front porch to an appreciative group from the church who chose to join us. So, during my life in the mountains, I learned about prejudice and openmindedness.
Mr. Dana Gunnison
Silver Spring, Maryland
Hello, Chris & Cody, I grew up in Buchanan County, Va. A little place called Maxie, Va. It was near Grundy, Va. I saw the show on PBS..and I knew It was near my home, somewhere. I Have now lived in Alpharetta, Ga for 20 yrs. I left home when I was 19, because all I ever wanted was out.. My dad was a coal miner for 35 years and he to was an acholic. My mother died at 49 and all she ever wanted was out also.. Both you boys did my heart proud when I saw the show. You both are strong young men who will go far in this life.. You made our little area in the mountains a little prouder. GOD Bless you both, Cody stick to your music. I think you have been called by God to touch folks. Chris keep going adhead.. Stay strong ..
Watching Country Boys hit a deep cord in me. I have a lot in common with both Cody and Chris! I can identify with both of them on many levels. The only difference is I'm an African American male who grew up in South Central Los Angeles. No matter where you grow up hardship, abandonment, dysfunctional families, drug and alcohol abuse runs through the veins of our country in all communities. Tell Cody and Chris to continue to fight for their dreams! I lost a family member to murder, Lost a family member to AIDS, abandoned by my mother, repeated the same grade twice and failed the SAT on my first try. Now I'm a college graduate and went on to earn a Master degree in social work from one of the top schools in the country graduating with a 3.6 G.P.A. Find your combination to your success and life is waiting for you! The goal is to make sure you don't repeat any negative family patterns with your own family. Most of all give back to society!
Like Chris and Coty, I too am a native Floyd Countian. The first place that I lived was a holler called Little Paint, which is just outside of Prestonsburg. But unlike Chris and Coty, my parents chose to leave Floyd County when I was just a little over two years old. In 1985, we moved to a town in the Bluegrass, just beyond the mountains, called Winchester.
Although we are only a hundred miles or so from Floyd County, the difference in my life and the opportunities that I have been given are enormous. In addition to attending a private catholic school in Lexington, I also went on to college, studying at a small liberal arts school as well as Oxford University in Great Britain.
When I look at Coty and Chris, I don't really recall memories, per se, although nearly all of the places and backdrops are familiar to me. What I really see is myself- or rather, a version of myself that, for one reason or another, never happened. If my parents wouldn't have left, I would be the one with the Appalachian stigma, or perhaps the one struggling with drugs, or financial problems.
To be honest, based upon personal experience, the majority of the memories that I have of Floyd County have been more tragic than inspirational. Yet I feel as though the documentary (Chris's story especially) has captured something even more powerful than the Appalachian tragedy; it has captured the unbreakable spirit of the people- their charisma, charm, wisdom, and refusal to be crushed. And clearly, their story resonates with all of us here in Kentucky and elsewhere.
i have never been as touched by a program as i have with this one. i grew up in rural texas and the struggle to move on and out of a small town <1000 people is very difficult. i live in a large city now and feel more lonesome now than ever before. there's not much caring, respect or friendliness as with a small town. it would be so easy to go back, but i will always be attached. i felt a lot of feelings that chris felt . i hope america sees how difficult it is for people with so little to get out of the rut and move forward in a world that moves so fast and small towns that move so slow. from experience moving on is scary as hell. no matter where you go or what you do a country boy will always be a country boy. god bless these two young men thank you david sutherland for allowing everyone to realize real life struggles of the impoverished areas of the nation
I would like to congratulate everyone who worked on the series Country Boys. I stayed up until 3 A.M. three nights in a row to see the show. I was riveted by both of the boys' stories but was particularly touched by Chris Johnson. Despite all his hardships, it was plain to see that Chris is a genuinely good person. I come from a family not unlike the Johnson, with alcohol abuse, poverty, welfare, drug abuse, etc, and I really felt for Chris and his siblings. I know the feeling of not wanting to make the same mistakes your parents made, but resolve is often not enough. You need to have a plan and to work on that plan every day, even if it's just in thinking about what you want for yourself.
