The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia: Drug Dealing and Drug Abuse

“The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” is a documentary about a family referred to as the White family. They live at Boone County, West Virginia, a region that is renowned for moonshining, a culture of lawlessness and rebellion, and clan feuding. The documentary follows the exploits of Bertie Mae White, the widow of the family patriarch, D. Ray White, her remaining children and grandchildren. The attorneys and law enforcement in Boone County, in interviews, say that the White family is involved in all sort of criminal activities including robberies, shootouts, drug abuse, drug dealing, murder and wild partying. In an interview, the son of the late D. Ray White, Jesco White, says that their lives have been like one long party and they have really liked it like that.

The family is also especially open with their endeavours. They do not hide their criminal activities to the interviewer. This family consists of outlaws who do not work by the rules of the society. Instead, they live with the consequences of their choice of livelihood by having to get in and out of jail. Also, the Whites are the only people who still preserve a dancing version that stems from early Irish people when they moved into America. They still enforce a rare and lawless form of law which promotes violence

Drug Dealing and Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is prevalent in the film. In the White family, they are especially open about their cases of drug abuse. At a certain point in the film, Jesco says that he suffers brain damage as a result of puffing gasoline for 10 years.  He however does not know for sure which brain cell was affected but he still loves getting high on drugs. The whole family is displayed as a pill snorting group of individuals who care nothing about their privacy. A theme of poverty and corruption also shows up through the entire film as a result of the dominating coal industry.

Bertie Mae White compares drug dealing to the computer industry and says that “the computers and the drugs is going to take the world over”. This shows that she trusts drug dealing will take her family a step ahead. Mamie White shares with the interviewer that she has ten pills she intends to sell at $2 profit per pill. She also says that when Jesco started abusing drugs, they could not do anything about it. They now prefer him either drug or high on drugs. Mamie also drinks and says that she prefers bottled beer as she can always break the bottle and uses it as a weapon.

Kirk White says he been in prison so many times he can’t even count. He has been in trouble for fighting, drug charges among others, he is so daring as to take pills while being interviewed. He admits that he will not waste a chance to take a pill if he gets one. Derek White shares the drugs he prefers to others, giving a whole list. Drug abuse is rather prevalent in this film.

This is one community in which drug abuse is generally accepted. It is no big deal that anyone is doing drugs. When they are going to rehab, they don’t think it is any big deal. Instead, they stop on the way to pick each other. One thing that may be blamed for this disregard for self-preservation is the coal industry which is ridden with many accidents and exploitation. The workers are not even sure they will see another day.

Social disorganization theory

Social disorganization theory is based on the fact that crime rates are unevenly distributed in in a city. Crime is instead concentrated in certain areas of the city and remains stable in other areas of the city despite the continuous change in the population inhabiting each area. In areas where crime rate was found to be high, crime rate remained relatively high despite the race or ethnic orientation of the people who live in that area at any particular time. It has also been discovered that crime-prone groups also decreased their criminal activities when they moved to other areas with lower crime rates. Through these observations, it was concluded that crime was a function of neighbourhood dynamics rather than a function of the people living in the neighbourhoods (Cullen & Agnew 2002).

Two factors contribute to these observations. First, researchers have found that areas with a high economic deprivation have a high population turnover. This means that these areas have a higher residential mobility and such areas are always being inhabited by new immigrants who leave the regions as soon as they can afford to do so. The mobility and heterogeneity of these areas in turn lead to a socially disorganized region (Cullen & Agnew 2002). Institutions of social control such as families, schools and churches were found to be weak and unable to manage the crime rate in the area. Second, such areas were also found to have a tradition of crime which was passed from one generation to another through exposure and observation. It turns out that a socially disorganized community assists crime and delinquency to thrive in two ways; through lack of behavioural management mechanism and the cultural transmission of a tradition of crime and rebellion.

According to recent studies, social disorganisation can lead to an increased crime rate as a result of its ability to decrease collective ability and social capital. Collective ability relates to the credence that members of a community are able to effectively control the possibility of bad behaviours in the community while social capital enhances togetherness and trust among residents. Especially important in this approach is the fact that there is an intergeneration sharing of information regarding proper child upbringing within a neighbourhood.

In the case in the film, social disorganisation leads to crime when the family structure is broken down by criminal activities and neglect. We also note that the culture of rebellion and criminality has been passed through generations and so this is a socially caused problem. The family structure once broken leads to a generation that only relies on the criminal behaviours that are passed between peers. We note that crime is in almost the entire family and the children in the family are already considering getting absorbed into the ways of the family (Cullen & Agnew 2002).

The community is full of new immigrants in the form of new coal miners who come into this community in an attempt to make a living there. They get into these communities and get into the ways of the community due to the disregard for personal life which is cultivated by both the lawlessness in the community, and the low income, exploitation and high risk in the coal industry. These coal miners become a potential market of drugs which are sold by the different family members.

