4,000 Prison Inmates Fighting California Wildfires For $2 Per Day

Prisoners often work 24-hour shifts battling raging wildfires. For each day they engage in this dangerous work, they receive two days off their sentences.

By Kit O’Connell @KitOConnell | August 18, 2015

Inmate firefighters from the Fenner Canyon Conservation Camp
Inmate firefighters from the Fenner Canyon Conservation Camp await orders to move out, as the Sawtooth Complex fire moves through Morongo Valley, California, July 13, 2006.

SACRAMENTO, California — With wildfires blazing throughout the parched Western United States, the state of California has found a novel, though ethically questionable, way to save money on the state’s safety budget: Send state prisoners to work on the frontlines fighting forest fires for $2 per day.

“More than 100 wildfires are burning across the West — destroying dozens of homes, forcing hundreds of people to flee and stretching firefighting budgets to the breaking point,” wrote Tim Stelloh for NBC News on Monday. For California, he reported, that means some 14,000 firefighters combating 19 forest fires, including the “Jerusalem fire,” which covered over 25,000 acres before being mostly contained as of Saturday. “[T]he blaze — along with six others — was still sending smoke south across the San Francisco Bay Area,” Stelloh wrote.

About 4,000 low-level felons from California’s state prisons are fighting the fires, operating out of so-called “conservation camps,” according to Julia Lurie, writing on Friday for Mother Jones. “Between 30 and 40 percent of California’s forest firefighters are state prison inmates,” she reported. Inmates who committed certain offenses, like sex crimes or arson, are blocked from entering the firefighting program. Prisoners work in 24-hour shifts during forest fire season, followed by 24 hours off. Prisoners earn $2 a day just by being in the program, plus an additional $2 an hour when they are actively fighting fires.

Additionally, Lurie wrote, “[F]or each day they work in the program, the inmates receive a two-day reduction from their sentences.”

The above-average wages and sentence reductions, however, are hard-won, as the work is hazardous. According to the government fire tracking Incident Information System, ten firefighters were evacuated with minor injuries from the wildfire called the “Cabin Fire.” One firefighter, David Ruhl, died late last month fighting Northern California’s “Frog Fire,” CNN reported on Aug. 1. A spokesman for the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Lurie that there have been “only ‘two or three’ serious injuries and no deaths among inmate firefighters over the past two years.”

Some inmates find the experience a positive one — they eat better, are not racially segregated like in the jails, and live in cabins surrounding by chain-link fences rather than prison walls. Sarah Bufkin, writing for Bustle, quoted one inmate’s praise for the program:

“‘The lieutenant comes out and he goes, “Look, we’ll treat you like men first, firefighters second and prisoners if we have to,”’ [Cory] Sills said. ‘That right there, that stuck in my head for two years now because now I have a chance to be treated like a man.’”

However, the risk of injury or death is leading some to question the program, given the paltry options available to inmates:

“Most inmates, [Buzzfeed’s Amanda] Lewis notes, wouldn’t do this work unless they had to, preferring to stay well away from the raging fires. But they take both the training and the work in stride because the only other option is a return to prison.”

And, according to Julia Lurie, prison reform advocates are worried that the firefighting program is actually preventing more substantial improvements to prison conditions that might cut down on the availability of cheap prison labor:

“The concern was magnified last fall, when lawyers for state Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that extending an early prison-release program to ‘all minimum custody inmates at this time would severely impact fire camp participation—a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.’”


“Obama wants to stop ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ for minorities”

