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Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California's Wildfires

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California’s fire season gets hotter, longer, and more extreme every year — fire season is now year-round. Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews. In Breathing Fire, J California’s fire season gets hotter, longer, and more extreme every year — fire season is now year-round. Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews. In Breathing Fire, Jaime Lowe expands on her revelatory work for The New York Times Magazine. She has spent years getting to know dozens of women who have participated in the fire camp program and spoken to captains, family and friends, correctional officers, and camp commanders. The result is a look at how the fire camps actually operate — a story that encompasses California’s underlying catastrophes of climate change, economic disparity, and historical injustice, but also draws on deeply personal histories, relationships, desires, frustrations, and the emotional and physical intensity of firefighting.


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California’s fire season gets hotter, longer, and more extreme every year — fire season is now year-round. Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews. In Breathing Fire, J California’s fire season gets hotter, longer, and more extreme every year — fire season is now year-round. Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews. In Breathing Fire, Jaime Lowe expands on her revelatory work for The New York Times Magazine. She has spent years getting to know dozens of women who have participated in the fire camp program and spoken to captains, family and friends, correctional officers, and camp commanders. The result is a look at how the fire camps actually operate — a story that encompasses California’s underlying catastrophes of climate change, economic disparity, and historical injustice, but also draws on deeply personal histories, relationships, desires, frustrations, and the emotional and physical intensity of firefighting.

30 review for Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California's Wildfires

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shirley McAllister

    Title does not match story I thought this looked like a good book. I love reading about courageous women. The first 20 percent and a few parts after that were good. The rest of the book let me down. This book was not so much about fire fighting. It was more about liberal conservation views and the penal system in California. I felt it was a bit political and I really do not want to read it in my books either right or left. Just wanted to read about courageous women fighting fires. Some might reall Title does not match story I thought this looked like a good book. I love reading about courageous women. The first 20 percent and a few parts after that were good. The rest of the book let me down. This book was not so much about fire fighting. It was more about liberal conservation views and the penal system in California. I felt it was a bit political and I really do not want to read it in my books either right or left. Just wanted to read about courageous women fighting fires. Some might really like it, but it was not for me. I did read the book, I read all the books I start. I was very much disappointed in the content. Thanks to Jaime Lowe, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a copy of the book for an honest review which I have given.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Shank

