Former inmate firefighters establish forestry company

All Around Forestry
All Around Forestry photo

Former inmates that acquired skills while they were incarcerated are making use of that training and experience in the woods of New Mexico.

Lawrence Jaramillo and Joshua Melendrez became qualified as wildland firefighters and chain saw operators while serving time in Los Lunas prison. The Inmate Workers Camp program (IWC) taught them the basics of wildland firefighting.

After they spent three years in prison the two of them formed a private company, All Around Forestry LLC.

I talked with Mr. Jaramillo Friday just after the final inspection was completed on the largest project they have worked on since the company was issued a business license in November. On the 13-acre job the company’s six employees thinned dog hair thickets, removed some large trees, and otherwise reduced hazardous fuels around structures at the Ponderosa Christian Camp in the Jemez Mountains. He said they have submitted bids on other projects that they hope to hear from soon.

Mr. Melendrez told us, “The cool thing about it is that every single one of our employees with us are wildland fire certified as well,” he said. “We all have done the program. We all went through as ADs for New Mexico State Forestry [after we got out of prison] — went on fires and fought fires with each other for quite some time now. We all have the knowledge of what needs to be done, and to do it thoroughly as well.”

They want to realize what is implied in the company’s name, All Around Forestry LLC, and hope to provide additional services such as a 20-person crew and a fire engine.

All Around Forestry
All Around Forestry photo

Below is an excerpt from an article at KOAT:

For these men it’s about giving people like them a second chance.

“A lot of people are happy and proud to see, I guess, a success story,” Melendrez said. “We owe a lot of it to IWC but it’s also our own mindset to be better for ourselves.”

“They’ve been doing an amazing amount of work, they’ve gotten an amazing amount done,” Ponderosa Christian Camp board director Craig Mathews said. “We hope this is just a spring board for them, and that they’re very successful in the projects they get awarded in the future.”

Not only is it an opportunity to grow, but also a chance to go at life a different way this time.

“We did wrong in the past but that’s not us anymore, we’ve changed our lives completely,” Melendrez said.

Jaramillo said they are looking for other clients to do business with, as well as other former inmates who want to join the company.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

7 thoughts on “Former inmate firefighters establish forestry company”

  1. Congratulations to Mr Jaramillo and Mr. Melendrez! Throughout the west, in California where I’m from in particular, there is a huge pool of experienced wildland firefighters who have proved their mettle in the most challenging circumstances time and time again on western firelines. A potential workforce that has historically gone untapped. I ran crews for 4 years in the 90’s. I’ve seen inmate firefighters firsthand who could equal any of the many “professionals” they worked side by side with. A Company such as All Around Forestry LLC is in position to enlist this workforce and contribute mightily to the burgeoning efforts around the country to better manage our forests, increase defensible space and decrease fuel loads in the WUI. All while providing good stable year-around jobs for men and women whom many employers shun due to criminal records. Good luck AAF!

    1. Thank you Bruce from All Around Forestry LLC. We really just wanna work doing what we love to do, cut trees and fight fire. This was never a plan for my future but it’s funny how life seems to direct a person than that person has to make a decision. We hope to build this company to become exactly what our name is All Around Forestry. We are humbled by the support we have received. This is not easy and definitely not cheap but we will continue to go forward no matter what. Thank you

  2. This is truly a great story, its hart warming to hear story’s like this. Inmate Fire Crews have been and currently are the backbone of Wildland Fire Service. CDF Camp Crews in California are a prefect example. During my 35 years with the U.S. Forest Service I spent much of my time fighting fire and working with or supervising Camp Crews of hundreds of wildland fires. Los Angeles County Fire Camp Crews like Camp 15 in Big Tujunga canyon ANF are well defined, trained and professional type 1 crews who have fantastic service records. Many of us who have worked with the crews believe they do deserve a second chance’ They have earned it”

    1. Thank you John this has been very humbling for All Around Forestry LLC. We are very proud of our crew and hope to continue to show the world what we can do.

  3. What a tremendous positive story about some folks turning it around, and it involves Wildland Fire. Imagine that! Lots of great folks in our business and these guys should be commended for their efforts at representing our community. And all the better it sounds like they do great work.

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