Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires

MCD. Jul. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780374116187. $27. SOC SCI
In 2016, 22-year-old Shawna Lynn Jones became the first woman inmate firefighter to die in the line of duty. Within months of her death, Lowe (Mental) began interviewing incarcerated people on Jones’s firefighting crew and correctional workers. Her book shares the story of the women who do the same work as professional non-incarcerated firefighters but earn a pittance. Lowe details California’s long history of using unpaid or low-paid inmate labor and describes the ways the prison system fails these people; upon their release, former inmate firefighters are almost never allowed to transfer their firefighting skills to gainful employment. The narrative is well-paced; readers can visualize what these women endure in training, in the field, and at home. Lowe profiles several of the women and provides their backstories, complete with interviews conducted throughout the pandemic. It might be difficult for readers to keep track of the figures as the book switches in and out of different people’s narratives, but it is well worth the effort.
VERDICT Readers who want a comprehensive understanding of political agendas and the effects of racism in the U.S. justice system will appreciate this book and will want to share their new knowledge with others. A powerful, well researched work for justice-minded readers.
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