    In ‘Breathing Fire,’ Jaime Lowe uncovers the benefits and drawbacks of California’s inmate fire program. by Jenny Shank High Country News, June 17, 2021, From the print edition In 2016, a boulder struck and killed 22-year-old Shawna Jones while she battled the Mulholland Fire in Malibu, California. Jones was part of an inmate crew from Correctional Camp 13, making her the first incarcerated woman to die while fighting a fire since 1983, the year women first joined California’s inmate firefighting In ‘Breathing Fire,’ Jaime Lowe uncovers the benefits and drawbacks of California’s inmate fire program. by Jenny Shank High Country News, June 17, 2021, From the print edition In 2016, a boulder struck and killed 22-year-old Shawna Jones while she battled the Mulholland Fire in Malibu, California. Jones was part of an inmate crew from Correctional Camp 13, making her the first incarcerated woman to die while fighting a fire since 1983, the year women first joined California’s inmate firefighting program, which started in 1946. After Jones’ death, the Los Angeles Times published a bare-bones article about the incident. It revealed little about Jones, but it drew the attention of California-raised journalist Jaime Lowe, who was determined to discover more. Lowe’s years-long investigation resulted in Breathing Fire, an immersive, comprehensive look at Jones’ life and the lives of other incarcerated firefighters, as well as California’s history of inmate firefighting and its growing reliance on it. Given the new reality of California’s fire season, which “lasts 13 months,” as environmental historian Stephen J. Pyne puts it, often all that stands between a family’s home and a conflagration are the imprisoned people that labor, sometimes for 24 hours straight, to restrain the flames. Incarcerated people comprise up to 30% of California’s wildland fire crews. At the time Lowe reported this book, around 200 of these firefighters were female, making up three out of California’s 35 inmate fire camps. Imprisoned people do difficult work, establishing “a line, usually a few feet wide, by cutting through trees and shrubs and removing anything that could burn.” For this grueling and risky labor, they earn $2.56 per day while in camp, and up to $2 an hour while fighting fires. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimated that paying such minuscule wages for this vital work, rather than the standard hourly rate, “saved the state at least $1.2 billion” over 13 years. Lowe delves into California’s history of compulsory labor, including a cruel law passed in 1850 that allowed white people to accuse Indigenous people of lacking employment, whereupon they could be arrested and sold into four months of slavery at a public auction. Lowe draws a direct line from this to the inmate labor that contributed to the construction of much of California’s infrastructure, including building the Pacific Coast Highway and carving out the 22-mile stretch of land to create Sunset Boulevard. When World War II brought personnel shortages, corrections officers began forcing incarcerated people to fight fires. Lowe vividly paints the realities of present-day firefighting. Her precise descriptions of sensory details — the air is “congested with blackened particles” — and firefighting and inmate lingo make readers feel as if they’re in camp with the women, jumping out of bunks at the 3 a.m. siren and piling into a buggy to race off toward a roaring wildfire. Lowe also weaves in accounts of the women’s lives, including their stints in standard prison facilities before they joined the firefighting program. Most were sentenced for drug offenses, as only nonviolent offenders who complete an intense training regimen can join the program. But even though her interviewees see the benefits of their work, Lowe notes that “most bristled at the idea that they volunteered.” When an incarcerated woman wants to avoid the trauma of prison, from sexual assault to solitary confinement, “she might be looking for any alternative,” Lowe writes. “She might even be willing to risk her life.” Breathing Fire doesn’t shy away from complicated truths. For many women, the program offers relative dignity and purpose compared to the grim realities of incarceration. Besides receiving good food and exercise, they get to live in the forest of Malibu, where their families can visit them under pine trees rather than the fluorescent lights of a prison. Fire-threatened residents hold up signs to thank them for their work. Because the forestry programs are popular among imprisoned people, talked up as “a prison Shangri-La — lobster, shrimp, ocean breezes,” there is no sustained opposition to them, despite the low pay. But even these benefits are short-lived: Formerly incarcerated people face many obstacles if they seek to build a career in firefighting, given laws that prevent the state from hiring ex-felons and parolees. As Lowe pieces together Shawna Jones’ story through public records and interviews with her fellow inmate firefighters, family and friends, it becomes clear that Jones felt the firefighting program turned her life around. Had she lived, she would have tried to pursue it as a career. In recent years, the firefighting program has dwindled. In 2016, 65% of California voters approved Proposition 57, which allows nonviolent felons with convictions for multiple crimes to seek early parole after they complete the full sentence for their most significant crime. Its backers aimed to ease prison overcrowding, but it also depleted the pool of potential firefighters. The proposition highlighted a point that David Fathi, the director of the ACLU National Prison Project, expressed to Lowe: “If these people are safe to be out and about and carrying axes and chainsaws, maybe they didn’t need to be in prison in the first place.” In the meantime, as questions surrounding criminal justice loom, the megafires will continue to rage, keeping California in perpetual need of firefighters. Jenny Shank’s story collection, "Mixed Company," won the George Garrett Fiction Prize, and will be published by Texas Review Press in October 2021. Her novel "The Ringer" won the High Plains Book Award. https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.7/ideas...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    California uses inmates to fight forest fires. In 2020 with terrible fires and with COVID-19 ravaging prisons, this became even more obvious to those of us who haven't paid any attention to that before. Without inmate firefighters, California might burn to the ground. Obviously, it's a difficult, potentially deadly job. And we pay them peanuts for it. Ms. Lowe follows the story of Shawna Jones, an inmate firefighter who was due to be released in 3 months, who was killed by falling debris while c California uses inmates to fight forest fires. In 2020 with terrible fires and with COVID-19 ravaging prisons, this became even more obvious to those of us who haven't paid any attention to that before. Without inmate firefighters, California might burn to the ground. Obviously, it's a difficult, potentially deadly job. And we pay them peanuts for it. Ms. Lowe follows the story of Shawna Jones, an inmate firefighter who was due to be released in 3 months, who was killed by falling debris while clearing brush during a wildfire. She goes back to Shawna's childhood and youth to what lead to her being incarcerated. She also talks to other women on Shawna's line and other women in the firefighting service at the same time, and how they were affected by her death, and what lead to them being in the prison system. This is a harrowing and heart-wrenching story but it also shows how close to the edge the state of California is in fighting these fires (and why fighting them is part of the problem.) It also shows the frustrating results of an excellent program that produces trained firefighters... who then can't be employed anywhere in the state of California. They can only work for the federal government, which has fewer firefighting jobs that are harder to get and not as many that are local. One woman does manage to do that. But it's a high hurdle, instead of a road to a job and career that can change lives. Which just emphasizes that it's not truly rehabilitation, if we're teaching them skills they can't use. It's just a way to get professional firefighters for $5 a day.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maggie Carr

