The natural walls of Pine Grove prison camp is the impenetrable forest surrounding it. Though there have been a few instances of inmates attempting to escape into the forest, no inmate has ever made it more than a few days in the difficult environment before getting recaptured.
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Inmates of Pine Grove are strip searched upon returning to the camp from working in the field. In addition to wild land firefighting, inmates of the camp are put to work completing public works projects such as road maintenance, and are searched for contraband upon their return. Often, members of the public will throw cigarettes, marijuana or cell phones to the inmates when they are in the public doing road work.
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Inmate Marcus Tapia speaks with his family back home. His mother's name is tattooed on his neck. Tapia is serving a sentence for firearms possession with added time for a "gang enhancement."
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Small items from home, like Rosary beads, are allowed at the prison camp to allow a connection between the inmate's and their culture.
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The practice of religion has been shown to significantly reduce the chance prisoners will engage in physical altercations and increase a likelihood of reform, and is therefore encouraged by prison staff. Prisoners at Pine Grove, take time at the start of a new day to pray together.
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Many of the inmates of Pine Grove have never had friends from different ethnic backgrounds before arriving at the camp. Many other Youth Authority camps are heavily segregated by race, but at Pine Grove, most of the racial barriers typically present in prison do not exist. The prison administration attributes this to the ethic of cooperation and teamwork the boys must embrace if they are going to survive on a fire line.
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Dandre Charles punches the speed bag at Pine Grove. Although weights have been banned across the California prison system, a special allowance is made for inmate "conservation camps" to have proper gymnasium equipment, as their field work demands an extremely high level of physical fitness.
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During "count," when guards make a headcount every hour, Inmates Tello, Kermit and Tapia (L to R) of Pine Grove workout at their bunks to stay active and fit for their physical work schedule.
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Pine Grove inmate Jesus Tecum, who was incarcerated for armed robbery and assault, and given extra time for a "gang enhancement," lay in his bed while guards make rounds for a head count at the jail. Many of the inmates at Pine Grove are serving time on charges enhanced by alleged gang affiliation, but not all admit to ever being in a gang. Some insist that being from a neighborhood known for gang activity, and being a black or latino male, was sufficient to receive a gang enhancement on their criminal charges.
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When not in the field working, the inmates of Pine Grove get occasional down time to sit and chat within the confines of the camp and occasionally shed their tough exteriors and pasts. A small frog is found by an inmate and removed from harms way. Many inmates at the camp have never experienced nature, with the majority coming from inner cities. The natural walls of the camp, is an impenetrable forest and different wildlife often wanders in, including deer and the occasional mountain lion.
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The young men of Pine Grove line up for a day of road work outside the camp. The camp system has its origins in prison road camps which built stretches of remote state roads in California starting in the 1850's.
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Inmate Kermit Moore clears debris from a creek bed as part of "rehabilitation through labor" practiced at Pine Grove.
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Isaiah Brinks changes clothes while Kermit Moore hides from the heat, in the shade of a tree. The two inmates were clearing debris from a creek bed in the Tahoe foothills while serving time on a work crew from Pine Grove, working off their sentences by doing projects in the community while incarcerated.
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Excited for his release, Kain Castro brushes his teeth on his last day in jail at Pine Grove. Castro has only known the life of a prisoner since he was 14 years old, and earned his release from Pine Grove at age 18. Though a model inmate, Castro faces the daunting challenge of being placed on a lifetime gang registry upon his release, and 5 years of probation, which will allow for any minor violation to send him back to prison. But compared to a life of incarceration, Castro was excited at the second opportunity.
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Inmate Marcus Tapia reluctantly collects the American flag at the end of the day, after being ordered to to so by prison guards. Tapia was serving time for firearms possesion with added time for a "gang enhancement," but would soon be "rolled up" (removed) from the camp for fighting and sent back to a traditional prison institution.
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The few remaining Inmates at Pine Grove sit for a meeting with staff about plans going forward at the camp, after a large violent riot broke out between different groups at the camp. Though rare at Pine Grove, tensions can rise to a boiling point leading to violent confrontation. Prior to the riot, the facility had approximately 90 inmates, all but those in the photograph were "rolled up" back to higher level security facilities following the riot and pending review of their involvement in the incident.
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Sala Malepeai works out alone after losing his privileges to the weight room at Pine Grove. Malepeai, though a model inmate on the fire line, ran into more consistent behavioral problems as his parole date neared, a common occurrence in prison. Often prisoners begin to act out as the potential of release becomes a reality, as many are frightened by the prospects of an outside world fraught with pitfalls, and without any support networks. Violating on small infractions, in order to remain incarcerated becomes a viable alternative, as Malepeai did, soon after this photo was taken, when guards found contraband conspicuously left out in his locker, for them to find.
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Inmates are rewarded for a period of relative calm at Pine Grove prison camp, with a game of football under the watchful eye of guards. Though not typically allowed because it often leads to fights, the guards had promised the inmates that if there were no physical altercations for a set period of time, they would be allowed to play.
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A Pine Grove inmate pauses between plays, while playing football in the pouring rain. Earned by avoiding fights, the inmates cherished the few times they were allowed to play ball.
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Pine Grove inmate Dandre Charles is illuminated by bright flood lights as he walks off the football field in the rain, after a long days labor outside the camp. Spooner was serving 4 years for a firearms charge but the game made him forget, for just a short while, that he was in jail.