In the spring of 2010, 29 men said goodbye to their families for the last time. They went to work as usual, heading a thousand feet underground to mine coal for the benefit of Massey Energy. Massey could not, however, be bothered to safeguard their efforts by maintaining safe conditions in the mine. The independent commission's report to the governor is subtitled: "a failure of basic coal mine safety practices."
This wasn't a mistake. It wasn't as if someone forgot to switch on a fan, or failed to read a gauge. It was the direct result of willful defiance of the ground rules for keeping people alive underground. One of the site supervisors pled guilty to conspiring to impede the efforts of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Let me repeat that: site management, directed by Massey higher-ups, made a deliberate choice to subvert efforts to improve conditions in the Upper Big Branch mine.
Massey's CEO, Don Blankenship, served a well-deserved prison term as a consequence. It was cold comfort, no doubt, to the families of the 29 men who died, but it was an attempt at justice, at least.
The purpose of prison is threefold: to prevent further crimes by the convicted, to punish them by taking away their liberty, and to spur them to reflect and amend their lives in the future. I'm sorry to say we're one for three with Don Blankenship. He felt the loss of liberty keenly, tweeting vociferously about the injustice of his conviction. The "reflect and amend your life" part? Nope. The "prevent further crimes" part? Also nope.
Last night my husband said to me, "Did you hear who's running for the West Virginia Senate seat? Who is the very worst person in West Virginia?" I knew instantly that he meant Don Blankenship.
I've posted before about the relationship West Virginians have with industry: the villager-pillager symbiosis, so to speak. It doesn't make sense to me, but I have the luxury of living far away these days. I am stunned, though -- genuinely floored -- that someone convicted in a court of law for conspiring to maximize profit at the expense of human life would think himself fit to represent the people of West Virginia in the Senate.
Twenty-nine men died in Raleigh County because Don Blankenship thought his profits mattered more than human suffering. Twenty-nine men were trapped underground in a fireball fueled by coal dust and methane and greed. Many of my Raleigh County friends added black ribbons to their Facebook profile pictures in the wake of the disaster. Miners don't need cyber-ribbons. They need safe working conditions and safe water supplies, uncontaminated by the waste from their workplaces. They need justice.
Don Blankenship has made it clear that he thinks justice is less important than money. If you check out his Twitter feed, you'll see that he also thinks truth is for losers. He shouldn't go to the Senate. He should go back to prison.