Jessica Lilly Published

LISTEN: One Woman Journeys Back to Appalachia For Her Son


Paula Riley Thomas was living in Alexandria, Va. in 1991 when her son James was born. She moved back to McDowell County, W.Va. when James was a year old to escape a domestic violence situation. She struggled to recover emotionally but found some hope in her Christian faith and writing poetry.

Listen to hear her story and a poem she wrote about her son, James, shortly after she moved back to McDowell in 1992.

Excerpts from Paula’s Story

“I’ve been raped, how many times,” Paula said. “I can’t tell you how good God has been to me. I should have been dead a long time ago. With God I was meant to be here. … My son he saved my life.”

“Any time I was ready to give up I never wanted to leave him alone.”

Paula says the first rape happened years before James was born. Ever since then she didn’t feel clean. But she kept her faith and remembered what she learned in church – that Jesus loves her. The son of God, according to the Christian theology.

When she had her own son it brought an inexplicable joy, strength, and desire to live. She writes about the day James was born in a poem called, “Colors of Life and Love”.

The colors in the poem represent key people and memories from that day. The halls of Yellow represent the hospital. Pink was the doctors and nurse. Brown is Paula’s sisters. Green is her mother. Blue is James and Red is health complications she had and blood.