One Foot in the Fire
Some footage from the documentary, which will accompany the book.
A ruf cut of the sizzle
It’s a little-known fact that some of the most elite wildland firefighters in the country are prisoners. They carry axes and chainsaws and are released into the country’s worst forest fires. They could run. But they don’t. Why?
Because it’s one of the few times in their lives they’ve felt pride. Out on the fires, none of their fire-retardant gear says “prisoner.” So they’re applauded by the locals whose homes and lives they’ve saved. Many of the convicts say it’s the first time they’ve ever received praise of any kind.
I got the California Department of Corrections to grant me unusual access to the inmate firefighter subculture -- spending two years with them in their unique prison and out on fires. I then followed key characters (who became my friends) for years after their release, to see if the character-changing experience of being a wildland firefighter could increase their chances of beating the devestating odds of recidivism. In most cases, it didn’t. The guys are still in and out of prison. In one case, though, it did. - Christian D'Andrea