FEBRUARY 11, 2014, 3:00 AM
President Obama reportedly plans to unveil an initiative Thursday aimed at improving the lives of young black and Latino
men and stopping what an administration official called “the school-to-prison pipeline.” (Pablo Martinez Monsivais /
Associated Press)
ASHINGTON – President Obama plans to launch an initiative aimed at
improving the lives of young black and Latino men by bringing businesses and
foundations together with government agencies to change what an
administration official called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
The initiative, which Obama calls “My Brother’s Keeper,” is to be unveiled Thursday, the official
said. It will mark the latest in a series of efforts by the president to spur social change outside the
stalemated legislative process.
The move also represents an escalation of Obama’s efforts to directly target the problems faced by
young men of color.5/13/2014 Obama wants tostop’school-to-prison pipeline’ for minorities – Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-obama-stop-school-prison-pipeline-20140210-story.html#axzz2t2eGfMuX 2/3
During the last five years, Obama has met privately with groups of minority teenagers and young
men in their communities and at the White House. But in his State of the Union speech, Obama
pledged to go further, saying he would bring more of his resources as president to bear on the
social problems that get in the way of success for minority youth.
“I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative
to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential,” he
Thursday’s White House announcement is aimed at fulfilling that pledge, the administration
official said.
Some parts of the campaign likely will involve identifying and changing government policies that
create undue barriers to opportunity.
The official pointed to recent guidelines that the Departments of Education and Justice sent to
school districts that were designed to prompt changing “zero tolerance” school discipline policies
as an example of the kinds of actions that might be involved. Zero-tolerance policies aimed at
potentially disruptive behavior have in many cases had disproportionately harsh impacts on
minority students, particularly boys, the two departments noted.
But much of the initiative is expected to focus on private-sector activities, with the White House
working as a catalyst.
Obama is expected to appear with other prominent men of color to talk about how businesses and
foundations can work together on community-centered initiatives to help children come to school
ready to learn and to keep them away from criminal activity.
The new campaign is meant to build a range of programs boosting everything from literacy and
early learning to efforts at helping young men find jobs and career opportunities, the
administration official said.
The president is expected to announce corporate donations for the campaign, along with a new
government effort to focus federal resources on solving problems facing boys and young men of
Republican elected officials, faith leaders and corporate executives are among those who have
been working on this project for the last several months, aides said.
Several young men and boys will be present for the event, among them participants of the
Chicago-based group “Becoming a Man,” a support group for teens that the president visited on a5/13/2014 Obama wants tostop’school-to-prison pipeline’ for minorities – Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-obama-stop-school-prison-pipeline-20140210-story.html#axzz2t2eGfMuX 3/3
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
trip to Chicago last year.

United States of America’s own special Apartheid: 1874 through today…

“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” New Living Translation This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads 

It is so much easier to turn the other cheek and not see what is happening right around you everyday, or to say “someone” will take care of that situation but not me!

A Sufi Teaching Story

Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.

And seeing them the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried,

“Great God, how isit that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence the voice of God gently and challengingly spoke,

“I did do something, I made you!”

“Convict lease”

“Convict leasing was a system of penal labor practiced in the Southern United States, beginning with the emancipation of slaves at the end of the American Civil War in 1865, peaking around 1880, and officially ending in the last state, Alabama, in 1928. It persisted in various forms until World War II.

Convict leasing provided prisoner labor to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations such as the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. The lessee was responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing the prisoners. While northern states sometimes contracted for prison labor, the historian Alex Lichtenstein notes that,

“only in the South did the state entirely give up its control to the contractor; and only in the South did the physical “penitentiary” become virtually synonymous with the various private enterprises in which convicts labored.”[1]

Corruption, lack of accountability, and racial violence resulted in “one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history.” [2] African Americans, due to “vigorous and selective enforcement of laws and discriminatory sentencing”, made up the vast majority—but not all—of the convicts leased.[3]

The writer Douglas A. Blackmon described the system:

“It was a form of bondage distinctly different from that of the antebellum South in that for most men, and the relatively few women drawn in, this slavery did not last a lifetime and did not automatically extend from one generation to the next. But it was nonetheless slavery – a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.[4]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convict_lease



“When George Washington took office in 1789, he was heralded as the “Father of Our Country” and known throughout history as the first President of the United States. This was not exactly true however. Several men served as leaders of our country before Washington took office, both as Presidents of the Congress and then as Presidents of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, which proceeded the Constitution.”

The Revolving Door to Prisons in America , ” No Exists”

“It’s a story told time and again in this country, even in 2013: A nonviolent offense brands someone a felon and strips them of their voting rights, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

More than a million of these disenfranchised Americans are black. Felony convictions restrict 13 percent of the country’s black male population from voting, prompting critics to portray felon disenfranchisement as an heir to the voter-suppression tactics of the Jim Crow era. Back then, black people eager to cast their ballots encountered poll taxes, literacy tests and violence. Today, the mechanisms of disenfranchisement may be more sophisticated, but they can be just as oppressive, civil rights leaders say.

“….More than 30 states have passed laws in recent years requiring voters to display photo identification, which minorities and low-income Americans disproportionately lack. Just this week, North Carolina’s Republican-dominated Senate approved a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration, cut early voting by a week and require all voters to show specific forms of state-issued ID at the polls.

Then there’s redistricting, the political maneuver by which elected officials redraw the boundaries of representation, often along partisan lines. Critics argue that this practice has diminished the electoral clout of those minorities who do vote. In North Carolina, the Republican majority that passed the new voting laws benefited from a2011 redistricting scheme that placed more than a quarter of the state’s black voters in newly divided precincts and transformed the Republicans’ 7-6 congressional district edge into a steep 9-4 advantage…..” – 

With a felony on one’s record it is not possible to acquire employment, housing….. the only path that is open is the path that leads back to prison………