Journalist and writer Jaime Lowe joins us to discuss her new book, Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California's Wildfires (MCD) with McKenzie Funk.
“In recent years, women inmates have joined the army of prison labor that California relies upon to fight its wildfires, whether defending the Sequoias or celebrity homes on the Malibu Coast. It is dangerous, relentless work that ultimately depends upon the arduous personal transformations that create unity and fighting spirit within each fire crew. Against the background of recent megafires, Lowe chronicles the transcendent moments of triumph and tragedy that stir ambitions of a new life, but then recounts the systemic cruelty that undermines every hope of translating their new skills and hard-won self-confidence into civilian careers. Lionesses betrayed.”—Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear
This event will be streamed on our Crowdcast channel.
About Breathing Fire
California’s fire season gets hotter, longer, and more extreme every year — fire season is now year-round. Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes every year, roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women serving on all-female crews.
In Breathing Fire, Jaime Lowe expands on her revelatory work for The New York Times Magazine. She has spent years getting to know dozens of women who have participated in the fire camp program and spoken to captains, family and friends, correctional officers, and camp commanders. The result is a rare, illuminating look at how the fire camps actually operate — a story that encompasses California’s underlying catastrophes of climate change, economic disparity, and historical injustice, but also draws on deeply personal histories, relationships, desires, frustrations, and the emotional and physical intensity of firefighting.
Lowe’s reporting is a groundbreaking investigation of the prison system, and an intimate portrayal of the women of California’s Correctional Camps who put their lives on the line, while imprisoned, to save a state in peril.
About The Participants
Jaime Lowe is the author of Mental, a memoir about lithium and bipolar disorder, and Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB, a biography of Ol' Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times magazine and other national and international publications. Lowe has contributed to This American Life and Radiolab, and has been featured on NPR and WNYC numerous times.
National Magazine Award finalist McKenzie Funk writes for Harper’s, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, Outside, The New York Times Magazine, and the London Review of Books. His first book, Windfall, won a PEN Literary Award and was named a book of the year by The New Yorker, Mother Jones, and Salon.