A Hidden America: Children of the Plains - Part 1





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Published on Oct 20, 2011

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Diane Sawyer and 20/20 take a deeper look into the poverty and addiction stricken side to Kentucky. It's a side of America that many choose to overlook and ignore.

"In the hills of Central Appalachia, up winding, mountain roads, is a place where children and families face unthinkable conditions, living without what most Americans take for granted. Isolated pockets in Central Appalachia have three times the national poverty rate, an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, the shortest life span in the nation, toothlessness, cancer and chronic depression.

But also in Appalachia young fighters and dreamers filled with hope struggle to survive: a high school football superstar who sleeps in his truck; a 12-year-old who wants nothing more than her own bed and a cupboard full of food; an 18-year-old who must decide whether or not to spend the rest of his life in the coal mines; and an 11-year-old determined to save her mother's life. Diane Sawyer continues her award-winning reporting on America's forgotten children with an eye-opening hour on rural kids living in poverty.

-Shawn Grim, 18, Appalachian high school football superstar, sleeps in his truck to avoid the thievery, alcoholism and despair of his family's life in the hollow in Flat Gap, Kentucky. Over the course of Sawyer's report, Grim moves eight times. He is determined to be the first one in his family to graduate from high school and go to college. Will he be able to achieve his dream of a different life?

-Courtney, 12, is one of those children whose face reminds us of the famous portraits of the Appalachian past. Her clothes are stuffed into a suitcase under her bed in the small home she shares with 11 relatives in Inez, Kentucky. Her mother, Angel, struggles to stay off drugs and hopes to give her four daughters a better life by getting her GED and becoming a teacher. With no car and no public transportation, Angel walks 16 miles roundtrip, four hours total, to her GED class.

-Erica, 11, hopes to save her mother's life. ''She's almost 50 and... if I don't get her out of this town soon, then she'll probably die any day.'' Erica and her mother, Mona, live in Cumberland, Kentucky, a once booming coal town. Mona battles addiction to prescription drugs and alcohol, her life ravaged by her struggles and despair. The region has a prescription drug abuse rate twice that of major cities like New York or Miami.

-When his girlfriend becomes pregnant, Jeremy, 18, trades his dream of a life as an engineer in the military for a life underground in the coal mines. Sawyer travels down 3 1/2 miles to the dangerous working face of the mine to meet Jeremy and the other men who make the decision to work 9 - 12 hours a day, six days a week, with little sunshine in their daily lives. But despite safety concerns, it's the best paying job in the region.

There are also heroes in the hills - teachers, social workers, doctors and dentists reaching out to a population isolated by the steep hills and lack of transportation."


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