    It's not quite what I expected of this title, since it details the crimes that got highlighted characters into the system, but I did enjoy learning about the firefighting program, since I didn't even know it existed let alone how it operates. One thing I learned was that with California’s fire season is year-round and roughly 30% of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews with only a few It's not quite what I expected of this title, since it details the crimes that got highlighted characters into the system, but I did enjoy learning about the firefighting program, since I didn't even know it existed let alone how it operates. One thing I learned was that with California’s fire season is year-round and roughly 30% of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews with only a few weeks of training.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. This is a fascinating book about the incarcerated female firefighting crews from the California prison system. The author gets access to about ten of these women and gives the history of each: Childhood, the crimes they committed to end up in jail, their experiences fight fire and their varied lives after prison. She also gives us a history of just how much California has relied of prison labor for the formation of the state through the years to the pre Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. This is a fascinating book about the incarcerated female firefighting crews from the California prison system. The author gets access to about ten of these women and gives the history of each: Childhood, the crimes they committed to end up in jail, their experiences fight fire and their varied lives after prison. She also gives us a history of just how much California has relied of prison labor for the formation of the state through the years to the present day and their fighting some of the world’s most sprawling and intensive fire.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Cliff Moyce

    This book is told through the life stories of real women inmates (some of whom are mothers) fighting major wild fires in California now or in the very recent past. This case study approach is further enhanced in the audiobook version by interviews recorded in prison with some of these women (one of which is truly heartbreaking). My admiration for the toughness and bravery of these women is enormous. Running into a fire means overcoming every instinct, experience and learned behaviour in your brai This book is told through the life stories of real women inmates (some of whom are mothers) fighting major wild fires in California now or in the very recent past. This case study approach is further enhanced in the audiobook version by interviews recorded in prison with some of these women (one of which is truly heartbreaking). My admiration for the toughness and bravery of these women is enormous. Running into a fire means overcoming every instinct, experience and learned behaviour in your brain. Anyone who has done emergency responding or been in the military knows what it is like to force yourself into danger for the benefit of others. But as the women in this book point out to the author, though they are classed as volunteers it was either fight fires (‘go to camp’) or remain at the mercy of sadistic, sexually abusing prison guards in a women’s prison. For that reason they refuse to accept the ‘volunteer’ tag and instead regard going to camp as surviving. Ie they are incentivised for reasons of personal safety to go and fight wild fires! That is crazy and wrong. And once they are released from prison they continue to be punished for the rest of their lives because employers don’t want to know anyone with a criminal record (which creates the conditions for further offending). Will anything be done about the serious issues highlighted in this book? I fear not. Justice and incarceration are big business in the US. Money wins while prisoners and the victims of their crimes continue to lose, big time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    CK

