Johnsie Gooslin spent Jan. 16, 2015, tending his babies — that’s what he called his marijuana plants. More than 70 of them were growing in a hydroponic system of his own design. Sometimes, he’d stay in his barn for 16 hours straight, perfecting his technique.
That night, he left around 8 o’clock to head home. The moon was waning, down to a sliver, which left the sky as dark as the ridges that lined it. As he pulled away, the lights from his late-model Kia swept across his childhood hollow and his parents’ trailer, which stood just up the road from the barn. He turned onto West Virginia Route 65. Crossing Mingo County, he passed the Delbarton Mine, where he hadworked on and off for 14 years before his back gave out. Though Johnsie was built like a linebacker, falling once from a coal truck and twice from end loaders had taken a toll. At 36, his disks were a mess, and sciatica sometimes shot pain to his knees.