I want to say that even if Chris isn't in college right now, and doesn't see how he could finance his education, he shouldn't lose faith. I'm 34 years old right now and I'm in my second year of college majoring in business administration.
It's never too late and I'm sure that Chris, with all his tremendous strength and determination, will find a way to better his life. If he didn't do it, would not only be a loss for him, but a great loss for his community. He would be fantastic as a youth counselor or a teacher.
I'll be thinking of Chris often in the coming years, and I hope that Mr. Sutherland will someday tell us what became of this terrific young man.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I grew up in the Appalachian foothills somewhat south of David, KY, in a town that sends high school graduates equally to Ivy Leagues and to the local vocational school.
That same range exists within my family. My niece--single mother -- divorced from a crack addict, recently fired from a fast food job, living on HUD, food stamps and Medicaid--reminds me very much of Chris with her vulnerability, fearful hope, unbelievable odds, and bullshit factor, which I recognized in Chris immediately.
It comes, I guess, from having to work the system, or from having parents who work you, so evident in Chris's case. At any rate, they become very savvy at deflecting "oncoming," be it too much advice, challenge or need, and at presenting a self-deprecating and yet soap operatic persona to the world, be it the film crew and thus us, or school personnel, welfare officials or whoever who can officially help.
What made this film so moving was the juxtaposition of this rural-street intelligence with the vulnerability of youth, the tornado pull of family, the inability to imagine success, and just plain facts of life for the poor in this country. Plus the incredible faith and tenacity of the teachers at the David School to try and convince their students that they could succeed: at a newsletter, at graduating, at going to college, at being a person free of the weight of poverty that trucks through their community every hour, it seems, in the coal cars of the trains.
I live in New York City, and one of the things I often say to my children is, "Character is destiny." I always meant that as a statement of personal fortitude, but what this film has made me realize is how crucial families, teachers, mentors, communities and our government are in the kiln of fortitude.
Yours, A foothills girl
Ijust wanted to congratualate you for the country boys special. Besides finding it encouraging and motivating i sincerely felt identified especially with chris' story. I am eighteen years old and in a similar situation. I grew up being one of the smartest kids in my middle school, i recieved all kinds of awards and recognitions but once i got to high school i could not take the pressure. I never engaged in anything illegal or bad but my gardes went down and then in my senior year i was kicked out of school by my councelor for insufficient credits and i felt horrible. I felt like i was a failure, But i quickly enrolled in my local adult center and now i am a few months away from getting my high school diploma and after that im sure that i am going to college. Sometimes i do feel a little discouraged but after seeing this special i got the extra boost of motivation i needed.I have something that Chris didnt have my familys support and if he did it with all the obstacles that he was faced with , i know i can do it as well! Thanks Frontline, and thanks Chris!
Los Angeles, California
I am now 75 years old, and I was deeply touched by the Country Boys. It invoked in me memories of my own growing up in northern Minnesota, the oldest of six children, on a farm and in extreme poverty. I have commented many times had we not lived on a farm, we would surely have been on the welfare rolls. Poverty was very painful to me. My father had a 4th grade education but had high native intelligence, as did my mother who did graduate from high school. Over the years she suffered from depression and I often had responsibility for many tasks. She always wanted better for her children; however, my father did not see the importance of education and gave little support for that nor was he supportive of my mother. One time my mother told me my father's father told him he wouldn't ever amount to much. So I imagine he had little to give in support. He was critical of three of my brothers--2 became alcoholics and the 3rd was extremely shy. As I have looked back, I have often thought of the things that "saved" me. I always had dreams of life being better even though I knew not how to make that happen. There was the mindset that we couldn't go to college because we were too poor. I think God's grace played an extremely important role in my life, even though I did not have any idea what that meant. I worked one year in Minneapolis and one of the first things I did was join a church. I had no idea what that meant either but I did know I wanted to "belong." After that year I went to Kansas City and airline school, then working for TWA, attending a church where, in a young people's group, I met a dental student, we dated for 2 years, then married. Always on my agenda was getting a college education. After the birth of our first child, we arrived in Tulsa and I enrolled in the University of Tulsa, while my husband, Charlie Brown, worked to establish his dental practice. I found all learning exhilirating so I grew intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. This came about with the help of ever so many people, including psycholgical counselors. I was outgoing and constantly exposed myself to new experiences. It was of tremendous importance that I had the opportunities that come with having a husband who had professional status. It does open doors! Doors that certainly were never opened to me when I lived in poverty. One learns quickly how to access resources that make life better. I have always had a deep sense of justice and inclusiveness. I joined and participated in organizations that believed in working for the common good of ALL persons, not simply those in my "status" group. I wept a lot in last night's program. I so admired the courage and strength exhibited by Chris and Cody and I so badly want them to succeed. I must stop but I will say in ending this: life is a struggle from beginning to end but when we allow other people into our lives and live in community with them, the struggle is not only bearable but often enjoyable. I am deeply grateful for all those who worked so hard on this portrayal of the lives of Chris, Cody and those around them. It encouraged me to keep on working and advocating for those who need a "hand up." And to keep speaking out and calling into responsibility those who do not see we must partner with persons who do need that "hand up." Thanks again for a wonderful program.