    4.5 stars, really. This is a monumental piece of reporting that shouldn't have surprised me the way it did. It's journalism the way it should be done - considered, painstaking. (Five years of interviews fueled this book.) Unlike so much "news" of today, it doesn't traffic in the ephemeral world of clicks and likes; it plays the long game of history and storytelling. I took the cover at face value, expecting to learn, well, about female inmate firefighters in California. What surprised me - and ev 4.5 stars, really. This is a monumental piece of reporting that shouldn't have surprised me the way it did. It's journalism the way it should be done - considered, painstaking. (Five years of interviews fueled this book.) Unlike so much "news" of today, it doesn't traffic in the ephemeral world of clicks and likes; it plays the long game of history and storytelling. I took the cover at face value, expecting to learn, well, about female inmate firefighters in California. What surprised me - and eventually delighted me, after some consideration - was that the author approached this topic from all angles, not just a descriptive historical one. The author connects the dots among firefighting, climate change, California's prison system, racism, and American history, and also goes much more deeply into its individual characters' stories than I expected. At first I was thrown by the journalism at length about the inmates' lives as free citizens; then I realized that was the whole point. These inmates are *people*, and the author wants us to remember that the next time we see a TV story, sadly ever-frequent now, about deadly California fires. These are the people at the front line, risking their lives for others who mostly don't know about them - until this book - let alone appreciate them. I like how the author worked in George Floyd and COVID-19. Those threads are very much relevant to her subject matter, and it felt oddly fresh to see those topics covered in book form. They've been all over the web, sure, but they're not problems just of 2020. Minus 0.5 stars for slight journalistic mistakes, which I would not expect from a writer of NYT caliber. Shaver Lake is hundreds of miles away from Antelope Valley, so I think she meant to reference another body of water. The resort casino is spelled Pechanga, not Pechango. These incidental errors don't affect my admiration of the book; I lay them at the feet of her fact-checking and editing team. I went into this book with nothing but curiosity, i.e., a minimal level of interest. I left feeling like the author not only shined a light brilliantly on her subject matter, but also opened multiple doorways of learning for the reader. Anything that gets the synapses firing in unexpected ways gets my strong recommendation: go read this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jackie McMillan

    (3.5 stars) Breathing Fire is an interesting book, particularly for someone living outside of America, with little idea of the details of their prison system. Set mostly in California, an area beset by worsening fire storms due to climate change, Jaime Lowe's book is focused on female inmates who get "paid the prison salaries of $2.56 a day and up to $2 an hour when they were out on the line, fighting fire." If you knew nothing about these crews of incarcerated women fighting fires, you were not (3.5 stars) Breathing Fire is an interesting book, particularly for someone living outside of America, with little idea of the details of their prison system. Set mostly in California, an area beset by worsening fire storms due to climate change, Jaime Lowe's book is focused on female inmates who get "paid the prison salaries of $2.56 a day and up to $2 an hour when they were out on the line, fighting fire." If you knew nothing about these crews of incarcerated women fighting fires, you were not alone. What's even more impressive is these are the crews who work "on the ground, executing grunt work, the first line of defense cutting circles to try to contain flames and stop the forward progress of a fire," – in other words, risking their lives. Marching into an out-of-control fire is a situation where "the impulse is to run" which must overlay with the background desire to escape incarceration, and be very hard to overcome. "One of the reasons women apply for fire came is not because they want to fight fire. It's because they want their family to see them in a nice place. A respectable place. A place that doesn't require inmate searches before and after a visit." While taking on this underpaid life threatening labour is a choice for inmates, it comes with a range of privileges that make the choice feel coerced. "Camp is the way to go. You get better visits. Better food. Everything is better in camp," has to be balanced with the idea that "'volunteer' is a relative term for the incarcerated." Despite this, across the stories of the inmates contained in this book, you can definitely see the benefit that being an inmate firefighter has for the women: "So, for people to actually look at me like, as if I'm accomplishing things, which I am, that's a big deal." It was almost enough to make you feel good about fire camp as a personal and career development opportunity to break the cycle of incarceration for the women by giving "inmates skills to take their lives in new directions", well until you read about how America sucker punches these inmates by their recorded felonies making them ineligible to be firefighters when they complete their sentences. Luckily a bill has passed in 2020 to make this situation less exasperating. In terms of the writing, Breathing Fire is an easy-to-read book. However it felt like Chapter 10—a history lesson of the Californian penal system—was disruptive to the flow of this book, and should have been integrated into the women's stories and experiences better. With thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, MCD for sending me a copy to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Lisby

