An airplane swooping down, a helicopter making a water drop on the ground, a bulldozer and men with hand tools ready to secure a line around the fire – where is all this shown?
These scenes and others are shown on an approximately 45-foot by 8-foot mural painted by two inmates on the wall in the cafeteria at CalFire Conservation Camp 26 in Round Valley. The camp is operated by the California Department of Corrections in cooperation with CalFire.
Small details of animals – from cranes walking in the water to lizards sunning on a rock and an owl in the tree tops, among others – are also shown. It took the two men about two months to complete the mural with input provided by others at the camp as a collective effort.
Not many people get to visit the camp, but I was attending a meeting and had the opportunity to see inside the cafeteria.
Housing up to 126 individuals, the camp’s inmates are prisoners who do not have a conviction of violence or offences of a sexual nature, and only a few years left on their sentence. Inmates are taught to fight fires at a CalFire training center before coming to the camp.
Fighting fires is the main responsibility of the camp. However, when help is not needed with firefighting, inmates perform other duties: clean-up around Inyo and Mono counties is welcomed as schools, parks, roadsides, fairgrounds and other non-profit organizations benefit from their help. Inmates also have free time to work on craft projects, study for a GED test, read or watch TV. Others will paint. This is what these two men did.
You may see the red trucks with CalFire on the sides transporting men to various locations. This may include out-of-county trips when help is needed elsewhere in the state.
People at the camp have a variety of skills, whether working in the kitchen, maintenance of trucks, or keeping the camp clean – they do it all.
The officers try to help the inmates develop skills to help prepare them for life back in society. These two developed skills in painting.
(Lloyd Wilson has been a member of the Big Pine Volunteer Fire Department for more than 40 years.)