I live and was born in New york City. I am of hispanic decendants. My Grandparents came to New York from Puerto Rico when my parents where babies, so they also grew up and went to school in the city. My life wasnt a bed of roses I guess I delt with all the prejudice and hard times that most of us went threw being hispanic out of our element but we made it.
I am now the proud mother of 5 wonderful adult children who thank to the support of family and my struggle and determination for them to succeed in life are pretty well adjusted and succesful parents and adults . I was really taken by the documentry and how although we are from different cultures we are so alike and struggled to make it anywhere in life. I just hope that more people like me and other minorities got to watch this film about these people . Because I am sick and tiered of hearing people say how white people are born with a silver spoon in there mouths andhow easy it is for them in life . Thank God and my mother I grew up color blind I was tought that there is good and bad in every race and culture . I was tought never to judge a people because of the actions of some .
I Just finished watching the final chapter of "Country Boys", and words can only paint a small picture of the emotion and memories this show has strirred in me. I saw my childhood in both Chris' and Cody's story. I grew up in a dysfunctional home of 7 children, an alcoholic father who physically and sexually abused his children, and a mother with a broken spirit. By the age of 9, I was cutting school, and getting stoned. The family was breaking up. For the next six years I spent time in and out foster homes, the county children's shelterand living with relatives. At that time, My mother left the country, one sister tried to kill herself with a bullet to the brain (and is totally disabled), and my father did the exact same murder/suicide that Cody's father did with my stepmother, my mother returned, but her new husband was killed...and all during the most vulnerable time in a young person's life. I suffered the same issues with school, self esteem, addiction, and my place in the world. Fortunatly, I eventually found some stablility with my older sister's foster parents, Barbra and Larry. They, like Cody's grandmother Liz, were the bit of consistancy and continuity that saved my life. I know I faught and rebelled at times, but looking back now, I know I would have fallen through the cracks for good had it not been for them. and after I rebelled a bit more than they could handle, my grandfather, Gregory, took the helm to try and steer my life in a positive direction, to build a better foundation. It is not with disrespect to Chris's family that I say this...because they are like my own, but it was the love and support of my grandfather and foster parents like that in Cody's life that makes the difference. Yes, I still screwed up and dropped out of school, but it was the seed that those people planted, the people who never gave up on me, that influenced me later in life. I got my GED certificate...AND re-did the work required for my real depolma a year later (though they never sent the actual deploma).I flunked out of my first attempt at college at 19. At 35, I decided to go back to school, after years of working as a stablehand and house cleaner. Today, I am 40, and finishing my last semester for my AA at Diablo Valley College and will be applying to 2-Year dental hygiene and radiography programs next month. It has been difficult, working almost full time, school, and trying to raise my17 year old son... and first and foremost, battling my fear of failure and self sesteem every moment. But I made it so far and I am so proud of myself! Again I have the emotional support of my husband and family of friends. My son, Ryan, has been raised in loving support of both parents with the idea that life without education is not an option. It doesn't have to be a college degree in some money career, but an education about the world he lives in. I remind him that 4 or 5 years of school is a small sacrifice in his life and he has the rest of it to party with his freinds after that.I hope that Chris will understand that I can totally relate to the obsticals life puts in front of us, but do not give up. there is a big world out there, and lots of options. Mitzy and the other councelors at the David school are those navigators that have the resources to guide us through. Take advantage of it. Rather than sitting at night not doing much, use that time continue writing that superhero story and reading literature, or to study and prep for communtiy college, and try taking just one or two classes at a time. That is how I did it.I will never stop chasing that dream. I hope these boys never stop either.
