Formerly incarcerated firefighters can now get fire protection jobs when released.
A law passed three years ago allows them to apply to have their criminal record expunged, the Marin Independent Journal reported.
A forestry and recruitment program started by two formerly incarcerated people smoothed the way.
One of the beneficiaries is Benjamin Fowler, who said, “As soon as I heard about the law being passed, it was probably a two-year process. But when I got to the fire camp, I knew that’s where I was supposed to be.”
He was serving his second 10-year prison term when in September 2020 he heard about the firefighting program.
Fowler’s good behavior enabled him to become eligible for the program. He applied to the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s conservation camp. Fowler underwent a certification and physical training before his selection to be a CDCR firefighter.
Fowler would have been unemployable to do the job in the outside because of his criminal record. AB 2147 changed that.
Prior to AB 2147, California was experiencing a two-way problem: mass wildfires but with a shortage of firefighters.
About 50 people started the six-month program, but only 10 graduated.
“When they’re with us, they’re choosing to be better people for themselves, for their friends and family, for their community,” said Cari Chen, the program’s recruitment director. “It’s not just a job, it’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle.”
Fowler will be working in the Mendocino National Forest. He considers the best part of his job is that his son brags to his friends about what his dad does for work.