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Former inmates start their own forestry business after helping fight forest fires while in prison

Joshua Melendrez, far left, stands next to his business partner, Lawrence Jaramillo, and other members of the team. The former inmates did not want to let their time behind bars define them after prison, so after they were released, the pair started their own forestry company in New Mexico. (Credit: Lawrence Jaramillo)

LOS LUNAS, N.M. — Two former inmates did not want to let their time behind bars define them after prison, so after they were released, the pair started their own forestry company in New Mexico.

After spending three years in prison, Lawrence Jaramillo and fellow inmate Joshua Melendrez had the idea to take the training they got in the Los Lunas prison and apply that to a forestry and firefighting business, Jaramillo told CNN. All Around Forestry was born at the beginning of the year and is officially open for business.

“I would assume that there are people out there that frown upon it with us being ex-convicts, but we can’t let that hold us back. We’ve got to just keep pushing forward,” Jaramillo said.

The pair were low-level offenders who served their time and are now trying to make a difference in the world, he said.

From dreams to reality

Despite knowing nothing about forestry and fighting fires, Jaramillo said he selected the prison program over some of the other options because it was a chance to be outdoors instead of confined to his cell or prison grounds.

“I was able to see more of New Mexico in prison than I have my whole life living here,” he said.

Working with the Inmate Work Camp at Los Lunas prison gave Jaramillo and Melendrez the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of fighting wildfires before they were released in 2018.

“The training there is immaculate,” Jaramillo said. “I couldn’t have asked for any better training. They push you, they don’t let you slack off and they push you to be better for yourselves and our teammates.”

The program has given many inmates a sense of purpose and pride in the work they’re doing, Los Lunas Deputy Warden Vistula Curry told CNN.

“The IWC program provides minimum level security inmates the opportunity to learn about natural resources; fire suppression and emergency response activities,” she said in a statement. “After participating, inmates receive certifications and work experience that gives them real opportunities to succeed when they return to our communities.”

Jaramillo fought four fire seasons before getting a business license in November 2019 and starting All Around Forestry. The pair has four additional former inmates working with them.

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

So far, the reception to their company and the services they’re able to provide have been positive, according to Jaramillo.

It’s not just fire prevention that All Around Forestry is after, Jaramillo said — it’s also working to help make forests healthier.

A better future

A few months after getting their business license, All Around Forestry landed its first client with Ponderosa Christian Camp.

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

Though the business is in its infancy, Jaramillo said he’s optimistic about what the future holds.

“We’re going to try this out, if we succeed we succeed and if we don’t, at least we tried,” he said.

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