Breathing Fire: Female Inmates on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires by Jaime Lowe
Breathing Fire: Female Inmates on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires by Jaime Lowe
Available Now

Los Angeles is an unexpected barrage of discovery, a gumbo, a gamble — a gateway. This is the second year of our L.A. Omnibus series, a forum for writers, thinkers, artists, and activists to share ideas, pose questions and explore solutions. Deriving inspiration from the Latin meaning of omnibus, “for all,” these conversations, films, and activities explore how our unique city is shifting, settling and re-making itself. L.A. is not only about where we live, it is about how we live, how we fit together in a place that is often at odds with its human inhabitants.

The first program in the series is a conversation between journalist Jaime Lowe, author of Breathing Fire: Female Inmates on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, Michelle Garcia and Elizabeth Bay from the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Wendy Staggs of Beyond the Bars/Prison Arts Collective, and Claudia Peña, Executive Director of For Freedoms, and faculty at UCLA School of Law and Prison Education Program: all women working in California on the forefront of restorative justice. Jaime’s book reveals the inner workings of California’s Correctional Camps, providing intimate portrayals of the incarcerated women who routinely put their lives on the line to save our burning state.

Jaime Lowe was born and raised in California. She 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.

Michelle Garcia is a system impacted woman and advocate who believes in multiple chances. She has worked as a Regional Coordinator for Center of Restorative Justice Works, Family Program Manager at Defy Ventures and Project Coordinator at Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Michelle’s goal is simple: inspire those impacted by incarceration, educate the community on the power behind second chances, and to empower women!

Wendy Staggs has two AS degrees, in Biblical Studies and Alcohol/Drug Counseling. She is also formerly incarcerated. Wendy was an Inaugural 2017 UCLA Beyond the Bars Fellow, and a former Alumni teaching artist for The Actors Gang Prison/ReentryProject, as well as a member of The Anti-Recidivism Coalition and California Coalition for Women Prisoners and is the first alumni of the Community Based Art/Prison Arts Collective program to become an Advisory Board Member. Wendy inaugurated Prison Art Collective's Project Alice, a visual arts group, and an open studio, for formerly incarcerated individuals, foster children, or anyone who is system impacted/affected. Currently, Wendy is a UCLA 2021 Beyond the Bars Fellowship Project Manager.

Elizabeth Bay is an active advocate for those who are impacted by the justice system. Elizabeth is currently working as a Job Developer at the Ventura Training Center assisting formerly incarcerated men with the AB 2147 Expungement Process and Career Readiness. As a previously incarcerated women herself, that served two years at Malibu Conservation Camp, she understands first-hand the importance of support and the difficulties that are faced as a result of incarceration. Elizabeth has over 25 years' experience working in Human Resources and administration field. When not supporting Work Force Development needs, you can find Elizabeth hiking or spending time with her family and three grandsons.

Claudia Peña serves as the Executive Director of For Freedoms which is an artist-led platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action for artists in the United States. She is on faculty at UCLA School of Law and in the Gender Studies department. Her scholarship focuses on trauma and systems of power. She serves as faculty-in-residence at the Prison Education Program which creates innovative courses that enable faculty and students to learn from, and alongside, participants who are currently incarcerated. She is a member of the Guild of Future Architects and the “Beyond Prisons” shared future. Claudia is the Co-Founder of Repair, a Los Angeles-based organization focused on the health and the disabling effects of inequity, violence and exploitation. Prior to that, she was the Statewide Director of the California Civil Rights Coalition (CCRC) for over five years. While there, she focused on racial justice, gender equity, voting rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, equal opportunity, progressive taxation, policies, housing rights and coordinating ballot initiative efforts. She was previously Equal Justice Society’s Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow where she researched and presented on issues of implicit bias and equal protection. Claudia earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law and her B.A. in Sociology from Mills College in Oakland, California.

Photo by Philip Montgomery.

Funds provided by the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Lectureship Fund and the Sally & William A. Rutter Endowment for the Performing Arts.

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