    I really wanted to read this and had a couple of Audible credits...so I used one to get the book rather than buying it on Kindle or get the physical book since I'm trying to decrease the amount of stuff I have. The story is interesting, but they have the author and another woman listed as readers. One of them is doing most of the reading, I guess, but she either really changes her voice for a sentence or two (or even just a few words) for no apparent reason or the other woman reads those lines. I really wanted to read this and had a couple of Audible credits...so I used one to get the book rather than buying it on Kindle or get the physical book since I'm trying to decrease the amount of stuff I have. The story is interesting, but they have the author and another woman listed as readers. One of them is doing most of the reading, I guess, but she either really changes her voice for a sentence or two (or even just a few words) for no apparent reason or the other woman reads those lines. It's not to act like she's talking as someone else to emphasize that person's words...at one point she was just describing what one of the women was wearing. It's jarring and totally unnecessary. It's almost like they recorded it before the author finished the physical book then went back and dubbed in parts that she added on a final edit or something...then the narrator forgot what voice she used, couldn't do that voice again for some reason, or they couldn't get her and used someone else. Glad I used a credit and didn't actually buy it. Okay, I finished the book...there are a couple of other issues besides all the weird voice changes that continued throughout the book. At one point the author wrote about the first ever woman firefighter from NY, Molly Williams... She's talking about having a scarf wound around her head. The narrator pronounced it like a wound on the body! WTH?! And the narrator is an American actress (which makes the bizarre voice cuts all the weirder), so it's not a matter of how someone from another country might pronounce a word differently. Then in the epilogue, the narrator says, "On Friday, September 11th, 2022, Governor Newsom..." Really?! 2022?!?! I have no idea if it's written that way in the physical book, but that is a glaring mistake since it's currently 2021! The one reason it's nice to have the Audible version is you get to hear snippets of the interviews with the actual women at the end. The narration issues aside, this is a really good book that highlights more changes are needed in the criminal justice and prison systems, including preparing inmates for release. Paying the inmates so little for doing such a dangerous job is insulting to say the least. And to train them and for many give them a career they want to continue once released then give them little to no opportunity to compete for those jobs is just ridiculous. As one person said, if we can give them all these tools that could be potential weapons and send them out to work, maybe they shouldn't have been in prison in the first place. It's interesting that when the first women's prison was establish, it had a female board and the focus was on training the women for careers once they were out. As soon as it was transferred under the control of the men's board, that disappeared. Of course with private for-profit prisons, rehabilitation and training will never happen. Things have to change in this country.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    A fascinating look at the injustices in the prison labor system, focusing specifically on female firefighters in California. From exceptionally little pay to inconsistencies and favoritism in how inmates are chosen for forestry, to how severely underutilized this training is when inmates leave prison, Lowe highlights tremendous room for improvement in the rehabilitative potential of the prison system. That said, I had hoped for a lot more. While there are a few brief snippets of what it's like to A fascinating look at the injustices in the prison labor system, focusing specifically on female firefighters in California. From exceptionally little pay to inconsistencies and favoritism in how inmates are chosen for forestry, to how severely underutilized this training is when inmates leave prison, Lowe highlights tremendous room for improvement in the rehabilitative potential of the prison system. That said, I had hoped for a lot more. While there are a few brief snippets of what it's like to go out and work a fire, and what risks inmates take on in those roles, there is very little detail on the actual firefighting. Camp conditions and training programs are discussed in broad strokes, but there is almost no texture to these accounts. There are hints to the primacy of relationships among crew members, but that aspect is heavily glossed over. A handful of inmate firefighters are profiled, and Lowe is intentional about portraying them as much more than their crimes, but the profiles are short and dispersed throughout the book, making it hard to keep the women straight or feel much connection to any of them. I was left feeling like this book substantially overpromised and underdelivered. But if you're interested in learning more about how the prison system takes the time to train exceptionally well-prepared inmates and then release them to a world where no public agency is willing to hire them because of their record and how inefficient and wasteful and disrespectful that entire system is, this it may very well galvanize you. My appreciation to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the eARC in exchange for the review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    What a great and informative story. I never knew California uses female inmates to fight forest fires. With terrible fires and COVID-19 ravaging prisons, this became even more obvious to those of us who haven't paid any attention to that before. Without inmate firefighters, California might burn to the ground. What a deadly and difficult job the prisoners were made to do with very little pay. Shawna Jones, an inmate firefighter was due to be released in three months was killed fighting these dan What a great and informative story. I never knew California uses female inmates to fight forest fires. With terrible fires and COVID-19 ravaging prisons, this became even more obvious to those of us who haven't paid any attention to that before. Without inmate firefighters, California might burn to the ground. What a deadly and difficult job the prisoners were made to do with very little pay. Shawna Jones, an inmate firefighter was due to be released in three months was killed fighting these dangerous fires. I never knew that California's fire season is year round. About 30 percent of the wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. About 200 0f these firefighters are women. This is a fascinating book. Jaime Lowe gets access to about ten of these women from the prison system who are fighting these dangerous fires and gives the history of each. Their childhood history, the crimes they committed to end up in jail, their experiences with fire fighting and their lives after prison. A great book and author. Thanks Jaime Lowe for the great read. Highly recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Terry94705