Rational choice theory

Rational choice theory assumes that all complex social phenomena can be explained using simple individual actions that comprise them. This standpoint argues that the basic unit of the society is the separable human act. To explain social change and social institutions, we need to be able to explain how they come up as a result of the individuals’ interaction and the action (Shoemaker, 2000).

Rational choice theory argues that crimes are motivated by individual preferences, goals and wants of the individuals. They act within limited constraints and on the basis of what they know about the conditions present at a certain point and time. In simple words, rational choice theory is based on purely basic terms and the hope to get to an end. Since individulas cannot achieve all their preferences, they are forced to make choices regarding both their goals and how to achieve these goals (Heath, 1976).

Rational choice theories insist that individuals must anticipate the outcomes of the different courses of action and work towards the alternative that will result in more satisfaction on their part. Rational choice theorists, therefore, start their study from the action point of view and reduce all other social phenomena to these actions. It is also important to note that rational choice theories argue that the individual planning a crime weighs the risk of being caught and the punishment for his actions if caught against the reward he gets if he succeeds. It argues that people do those things that lead to rewards and avoid those for which they are punished. People get involved in certain crimes because they can be rewarding, satisfying, fun and simple. From this perspective, using rewards and punishment as a means for conditioning determines the behaviour of humans. This theory is based on the idea that people are rational beings whose behaviour can be controlled by fear of punishment (Shoemaker, 2000).

This theory assumes that crime is a personal choice. Individual decision making processes, therefore, play a principal role in whether one commits a crime or not. Every offender is therefore individually to blame for their actions.

Using this theory in the case of the White family is very applicable. The White family is seen to be committing those crimes either for fun, or for profit. A good example is that of Mamie. Mamie says that she is going out to sell drugs for the profit of two dollars per pill. This implies that without the profit, she would have opted to do something else. Those who take drugs also opt to take them either with the intention of relieving stress or just for fun. They even pay for them and lose money just for the good feeling (Heath, 1976).

Criminal Justice policies

To solve crime issues according to the social disorganization theory, the government needs to invest more on development of areas where crime is more prevalent. Imprisonment, on the other hand, must be balanced with the financial implications that arise from it. Instead, governments should concentrate more on the root causes of the crimes and solve them. This theory argues that private investments and public spending should therefore be concentrated on areas which are most impoverished.

Social disorganization theory also requires that family preservation programs be funded since it is possible for families to prevent their children from getting involved in criminal activities. Strong families are also able to work towards the reduction of social disorganization in their communities.

On the other hand, rational choice theory suggests that criminal activities can be reduced using severe punishment and aggressive law enforcement. It argues that these could dissuade criminals from getting involved in criminal activities. Arresting criminals and reducing their population in the community will also reduce the rate of crime and is therefore a workable justice system (Hindess, 1988).

Another method that could be used to reduce crimes is by increasing alternative opportunities so that individuals get involved in more constructive activities and help in the growth of their economies. This can be done by promoting talents, increasing employment and supporting entrepreneurship. If this is done, individuals will have an option which does not involve risks such as getting imprisoned and yet the results will be good. Personal development programmes will also work towards crime reduction.

Social disorganisation theory against rational theory

Though the rational theory has a big following, its biggest weakness is its assumption that every offender calculates the weight of his consequences before getting himself involved. However, it is a fact that most offenders do not think they will get caught before they commit the crime. Compared to the Social disorganisation, it also seems not to work towards solving the real cause of crime. According to the arguments of some researchers, as the punishments are increased, criminal activities should be seen to reduce. At some point, the threshold should actually be reached at which it no longer reasonable for an offender to get involved in the offending behaviour. This, however, does not happen. Instead, offenders are seen to get involved in more and more risky behaviours even in situations where getting caught could lead to very ugly forms of punishment and even execution.

On the other hand, social disorganization theory shows better results when applied. It has been proved that improving the conditions of living in a crime ridden area reduces crime rate. The social disorganisation theory, therefore, produces better crime eradication techniques than the rational theory.

In the case of the Whites, their rate of crime could best be reduced using the social disorganization theory. It is therefore advisable that the policies suggested in this theory be implemented. First, it would be advisable to implement rules that govern the mining of coal so that working conditions are improved. Investing in the area would also reduce the rate of crime and give hope to the community. However, rehabilitation and imprisonment of law breakers and drug abusers should still be used (Shoemaker, 2000).


The case of the White family and drug abuse is an acute one. In dealing with it, government agencies should employ all tactics to reduce the criminal activities in the families. There are instances where one would think that the family structure has collapsed. Improving the living conditions should be made a priority as this will make it easier to reduce the rate of crime in the area. Strict law enforcement policies should however not be done away with as they too are important in this context.  Some crimes would reduce if criminals were punished more severely. These methods of dealing with crime would however be used together.


Cullen & Agnew (2002). Criminological Theory: Past to Present (Essential Readings). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury

Shoemaker, D. (2000). Theories of Delinquency. NY: Oxford Univ. Press.

Heath, A. (1976). Rational Choice and Social Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hindess, B. (1988). Choice, Rationality and Social Theory. London: Unwin Hyman.

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