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Know the West

Inmates and fire


I fought fire alongside Arizona inmates for 15 years with the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service (“From Prison to Fireline,” HCN, 8/5/19). I am glad HCN took the time to highlight Arizona’s inmate fire program. The personal discussions with the inmates and their opinions of the program carry value for your readers. The lasting social, physical and outdoor skills are invaluable over and above any work they do behind walls. However, the article focuses on an anthropologist’s critical opinion of a program she had never even seen firsthand. Once she puked her guts out on her first hike, she saw the light. I am glad that gave her more respect for the program and helped her change some of her bias against it. People can call it forced labor, but every prisoner I ever worked with was damn happy to be out there, regardless of what they were making. Getting a spot on the fire crew was something they earned, and it’s one day off their sentence while they get paid to be outside. Yes, they usually get the crappier jobs on the fire, but only a shade worse than the regular crews’ work. To highlight the fact that the job is hard, dangerous and underpaid is pretty laughable. I am glad she only needed a doctorate and one day on a fire to figure that out. 

Dan Feola 
Fayetteville, North Carolina