Your story resonated deeply with me and echoes in my heart. Like many others, I am sure, I can identify with your upbringing. Born into poverty and raised by a mother with temporal lobe epilepsy, fibromyalgia and depression and a mentally ill alcoholic father who left when I was 10, I became very pessimistic. My heart slowly hardened and I sank under the burden my mother put on me to work from the time I was 12 to supplement her disability check. My teenage years were a catastrophy and I left home at the age of 16. God opened his arms to me, though, and gave me a wonderful, loving family who took me in. Even still, I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart most days, feeling that my true family had been destroyed. I tried to put and end my life, but at the last minute I decided I wanted to live. In the weeks following my suicide attempt I learned something very valuable: everything happens for a reason. I believe it does, there's a reason I'm still alive. There's a reason so many terrible things happened in my life and yours too. There is a greater purpose for the bad things and the trials, they creat in us the desire to help others and the experience to reach out and touch other people's lives. I also believe there is a reason I saw this program. Seeing you graduate was so wonderful. I cried watching it. I am proud of you, if it's ok for a stranger to be proud of you. I graduated (after almost giving up bunches of times like you) 3 months after my suicide attempt. The only person in the world I wanted to be there didn't come: my mother. She didn't tell me until the day of. That didn't take away from the the fact that graduating from high school was one of the best moments of my life, perhaps the best. We made it, Chris. We made it. We beat the odds, the statistics that weren't in our favor. You parents didn't graduate I read, well neither did mine. Your story has made me feel so much less alone and has filled me with so much hope. Something came to me though, that I really wanted to say: Chris, don't harden your heart. Making peace with your family, even if it takes a long time, is the best thing you can do for yourself. It isn't easy, but you have the courage. With courage you can do anything. As John Wayne said, "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway."May God, whoever he is to you, bless you well.
King County, WA
I am an unabashed liberal agnostic who happened to spend 15 years of my youth in a small town in North Carolina. Cody and Chris were/are not unlike so many of my middle school classmates. I don't subscribe to the religious calling seemingly omnipresent in that section of Kentucky and elsewhere, and honestly, it doesn't matter. At times it was almost embarassing to see the level of maturity and thoughtfulness Cody and Chris displayed despite a set of circumstances few ADULTS would be fit to endure. I shudder to think how pathetic my own attempt at success would be given a similar scenario in which to prosper.
I've discussed the show with people I consider to be thougtful and educated and have been less than thrilled with their dismissive reactions. Perhaps you need to live around folks like the documentary followed to appreciate the similarities we all share despite ideological differences.
Cody and Chris, and their respective, extended family and friends, demonstrate that each of us is intelligent in our own way and that our collective humanity can evaporate the trivial forces determined to polarize us.
I hope this program will motivate people to take notice of our neighbors in App-a-LATCH-e-uh, and cast aside stereotypes about religion and condescending "humor" about so-called rednecks. Chris and Cody, and those who will follow them, deserve better than our apathy and blind judgement.
I identified with Chris especially because of the alcoholism and the problems I think Chris had in trying to be independent but still tied emotionally to his mom and dad.
It brought back memories of when I was in high school and I had a alcoholic father and a co-dependent mother and if it weren't for a caring aunt and uncle I probably wouldn't have graduated high school. Chris' story really hit home with me. I ultimately had to choose my future and school over family...I had my guardian angels along the way who encouraged me and kept me on the straight and narrow.
I graduated from college and have been in the educational field for many years now. Life is good but family never changed. There is still drug and alcohol abuse and it has gone into new and younger generations. I have removed myself from the situation because there is really nothing I could have ever done back then or now. I have learned to live my life the best I can for myself and have learned how to be happy with my life without family. It can be done. Thanks for this great program!