“And Brown Is the New Orange” Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S7 E3 (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S7 E3: “And Brown Is the New Orange”

OITNB Final Season Hero 1.jpg

Several years ago, I decided to do a deep-dive into the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black to help explain things that folks watching the show who don’t have a background including incarceration might not catch. Seven seasons later, I am still rolling.

I am not a woman, which is a huge weakness of the coverage. I do consult with friends who did time in women’s facilities and try to ensure accuracy.

I did time in a state and not a federal facility, another huge weakness.  I try to consult with friends who did time in federal facilities and try to ensure accuracy.

If you haven’t been listening to the Decarceration Nation Podcast,there will be a new episode next week, our last guest was Thomas Abt author of the book “Bleeding Out” 

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5. “New Sheriff In Town”

Much of my discussion of solitary happened when Sophia was kept in the SHU for what seemed to be an incredible period of time on the show.

*** Subsequent to my writing this recap, the Epstein SHU debacle occurred, I wrote a deep dive into the likelihood it was accidental ***

During Spphia’s time in solitary, I shared the story about my time in the mental health wing at the Macomb County Jail meeting people who had been in solitary for over a year as a form of “treatment.” 

I also shared the story about my own personal short stay in solitary (three total days) during my own incarceration and I know people who were in solitary, all told, for over a decade.

Albert Woodfox, who wrote an amazing and courageous book about his experience, spent over four decades in solitary. 

I have often challenged people, when I do public speaking on this topic, to force themselves to stay in one room without leaving for just two hours with absolutely no electronics, nothing to read, and no contact at all with any other human being. 

Even this experiment, while powerful for most of the people I know who have tried it, doesn’t convey the full despair of solitary because during the exercise, you know deep down that you can leave your room. 

In solitary, you 100% know that you cannot leave. 

Regardless, solitary confinement is and always has been a form of torture. It is not just designed to keep people from hurting others, it is also designed to punish and to incentivize good behavior through deprivation. 

As J. Wesley Boyd PhD explained it in Psychology Today:

Social psychologist Dr. Craig Haney interviewed people in Pelican Bay State prison and told the New York Times that 63 percent of men kept in solitary confinement for 10 to 28 years said they consistently felt on the verge of an “impending breakdown,” compared to 4 percent of individuals in maximum-security prisons. He reported that 73 percent of people in solitary confinement felt chronically depressed, compared to 48 percent of those in maximum-security settings.  

The psychological effects of isolation last long after individuals are removed from isolation. Indeed, years after their release, many who experienced solitary confinement in Pelican Bay had difficulty integrating into society, felt emotionally numb, experienced anxiety and depression, and preferred to remain in confined spaces. Solitary confinement often exacerbates existing psychiatric conditions and not infrequently leads to suicide. In Texas, for example, suicides rates for those in solitary confinement are five times higher than that of the general prison community. Given that the U.S. has 10 times as many people with mental illnesses in jails than in state hospitals, the use of isolation for people with mental illnesses is beyond troubling.

We can certainly argue back and forth about if solitary is effective, but it is hard to argue the point that it is designed to hurt. If you get a chance, look up what solitary cells generally look like and you will get my point.

Some estimates suggest as many as 80,000 to 100,000 people are in solitary confinement at any one moment in prisons and jails across our country.

Most reformers suggest some combination of the following:

Segregation should be used:

  • Only as an absolute last resort

  • Only as a response to the absolute worst behaviors

  • For the shortest time possible 

  • With the least restrictive conditions possible

Use a system of graduated sanctions instead of a one-SHU fits all approach, reward positive activities (creating incentives for others to participate in better behaviors). If a system insists on maintaining traditional solitary confinement, access to relevant programming and preventing total social isolation is critical.

There is also the problem of people who need to “lock-up” to protect their own personal safety and the corresponding problem of people acting out to gain access to this new and improved solitary (fairly unlikely), but surely those problems are less pressing than the problem of the tens of thousands of folks locked in tiny rooms all alone across this country at this very minute.

Suffice it to say, I am Very excited to see Warden Ward liberate everyone from the SHU. I hope there are some wardens across the country that watch the show and are moved to action by the show.

But, I should also mention that one of the real problems with prisons is that they remain black boxes. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and demanding transparency, sharing what we have experienced (or discovered), and lobbying for change is usually up to us out here.

4. “All I Ever Wanted to be was a Wife”

I protested this last week, I will continue to protest this ret-con of Maritza’s character this week. Maritza’s “shallowness” was always a carefully constructed act. I have no idea why the writers have decided to reduce her back to the stereotype she slyly subverted throughout the first 5 seasons, but it is annoying me a great deal.

Maritza is NOT a ditz. She played a ditz in order to convince people she was nobody to worry about. She knew she was beautiful but used her looks to “get over” on marks (she was a con-woman in her prior life), it is part of the persona she presents to the world in order to be overlooked or as a form of misdirection so that she can accomplish her life goals.

Let me also take a moment her to remind people that Taystee has NEVER in the history of the show been a violent person much less a stone-cold killer. I mean for God’s sake, just look at the flashbacks from last season with her and Tamika Ward (now Warden Ward). She was street smart, she was good with numbers, she was a genuinely fun and caring person. She was not a stone-cold killer.

Some people do respond to getting a long-bit by breaking bad (what is the point of trying to be good when a life sentence takes away any hope for a future). And I could see her beating down Badison once maybe. But this Taystee is terrifying bit is straining credulity for me. I could see her being very depressed (even suicidal), but homicidal? No, that just is not Taystee IMHO.

I am not sure how I feel about the new nicer FIg, much less the idea of Caputo and Fig having children. A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers said “Mazel Tov” cocktail instead of “Molotov Cocktail” and I have been playing with the idea of a blessing that is really a grenade. Fig and Caputo seem like a “Mazel Tov” cocktail to me.

