Former inmates can become firefighters more easily, thanks to new bill on Gov. Newsom’s desk

Michael Thomas fought wildfires as a California inmate. He said sometimes he had problems seeing and breathing because there were so many flames and smoke. Photo courtesy of Michael Thomas

The state legislature passed a bill that would allow people who’ve completed one of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s fire camps to petition a judge to expunge their records and waive parole time. They could then apply to become full-time firefighters when released. However, people convicted of certain violent felonies and sex crimes would remain ineligible. The bill is now waiting for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.

Michael Thomas stands to benefit from this bill. He served time for armed robbery and became a firefighter while in prison. After he was released, he couldn’t apply for a job at a firehouse, so he focused on photography and waited for an opportunity to present itself.

He tells Press Play his reaction to the bill’s passage: “That’s good news not just for me, but just for anybody else who had high hopes of getting the opportunity to become a firefighter upon getting released from prison.”

He shares his experience with some recent fires: “We had problems seeing and breathing because it was [sic] so much smoke and fire. It was some difficult ones [sic] that you gotta be mental strong. … It was a lot of wear and tear.”

He says his living conditions were horrible when he wasn’t directly trying to extinguish flames. “We might only eat one time, and we’re out on the fire all day, and all we get is maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

Credits

Guest:
Michael Thomas - formerly incarcerated man and participant in the Cuesta Fire Camp in San Luis Obispo

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin