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.
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.