Romarilyn Ralston is the program director for Project Rebound at Cal State University, Fullerton.

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Fighting Wildfires for $1 an Hour

by Romarilyn Ralston 09-25-2020
As told to Sojourners.

Incarcerated California firefighters, 2017, by Peter Bohler / Redux

Romarilyn Ralston spoke with Sojourners’ Jenna Barnett about her previous work for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection as a clerk and a trainer for other incarcerated wildfire fighters. In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill clearing the path for inmate firefighters to be eligible for firefighting jobs upon release.

“SINCE WORLD WAR II there have been labor camps in California training incarcerated people to help support Cal Fire on the outside. California has one of the highest fire seasons every year, and it’s getting hotter and hotter because of climate change. So having a workforce of hundreds of well-trained firefighters to cut lines and remove fuel on the sides of mountains for a dollar an hour—it’s a steal. And California saves $100 million a year doing it. On one hand, California is really progressive with our criminal justice reforms, and on the other hand, we’re still so committed to punishment and enslaving, extorting, and treating people inhumanely.