Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California's blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour—and about 200 of them are women. Jaime Lowe takes readers inside the women's fire-camp operations, narrating deeply personal histories and the emotional and physical intensity of firefighting.
... remarkable ... Lowe writes with an affection for the women with whom she spent four years while writing Breathing Fire. As readers get to know Carla, Selena, Sonya, Marquet, Whitney and Alisha and the families who love and worry over them, she brings into sharp relief how an entire class of people are performing labor under conditions approaching complete enslavement. Her important book also points to the uncomfortable truth that the front lines of the fight against climate change are peopled with those society has forgotten.
The California penal system allows prisoners to train and form crews in the Conservation Camp program to fight the state’s all-too-frequent wildfires. Author Lowe spent more than five years in research and intimate interviews with a group of women who chose this path ... By telling this worthy story the author shows the need for reform that would let these women who risk their lives benefit more from the experience after prison.
Journalist Lowe (Mental) tackles climate change, mass incarceration, and the 'war on drugs' in this deeply reported if uneven account of California’s inmate firefighting crews ... the book is at its strongest when it leaves aside the statistics and stays focused on the lives of prisoners as they train to fight wildfires, reflect on their crimes, and struggle to find gainful employment after prison. The result is a powerful and affecting portrait of the 'inherent flaws' of using prison labor to save California from climate disaster.