    Impressive and very current study of inmate wildfire fighting in California. In addition to interviews/ profiles of the women who train to be on the crews, Lowe goes into the history of incarceration and prison labor in California, as well as the increasing danger of wildland fires caused by climate change and ill considered policies. Fire fighting in the wild is shown as brutal and frightening work, and you wonder that anyone would do it without serious compensation. But these inmates fight for Impressive and very current study of inmate wildfire fighting in California. In addition to interviews/ profiles of the women who train to be on the crews, Lowe goes into the history of incarceration and prison labor in California, as well as the increasing danger of wildland fires caused by climate change and ill considered policies. Fire fighting in the wild is shown as brutal and frightening work, and you wonder that anyone would do it without serious compensation. But these inmates fight for these positions—that pay next to nothing—because it gets them away from the numbing horror of prison life. Lowe follows her fire inmates from their lives “before crime” to life after parole. Some are in trouble again very quickly, some make it to higher ground, but it’s clear that the resources for real rehabilitation are sparse, and these women are marked for life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna Hawes

    This is one of those books that breaks your heart but the issues are so important to be aware of. It provides a stark reminder of how both political parties have contributed to mass incarceration and how everyone in California takes benefit from the labor of imprisoned people. Along historical information, the author tells the personal stories of women who fight fires as inmates. I appreciated that she included background for the lives, crimes, and attempted lives after prison for these women. I This is one of those books that breaks your heart but the issues are so important to be aware of. It provides a stark reminder of how both political parties have contributed to mass incarceration and how everyone in California takes benefit from the labor of imprisoned people. Along historical information, the author tells the personal stories of women who fight fires as inmates. I appreciated that she included background for the lives, crimes, and attempted lives after prison for these women. It really showed the mix of structural problems and individual choices that led them on their various paths. We need to do better by these people who literally save lives and land.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.The stories of these brave women who are firefighters and inmates in California’s prison system are compelling, and the book shows a clear need to reform the US prison system. My eyes were opened to the issues of the prison system - though I wish the book had concluded with, or included an appendix on, ways in which civilians can take action on prison reform. Overall, this book is an important read, but the author could have crafted the book better to make I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.The stories of these brave women who are firefighters and inmates in California’s prison system are compelling, and the book shows a clear need to reform the US prison system. My eyes were opened to the issues of the prison system - though I wish the book had concluded with, or included an appendix on, ways in which civilians can take action on prison reform. Overall, this book is an important read, but the author could have crafted the book better to make it a true call to action.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian Hopps

