SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Among the thousands of firefighters who battled record-setting wildfires in California this year was Bounchan Keola, a 39-year-old immigrant from Laos serving a 28-year prison sentence for a gang-related shooting when he was 16.
One of roughly 1,800 inmates fighting fires, Keola said he struggled to see through the smoke during his first assignment while getting doused with chemicals used to fight the flames. When it was over, he was stunned to see people from the community lining up to thank him as he walked back to the bus.
“For the first time in my life, I felt good about myself,” he said.
Keola was set to be released in October. His sister took a week off work to get ready, buying him clothes, shoes and some face masks. But days before he was to be freed, Keola learned he would not be going home. Federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked him up