3. “Did you forget, Ms. Chapman, you are on Probation”

Piper’s officer shows up at the house and reminds her that “she is on probation” and that she needs to inform the office of any changes in her employment (that last part is accurate).

I know I am being a bit of a pain in the neck here but I there was no good reason to confuse the actual process even more than they already have.

Federal probation is used as a substitute for incarceration. It is like a diversion program and it is part of your sentence. Probation would be assigned by a judge at sentencing not by Poly Con on a whim after sentencing. PolyCon has no jurisdiction here, they are just the contractor who runs the facility.

As I have explained before, there is no federal parole, the judge determines your sentence and you can earn good time and time off for several other things (earned credits, completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program) but if you earned early release it would not change the requirements of your probation or supervision. If your judge does not sentence you to supervised release, you would not be on supervised release regardless of when you were released. If your judge did sentence you to supervised release, your supervision would start when you were released.

Piper, if this was not made-up, would most likely be either still incarcerated or on supervised release. If part of the point of the show is to educate folks about how the system works, they should probably stop cutting corners on explanations just to make story lines easier.

I probably should spend some time on the absurdities of McCullough trying to turn Alex into her drug dealer when she only has diet pills to sell, but I guess Alex will be selling phone chargers from now on?

I guess it was nice to see Badison leaving on a transfer (Warden Ward is doing good things).

2. “1-800-Sprung”

Hopefully, all of you saw John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” episode last week. His main story was about the very high cost of goods and services in prison relative to the amount of money that incarcerated people can earn.

Prison services companies like Jpay (owned by Securus) come into prisons and build out all of the communication and electronic services but often, as a result, are allowed (often in collusion with the prisons or jails themselves) to charge usurious fees for all the services. 

For instance, every single person in prison has an electronic banking account where all wages and fund transfers are recorded. If you were in prison, and your loved one wanted to put a few dollars in your account, the fee for the deposit would usually be about five dollars. 

This probably doesn’t sound like much, but incarceration breaks up income streams for families and makes every dollar precious. An extra five dollars per deposit can be challenging. Every phone call costs a great deal of money (compared to what we are used to out her in the free world). Every email costs twenty-five cents (or more). The food is bad and the cost of commissary items is high. 

These companies, and the prisons and jails who collude with them, are taking financial advantage of some of what are often the poorest and most struggling families and people in the entire country. Of course, one of the real problems here is also societal. If we did not make incarceration the first, last, and only response to most of our social problems, the profit motive to create prison business models would probably not be so strong for these companies. 

The services are necessary, it is good that many of them exist. What is not good is that state governments and counties try to pass the costs from society at large back solely to the families of incarcerated folks (the people often least able to cope). It is also frustrating that, in many jurisdictions, the prisons and jails cut themselves in on the profits (in many cases creating a perverse incentive to allow higher costs instead of creating competition for lower costs). Finally, it is frustrating that many of these companies also branch out into creating highly questionable surveillance schemes that impact not just folks in prisons and jails but also people on the outside.

I am happy to see us come full-circle with Red and Gloria back to heading up a kitchen (this time working together) just sad it will be providing what will likely be terrible food to people in the ICE facility. I guess I was not expecting the ICE facility to be part of the same Litchfield complex (or close enough for it to allow incarcerated people from Litchfield to get day-passes to work at the ICE facility).

1. I’m a Legal Permanent Resident

A great deal of what Maritza struggles with as she tries to find a way in the ICE facility to make a simple phone call to prove that she is actually a United States citizen is familiar to me.

What is particularly heartbreaking during these sequences are the ways in which lack of legal rights for non-citizens is used by those in power to abuse the people incarcerated.  Maritza, for instance, is not guaranteed a phone call because she is presumed to be a non-citizen. Nobody has to double check her status because she is presumed to be a non-citizen. When Blanca’s boyfriend shows up, they can detain him based on the presumption that he could be a non-citizen.

One of the really terrible things about these ICE detention facilities is that because they are private facilities they are often not subject to FOIA requests. In other words, these facilities are often truly black boxes and, in my experience with corrections, nothing good happens entirely in the dark. The reason certain corrupt officers act with impunity is because they know they will never be held responsible for the abuses that they commit.

A lot of people ask me why I don’t support President Donald J. Trump given his support for the First Step Act. I do appreciate his support for the First Step Act but I do not support the President. The number one reason I do not support him is his treatment of people trying to emigrate, immigrate, or gain asylum in the United States. I don’t believe anything we are doing around immigration is even remotely acceptable from an ethical standpoint.

My heart is with EVERYONE incarcerated and while I absolutely celebrate getting folks out of the prison in the United States, I am not okay with replacing cages for people in the country with cages for people trying to come to enter our country.  

I am absolutely not telling anyone else how to vote or who to support, but I do get asked that question a lot and this seemed like an appropriate time to address it.

I am enjoying the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern relationship between Suzanne and Doggett (and Dogget’s sock puppet). I am certainly glad that Suzanne seems to have returned from the darkness and is now trying to bring Cindy and Taystee back together again (even if that meant another beat down of Badison by Taystee). I think it was important that Suzanne finally realized that what has been done to her was not just. If there is one character that I really hope can find some happiness at the end of this series, it is Suzanne.

Unlocking The Gates

Netflix

Netflix

New recaps will come out once a week (usually on Sunday mornings).


Lots has happened since last season, I am now a policy analyst at Safe and Just Michigan, a consultant with #cut50, and still the host of a podcast. I am still a member of a Criminal Justice Reform organization called Nation Outside (The Voice of the Formerly Incarcerated) but I am not speaking for Nation Outside in any official capacity.

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