Oregon statewide groups organize mutual aid fundraiser for imprisoned firefighters

Oregon-prisoners-on-the-wildfire-frontlines-1120, Oregon statewide groups organize mutual aid fundraiser for imprisoned firefighters, Behind Enemy Lines

by Critical Resistance Portland

A statewide group of organizations including Critical Resistance Portland, Care Not Cops PDX, Lane County Mutual Aid, Black & Pink PDX and Siskiyou Abolition Project are launching a fundraiser to place $200 on the commissary accounts of 285 imprisoned firefighters. This network of organizations is hoping to raise $55,000 in total to offer appreciation and compensation to the underpaid people who fought to protect our forests and communities against the deadliest fires in Oregon’s history over August and September.

Evan Coral, an organizer from Lane County Mutual Aid, describes the fundraiser as “an act of radical mutual aid directed in opposition to the brutal neglect these firefighters receive by Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC).” They add: “Most of all, we want to share our appreciation to these firefighters. They saved people’s lives, prevented houses from burning down and risked death to protect wildlife and already devastated forests. They are owed much more than we can offer.”

As is the case in most states across the US, imprisoned people working on fire crews make a fraction of the pay that non-imprisoned firefighters do. Both imprisoned and “free” firefighters work in the same brutal conditions and are often a thin line protecting entire towns being turned to ash. Imprisoned firefighters are forced into more deadly and dangerous roles because of their status as prisoners and make up the kitchen and cleanup crews that enable both free and imprisoned wildland firefighters to continue their work.

In Oregon, imprisoned firefighters make a mere $6 a day, $3 of which is not made accessible until their release. Meanwhile, “free” wildland firefighters make up to $25.07 an hour, according to ZipRecruiter.com. In the case of prisoners who have fees or fines accrued while imprisoned, all their money is automatically transferred to pay these debts.

ODOC’s contract with the state to provide firefighters brings the department $200 to $1,500 per person per day in comparison to the $6 a day wage that the prisoners themselves are compensated.

“We’re coming together to raise funds for imprisoned people doing the same work as non-imprisoned firefighters yet are shamefully neglected and underpaid. Our work to fight the prison industrial complex involves upholding the dignity of the people who are targeted and harmed by its violence, and that is what we are seeking to do through this fundraiser,” said Shannon Hardt, Portland chapter member of Critical Resistance. 

“These are people who have been criminalized, torn away from their families and communities and locked away in a cage – yet are still very literally putting their lives on the line for the rest of us. Like all human beings, they deserve freedom and our appreciation.”

These organizations were able to receive the list of 285 names through ODOC spokesperson Jennifer Black. They gathered volunteers to write to each firefighter to let them know of their plans to fundraise on their behalf, and to ask their consent. Overwhelmingly, the answer was gratitude and appreciation. Firefighters voiced their love of firefighting, their desire to continue once released and their frustrations with lack of pay and lack of “good time” being added to their sentences for their work.

According to one letter, ODOC’s contract with the state to provide firefighters brings the department $200 to $1,500 per person per day in comparison to the $6 a day wage that the prisoners themselves are compensated.

A portion of the fundraiser will be a raffle including art from local and nationwide artists, copies of Dean Spade’s latest book “Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the next),” copies of All Rise Magazine, All Rise t-shirts, informational zines and more!

The official launch date for #ImprisonedFirefighterFundsOR was Friday Nov. 20. Live social media updates available @ImprisonedFirefighterFundsOR on Instagram! The donation page is available at https://criticalresistance.networkforgood.com/projects/112349-cr-portland-firefighter-assistance-fundraiser.

Rory Elliott of Critical Resistance Portland can be reached by phone 503-927-8021 and email crpdx@criticalresistance.org.