MALIBU (CBSLA.com) — With fire season off to an early start, female inmates in one of California’s prison camps are working together to help prevent and fight wildfires in the Southland.
The 58 women are inmates at Malibu’s Conservation Camp #13, a prison camp jointly operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
This season, the crew has helped fight the Castaic, Glendale and Grand Fires.
“It’s the real deal for them,” said Camp Superintendent Captain Drew Smith of the L.A. County Fire Department.
“We can go out and do the most strenuous work that any of the other hand crews do,” he said.
Inmates carry 20-pound packs, complete with water, meals, and blankets to camp on the mountain, among others.
Veronica Van Muysen, 26, works as First Saw on a fire crew, cutting the cliffsides of Malibu for the past two years.
“It kind of trains you to be someone better,” said 26-year-old Veronica Van Muysen, who said she wants to work on a fire crew when she has finished serving her sentence.
She is accompanied on the fire crew by First Bucker Talisha Uduman, who clears the brush after it is cut down.
“You’re hiking with a 50-pound backpack, some people are hiking with 20-pound saws on top of that. You’re wearing your clothing gear, the fire resistant clothing gear. It’s hot,” said Uduman.
Correctional Sergeant Jesse Gonzalez is the Assistant Camp Commander. He says the strict camp structure is a payoff for reduced time served.
Inmates have to apply to the camp, and only minimum custody inmates are eligible, which are those considered non-violent.
“They have to be ready to go at a certain time. They have to stand in line in the proper order and they have to follow all the rules,” Sgt Gonzalez said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to rehabilitate and get back into society.”
“Fighting fires definitely builds up your confidence and self-worth,” said Uduman, a single mother.
“Being in here made me realize that’s what I have to do,” she said. “I’m gonna do it well when I get out. I’m gonna be a good mom when I get out.”