    As much about the prison system as about fire fighting. Interesting book and a lot I had no idea about most of the topic. I liked how she tried to follow the folks she first interviewed in camp as they went though system. I never knew how little the inmates were paid as they fought the fire's. A bit unsettling as things seem to be getting worse, both for prison sentencing and for the fires. As much about the prison system as about fire fighting. Interesting book and a lot I had no idea about most of the topic. I liked how she tried to follow the folks she first interviewed in camp as they went though system. I never knew how little the inmates were paid as they fought the fire's. A bit unsettling as things seem to be getting worse, both for prison sentencing and for the fires.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Grace Hoffmann

    There's some good info in this book but it's a little disorganized. There's a lot going on with women prisoners working as fire fighters for conditions which are better than prison plus the use of prison labor to fight fires at all, plus climate change, plus women ending up in prison for drug offenses. Lots to think about and she writes well, but the book is all over the place There's some good info in this book but it's a little disorganized. There's a lot going on with women prisoners working as fire fighters for conditions which are better than prison plus the use of prison labor to fight fires at all, plus climate change, plus women ending up in prison for drug offenses. Lots to think about and she writes well, but the book is all over the place

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    This book is extremely educational, informative and eye opening. Insight to the firefighting female inmate crews, their issues, trials and disappointments are emotion evoking. Change, change change is required by politicans who have the power to be transformative. An excellent read, very well written, detail orientated.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anjali

    One of the better books I’ve read on the criminal injustice system. The structure and pacing were a bit off (I love a really engrossing nonfiction read, and this wasn’t quite that)— but the facts and the faces were raw and real. It helped that it’s current through 2020/2021. This is California today, no matter what you’ve heard about our progressive politics and being soft on crime and whatever.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    I really liked this book because of all interesting the content. I learned about the penal system, how the women were treated and about the opportunities they had to learn a valuable life skill. I think more States should have programs like this.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Heidi Larson

    An honest look at one of our many good ideas that only recently has a purpose... Inmates fight the California fires, but then couldn't work as firefighters because felons cannot become EMTs until 2020. An honest look at one of our many good ideas that only recently has a purpose... Inmates fight the California fires, but then couldn't work as firefighters because felons cannot become EMTs until 2020.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book does a great of of humanizing women who are otherwise thought of as disposal. It is a story that weaves disparate discussions about forest management and climate change along with penal system history and a consideration of its retributive versus rehabilitative side.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Therese Dotray-Tulloch

    This book was well researched and was a good though very sad story of the unfortunate women who end up in the California prison system fighting fires. The system of forcing felons who have served their time to always be known as felons needs to stop!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hailey Crowel

    I didn't love the structure of this book (it jumped all over the place) but I appreciated learning more about the program and the struggles of the women who fight fire in California. I didn't love the structure of this book (it jumped all over the place) but I appreciated learning more about the program and the struggles of the women who fight fire in California.

  24. 5 out of 5

    H. Joann

    Interesting and informative read. The author's bias shows through but she also provides a lot of history on California and fire, female prisoners and female firefighting prisoners. Worth the read. Interesting and informative read. The author's bias shows through but she also provides a lot of history on California and fire, female prisoners and female firefighting prisoners. Worth the read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kahini

    A good book for learning new information, but not a book I'd read for the writing. A good book for learning new information, but not a book I'd read for the writing.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kaileigh

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maria

  29. 4 out of 5

    Karis

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tess Emily

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