20-year-old Colt Brogan always found it easy to make fairly good grades in school. As a kid, he’d dreamed of being an architect. But that changed. Around the time when he was a junior in high school, Colt decided college wasn’t for him.
“It felt too unpredictable. I thought, dealing drugs is safer than going to college. That’s the God’s honest truth,” says Colt.
He didn’t have a lot of money for college, and he knew he couldn’t count on his family for financial assistance. Taking out loans just felt like a gamble to him. College wasn’t familiar, and he didn’t really know a lot of people who knew much about higher education. Drugs though—that’s something he saw regularly. So, at 17, just before he moved out of his mother’s house, he considered becoming a methamphetamine dealer.
“I could have made money that way. I mean, probably would have been an addict. And had an awful life. Made bad choices, went to jail, become a felon. It’s not a good road to go down, but it is lucrative and available.”
This story is part of the Struggle To Stay series. Reporters have spent 6-12 months following the lives of 6 individuals as they decide if they will stay or leave home - and how they survive either way.
He says this was the lowest point in his life, because he was headed down a path he didn’t like. He was smoking marijuana, and he'd begun experimenting with hard drugs, like heroin, crystal meth, and abusing prescription pills, like a lot of his friends and family.
“I didn’t like myself, at all. I didn’t want to be in this world. I would rather die than to be a burden on somebody else. I didn’t want to be that, I’ve seen that too much. I just wanted to be a productive member of society.”
Everything changed when he heard about a job working for the Coalfield Development Corporation on a project called Refresh Appalachia- a two and a half year training program to learn farming.
The job became his ticket to stay in southern West Virginia, but also a way for him to leave his home, and the drugs, behind. He had to pass a drug test to get the job.
He says he quit drugs cold turkey, but it wasn’t easy.
“How I believe I got out is, and I think what makes me a little bit different from other people, is I came from a background with strong emphasis on religion. So I had something to believe in. I had hope, where other people can’t see hope.”
He had faith, but he still didn’t have a place to go. So he asked for help from a friend he knew from agriculture class, Adrianna Burton, and her mom.
He says he didn’t know many other people he could stay with, where he wouldn’t feel tempted to use drugs.
It took about two months until Colt felt in control of his emotions again and stopped snapping at people.
He started to feel better, to think more clearly.
He wrote music to refocus his mind.
The summer after he graduated high school, Colt got the job with Refresh Appalachia, where he now works. He actually works at the same high school he attended, growing vegetables in the Lincoln County greenhouse and helping mentor the agriculture students.
His big dream is to one day own a farm or a ranch in Lincoln County. He’d like to be able to hire people, maybe even give teenagers a chance to work and stay, if they need a place to live.
“I know I never had nothing like that. And I know I wouldn’t have hung out with the people I hung out with, or did the things I did if I would have had a big ranch to live on and food to eat every night.”
He shares that dream with Adrianna. Around the time when he got the job with Refresh Appalachia, in June of 2015, they started dating.
"At the time, there would be like a lot of future motivated text messages between us," Adrianna recalls. "And one of them, from way back then, is still my screen background on my phone. And it’s basically like, we are going to overcome all this, I’m gonna be your husband, we’re gonna have a farm, we’re gonna have 18 kids cause that’s the joke that he had back then,”
Colt and Adrianna say they want to encourage teenagers here to feel hope, and help them learn to grow their own food. Adrianna is going to college at West Virginia University and wants to become a high school Agriculture teacher.
“I want to show these kids that there is an industry that you don’t have to be shady in,” says Adrianna. “Like you can do this right and make something of yourself. Cause even though people might not like to hear it, we’re not always gonna need coal miners. We’re not always gonna need oil rig operators, but we’re always gonna need farmers.”
Meanwhile, Colt’s trying not to worry too much about the details of what he’ll need to do to stay. Like…how much it costs to buy farmland.
“I feel like a home, or land, no matter how big or how much, it’s what you make it,” says Colt. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. A lot of West Virginians say, ‘it’s the most beautiful state, why would you want to leave?’ Then on the other hand they’ll give you fifty reasons why you might want to leave.”
Despite the high rates of drug abuse, and poverty, there is more that Colt loves about this state, and Lincoln County.
But is that love enough to keep him here? We'll hear more on that next week on The Struggle to Stay. Note the audio version of this story may have language that is not suitable for young listeners.