Firefighters receive more than praise from local ministry

By Joe Garcia

Female inmates working at a Malibu fire camp annually receive donated gift bags from a local prison ministry.

Members of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Thousand Oaks collect cosmetic and hygiene items, candy, snacks, and other available treats and necessities for the women year-round, according to a Thousand Oaks Acorn article by Becca Whitnall.   

Each winter, the gift packages are put together and given to the 100 or so women serving out the tail-end of their sentences at Malibu Conservation Camp 13.

“It’s a way to thank the women for what they’re doing,” Bob Fitch, a founding member of Emmanuel’s prison ministry, told Whitnall. The prison ministry was formed about 20 years ago when a past employee of Fitch’s was convicted of murdering her husband.

Fitch believes the woman was wrongly convicted. He and his family regularly visited her at the California Institution for Women (CIW) and asked church members to pray for her. During their visits, the Fitches also met and spoke with other prisoners.

Most notably among these other women was Gloria Killian, a former law school student convicted of murder. After 16 years of incarceration, Killian was eventually exonerated of her conviction, the article reported.

Once vindicated, she began an action committee at the prison that, besides its other functions, initiated a gift bag program for prisoners.

“Our gift bags are a break-off of Gloria’s program,” Fitch said. “They were providing them for so many prisons that we agreed to put together bags for Fire Camp 13.”

The 100 or so women at the camp are on call 24/7 to provide assistance in suppressing wildfires. They have earned the right through good behavior to finish out the remainder of their sentences there, explained Bill Sessa, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s fire camps program, to reporter Whitnall.

“They work in crews of about 12 or 14 people and start with a chain saw…” said Sessa. “Often they have to hike into backcountry with 60 or 70 pounds on their backs before they even get to the fire line.”

When women inmates ask why the church members do this, Fitch said the answer is easy. “We’re doing it because the Bible tells us to.” He added, “Also, these women are human beings who have made a terrible mistake early in their lives but now are making amends somehow for the past. We want to help them with that.”

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