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Saturday, November 17, 2018


by Ann Bracken

About 1,500 inmates in California prisons are helping the state fight wildfires, including the Camp Fire, for several dollars a day. Yet after inmates with firefighting experience are released, doors at fire departments are often closed. Photo Credit: Stephen Lam/Reuters) —The New York Times, November 15, 2018

Because I’m a prisoner, I put my life on the line
for $2.00 a day + $1.00 an hour when I’m        fighting fires.
I’ve protected California
I saved thousands of dollars’ worth of property—

 I’ve got training in wildland firefighting.
And           I’d love to be a firefighter when I get out.
But I need a few fire science credits
                        &                                 some college courses.
The biggest problem staring me down?
I can’t get licensed
as an EMT
because I have a record.

What kind of sense does that make?
—if all my training and experience
is enough to fight fires          while I’m incarcerated,
it should be enough to fight fires                            once I’m free.

You know how I could live if I was a real firefighter?
I could give my children a sweet little house
Maybe even send them to college                       if I made the $74,000 a year
like a regular firefighter.

You know how I first got here?
I worked in the office, but after awhile,
I knew too much
so they moved me outside to work landscaping.
But I’m real allergic to poison oak.
So if I breathe poison oak in the air
my throat can close up
& I could die.             I figured I might as well be on the fire line if that was the case.

I didn’t volunteer to go to prison.
I didn’t volunteer to go to fire camp
and fight fires.
I volunteer to reduce my time—I
I want to go back to my family
to my children.

Ann Bracken is an activist with a pen. She’s started over more times than she can count and believes that she possesses a strong gene for reinvention driving her desire for change. She’s changed her job and her mind, but never wavers from her commitment to family, friends, writing, and social justice. She’s authored two poetry collections—The Altar of Innocence and No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom, serves as a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review, and co-facilitates a Wilde Readings Poetry Series in Columbia, MD. Her poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in anthologies and journals, including Bared: Contemporary Poetry & Art on Bras & Breasts, Fledgling Rag, and Texture among others. Ann’s poetry has garnered two Pushcart Prize nominations. She offers writing workshops in prisons and community education centers.