A group of firefighters have been shoveling driveways and digging vehicles buried under feet of snow in California mountains.
This team — the Buffalo Hand Crews — is different from others helping residents dig out from the record-setting snowfall. All have criminal records, KCAL reported.
“I did three years and ten months,” said Superintendent Dalton Harris Jr. explaining that poor choices landed him behind bars.
He went for the inmate firefighter program after learning he would get time off his sentence. But, he soon learned to love the grueling work and set his sights on becoming a career firefighter once he was released.
“I went to every station, and they laughed at me,” said Harris. “They told me I was never going to be a fireman.”
Crew Capt. Jonala Vann had a similar story about bad choices when she was younger.
“Pretty much 10 years behind bars,” she said, adding that joining a fire camp inspired and pushed her.
“Having people thank you for saving their homes, regardless of the color of the uniform I was in, regardless that I was an inmate. It meant something to me. It sparked a passion within.”
They decided to follow that calling and got in touch with the forestry and fire recruitment program, a nonprofit that helps former inmates find careers in firefighting. That’s how they became leaders.
And, their future looks even brighter now since Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in 2020 that allows former inmates who served in prison fire camps to petition to get their records expunged.
Harris’ slate is wiped clean. “Upon me getting my record expunged, now I’m able to get my EMT and probably take it even further and get my paramedic.”
Vann is in the process of getting her sentence off her record. “I can’t erase the past. I can’t take it back. I can’t change what I did. But I can move forward and be a better person, better mother, better servant.”
Wendy Otto appreciated the firefighters’ work to clear her vehicle and driveway. “It was stressful. To have this help, it’s just a blessing.”