By Michael Kroll, Sep 1, 2009 3:23 PM
Editor's note: As fires raged in Los Angeles this week, what many Californians didn't know was that they were being fought by a community feared and loathed by many: juvenile and adult prisoners. Michael Kroll, an veteran editor of The Beat Within, offers a closer look at the Conservation Camp program and the positive impact it has both on the fires it fights and the firefighters it employs. The Beat Within facilitates writing workshops in juvenile halls in the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., Maricopa County, Arizona, and more, and partners with community organizations and individuals to bring resources to youth both inside and outside of detention.
Californians owe a huge debt to a segment of the population routinely demonized by politicians and the press: its juvenile and adult prisoners.
A little more than 20 years ago, I wrote an article about the California Youth Authority (West Magazine, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 1989). It was a thoroughly depressing exposé, except in one aspect: the Fire Camps. These are camps in the wooded areas of the State where young men and young women are trained to fight fires during the season, and to reduce the fire hazard year-round by clearing brush and other combustible materials from our forests.