Life, plus opportunity, gives me the pleasure of turning a lesson into a amazing journey. Currently I am an “inmate firefighter” — I am incarcerated, but doing my time at Fire Camp, putting out fires for the people of California.
Everyday I’m awake at six am, even on weekends, to be counted. After that I’m getting ready for the “grade” — the grade is my assigned duty. I’m on a 17 man crew, with all types of awesome tools and gear. The work we do is extremely dangerous, we work and operate heavy equipment, like power saws, hand tools, and large machinery, like a Chippers. We sleep many of the nights on the fire, actually bed down in areas of the burn. We call that area, the “black.” For the most part mountain lions stay far from sight, but we do spot fresh tracks often. We see deer everyday. My crew knows if I see a snake, I’m screaming loudly.
We do a lot of control burns, especially in National Parks. All of January we burned piles of trees, stacked up as tall and wide as two story homes. We chop up the trees and put them out on display for the people of the community, to use for fire wood. In the fire season of 2016, our crew broke a fire-season record, we stayed out from our camp 42 days fighting numerous fires. One of the fires we fought was so far down south, I saw the fence of the Mexican border for the first time in my life. All across California, people wave and post signs thanking us for our help. We feel wonderful knowing they appreciate our hard work.
The author with his family.
We do everything as a crew — showering, eating, and sleeping. We’re highly trained, and certified. I’m older than most of the guys, I’m a couple of months shy of 55 years old. I spend a lot of my days climbing mountains, cutting down trees, and organizing them in a proper way. My knees, ankles, and heart get a workout like professional athletes getting paid millions.
One day before I started training in 2015, I came down on my right foot wrong, and sprained it. It took me 25 minutes to take a five minute walk to the Jamestown infirmary. The correctional officer who cleared me to go get checked out offered me a wheel chair ride, but I told him I could make it on my own. The doctor told me I’d need a miracle to make it through the fire fighting training the very next morning. He gave me an ace bandage and a bottle of aspirin. He also encouraged me to show up for the training assignment class, because if I didn’t, I would be written up as a program failure. He explained how I needed to show up and explain my injury, and said maybe they would reschedule me. I was devastated. The thought of having to go back to reception was depressing. So the morning of the start of training I slowly walked out the dorm for fire-fighting training. The test included a mile run at under 9 minutes, a two-mile power-walk, burpees, push-ups, jumping jacks, and more. I was the first to march back into the dorm with a certificate two weeks later. That night I thought of the Bible verse, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13.
And as challenging it is to be a fire fighter, it’s extremely hard to deal with the extras that comes with being a prisoner. I actually began writing this months ago, it’s just really hard to keep up with the emotions that are never ending in this kind of environment. My primary sentence is fulfilled and overdue, so I’m waiting for the door to open for me.
- Land of the free? Land of the incarcerated.
- Sister Warriors, Convening for Incarcerated Women and Girls