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Gallery: West Virginia’s ‘Recovery Boys’

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Rush tends to the chickens at the Utterback farm. The henhouse is moved regularly in order to fertilize the farmland and maintain healthy soil. The eggs are gathered, sold, and used for meals at Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger

Editor’s Note: Below are a series of photos taken by West Virginia photographer Rebecca Kiger at Jacob’s Ladder, a residential addiction  recovery program run by Dr. Kevin Blankenship in the rural community of  Aurora, West Virginia. 

The men featured in the photo series attended the farming-based rehab and are the subjects of the 2018 feature-length documentary “Recovery Boys,” directed by Academy Award nominee and West Virginia native Elaine McMillion Sheldon. “Recovery Boys” can be viewed on Netflix and is available for community screenings


Dear friends,

Jacob’s Ladder at Brookside Farm is a six-month residential addiction recovery program started almost three years ago in response to the growing health crisis facing our nation and in particular my home, West Virginia.

The decision to include daily farming and gardening activities within a recovery program was made in hopes of changing the activity of the brain of those suffering from addiction—to “re-wire” the neural connections, hopefully leading to increased “future thinking.”

It is working.

These men are successfully working on the farm with counselors, peers and community members to change their lives permanently.  The connection of human beings with animals and the earth is a unique catalyst for compassionate change and is an amazing thing to witness. Seeing the broken, suffering individual become a healthy, hopeful person in recovery, armed with tools to continue their journey has been the most rewarding experience of my life.

Kevin Blankenship, MD
Founder and Medical Director
Jacob’s Ladder at Brookside Farm

Kevin Blankenship is a lifelong resident of West Virginia and earned degrees in pharmacy and medicine, specializing in emergency medicine in the state. In 2014, an immediate family crisis with addiction brought Kevin face-to-face with the significant issue of this growing epidemic and the lack of recovery options throughout our country, inspiring his professional dedication to being part of the solution through directly serving the recovery industry and indirectly combating the stigma surrounding this issue in today’s society.   

Rebecca Kiger is a documentary and portrait photographer living in West Virginia. Her work has been published on the Lens blog, TIME magazine, Vox, Everyday Rural America and Looking at Appalachia. In 2018, she received the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Video. Rebecca has been selected to be a ‘Teaching Artist’ through the Rural Arts Collaborative (RAC) for the next academic year at Bellaire High School, Ohio, where she will work with students on a year-long photography project. She is currently photographing stories about foster care and adoption.

Explore Kiger’s photos of Jacob’s Ladder at Brookside Farm below.

Ryan walks through a building being remodeled to house additional residents at Jacob’s Ladder in Preston County, West Virginia. Jacob’s Ladder, a residential addiction recovery center, was created in 2016 by Dr. Kevin Blankenship. Dr. Blankenship specializes in emergency medicine, but has shifted his focus into building a recovery community after helping his own son with substance use disorder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Dave and Adam enter the barn to begin predawn farm chores. The Utterback family farm sits adjacent to Jacob’s Ladder. The Utterbacks work closely with the young men in the farming portion of the recovery program. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
As Jeff herds sheep into the barn, one leaps from the flock. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Ryan wrangles a sheep for hoof cleaning. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Ryan carries a newly born calf to its mother after they were separated moving cows from one pasture to another. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
The baby calf surrenders to an early and unexplained death while Jeff, Rush and the calf’s mother look on. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Sutton, Jeff, and Rush take a smoke break on a bench outside of the residential facility. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Farmer Mark Utterback, Ryan, and Adam gather potatoes in the fall. The potatoes are just one item of produce harvested from the first gardens planted by the men in recovery at Jacob’s Ladder. The food is used in the meals they collectively cook for one another. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Adam reclines across a makeshift table in a home being remodeled on the property. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Ryan holds a snake outside his new home in Morgantown after graduating from Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
After long hours of work, Jeff eats an apple collected from the farm on the ride back to Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Wis, who continues his recovery by volunteering at Jacob’s Ladder, tosses old boards out of the B&B Building as it’s remodeled for additional residents. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Nathan holds a window as it is removed in the remodeling of the kitchen in the B&B Building. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
The men in recovery embrace one another while gathering in the living room at Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Jerrica, Dr. Blankenship’s daughter, leads the men through yoga on the front lawn of Jacob’s Ladder. The facility embraces a holistic form of recovery by incorporating art therapy, music therapy, exercise, farm work, construction work, community service, frequent 12-step meetings, and meditation. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Dave raises his hands during yoga practice on the front lawn of Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger
Rush tends to the chickens at the Utterback farm. The henhouse is moved regularly in order to fertilize the farmland and maintain healthy soil. The eggs are gathered, sold, and used for meals at Jacob’s Ladder. Photo: Rebecca Kiger

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