“Beginning of the End” Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S7 E1

Orange, Black, or Bleak S7 E1: “Beginning of the End”

OITNB Final Season Hero 1.jpg

In case this is your first time reading this series, as a formerly incarcerated person, I have 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.

Yes, 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.

Yes, I did time in a state and not a federal facility.  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, last week’s guest was Jamil Jivani, author of the book “Why Young Men” and next week’s guest will be Thomas Abt, author of the book “Bleeding Out.”

Last but not least, the real Piper (Piper Kerman) wrote a great article yesterday about why the show is important. I would HIGHLY recommend reading her article.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5. Liam Neeson

Okay, still confused about how Piper got released. 

I do fully understand why she got released on the show:

The facility started to offer early release to deal with overcrowding, Piper was on the list, and found a way to circumvent an attempt to get more time added to her sentence.

The problem, as I mentioned at the end of last season, is that facilities can’t make this kind of decision. We literally just went through this fight with the Federal First Step Act. To change the calculations for federal “good time” and to add new “earned time credits,” we had to pass new legislation (and, in many ways, if you have been following the press this week, that fight still goes on).

Now, we are all very happy, since approximately 3,000 people were released because of the good time fix just last week, but the point here is that Litchfield could not make independent decisions about the length of sentence. In the federal system, that is determined by a judge, by good time credits, by RDAP participation, by earned credits, by compassionate release or elderly release petition, by Presidential commutation, by escape, or by new legislation.

Anyway, Piper is out and living with her brother Cal and her sister-in-law Neri. They are totally baby obsessed, charging Piper excessive rent (because they could rent the room out on AirBNB), and, as usual, very annoying.

I have heard that federal parole is different than state parole, but what Piper is experiencing is very similar to what I remember of parole and probation (I did both): 

Yes, you do have to regularly have to pee in a cup. 

Yes, you are expected to get a job.

Yes, you have to pay a fee for your supervision

Yes, there is often a transaction fee when you pay using their interface 

Yes, parole officers are often incredibly unreasonable (even when they think they are being magnanimous)

In my experience, you could get jobs that let you work later and at places that serve alcohol, but I cannot testify to that being true at the federal level. I guess it was in character for Piper to think she could just ask for time off despite being new on the job and formerly incarcerated but most people working as returning citizens are extremely careful (jobs are hard to find).

I do think it is almost entirely unlikely that Piper would be allowed to visit Alex in prison. In general, at least at the state level, people with felony backgrounds are not allowed visitation except in very specific circumstances (often even family members can be denied visits). Not only is Piper formerly incarcerated, she was formerly incarcerated in that same facility and is still on parole. This seems like a HUGE stretch to me.

I have also never heard of limited visitation slots or of incarcerated people fighting over visitation slots. This might be something unique with the federal system. I also am curious as to why Badison would brace Alex to get that slot instead of someone who is newer to prison or more vulnerable to her form of persuasion. I remember many years ago someone told me that the reason to have security measures on your car is that they make other cars look more vulnerable and easier to steal, the same is true in prison, most predatory people in prison look for the weakest person to victimize.

4. The Return of Larry and Polly

Sure, it happens in flashback, but it is interesting to see Polly and Larry again. It reminded me that there was an innocence to this show at the beginning that has been gradually stripped away over time. Regardless of what you think of the show, at first, it seemed - a bit - like Piper was taking an enforced break from her privileged life. The juxtaposition between scenes from her early life (complicated by the natural aging of the cast) and her new life on parole is pretty effective and it really demonstrates that the stakes have been raised and prices have been paid over the years.

There is also a really nice cut-scene where all the camera captures all of the women in one of the units and superimposes their thoughts in sound. Very cool scene.

3. Rat Bitch Die

Cindy would be getting a LOT of negative attention, she literally testified against another Licthfield inmate, one of her best friends, and helped suit her up for a murder charge. Even people who did not care about Taystee would see Cindy as a snitch.

Working with the correctional officers is bad in prison, working with the warden is worse, nobody would every trust Cindy again and some would actively try to make her time as uncomfortable as possible. Cindy gets this which is why it would not make sense for her to have done it in the first place (at least not without negotiating a better deal for the testimony).

The odd thing here is that Cindy would have known she had leverage here too (it would have been part of her calculation before testifying against Taystee). Everyone knows this. It seems very unlikely she would not have negotiated some kind of accommodation (being transferred to a different and perhaps lower security level facility). Part of the problem with charging new crimes based on the testimony of other incarcerated people is that that testimony is inherently coerced and usually comes with benefits.

It seems very unlikely to me that Cindy would have testified against Cindy knowing one or both of them would be returning to Litchfield Max. Moving is not a panacea, news travels across facilities, but there would be ways to make retaliation much less likely.

2. “Daddy's dead”

RIP Daddy.

Daya got jealous of Daddy’s cheating ways, so she spiked Daddy’s hooch a bit too effectively, and now Daddy is dead.

Things like this do happen in prison. Daya has been doing a lot of drugs on a regular basis and has never been the deepest thinker, so I can see this happening. Regardless, it is sad to see Daya move from a victim of circumstance and poor judgment to an actual murderer. 

Two important points here:

  1. As sociologist Bruce Western has mentioned in several of his books, for some reason we ignore the violence IN PRISONS, when we count violence statistics. Most of the people who are incarcerated in our prisons were not sentenced to torture, violence, or death but that is what happens way too often inside our prison facilities. 

  2. Prison is criminogenic. One of the problems with long sentences is that prison can tend to make people who maybe had borderline issues that needed to be addressed into full-fledged dangerous people. Daya was not a person likely to kill someone when she was first incarcerated but over time, and with bad experiences, she has been moved from someone who could have been “corrected” to someone who is a real threat to other human beings. This is one of the tragedies of incarceration. You don’t have to take my word for this, there is a lot of research proving this point, prison is criminogenic.

Alex is another example of how this happens. If you have a reputation for something, you can be pressured into using your skills to aid official corruption or to help the gangs make more money. 

Side-Note: It is really odd that there is so much contraband being openly shared throughout this episode. On the yard people are openly displaying cell phones, drugs, and hooch. In the unit, people are openly taking videos and photos on cell phones. That is not how this works, 

People in prison deploy lookouts and are very careful about how they transfer and use contraband. 

Let me give you an example, in South Carolina prisons getting caught with a cell phone can get you placed in SHU (solitary) for two years. People in prison absolutely have cell phones but they are NOT this blatant or careless with them. 

Gloria is in solitary solely because she saw the fantasy inmate list. Imagine what happens when you break serious rules. It also seems highly unlikely that part of the law library could be made into a cushy business and pleasure office for Daddy (and yes, I said this when they showed this same office in flashbacks last season).

Final point here, Alex would never cavalierly expose another incarcerated person’s cell phone (old or new). Because prison administrations  - and legislators - take contraband cell phones very seriously, she would never risk the retaliation. If other people’s phones were swept up in the searches, she would be held responsible. Basically, Alex would make herself as hated and as much of a target as Cindy is. Remember, for the people who have access to a cell phone, that is their prime means of keeping in contact with their family and networks outside and the punishments for having cell phones is often severe.

1. “She is now a lifer”

Hopefully you remember why I think it is totally absurd that Taystee is now doing time for being responsible for the riot (I spent a great deal of time last season explaining why this would never have happened).

Okay, water under the bridge.

Anyway, the writers of Orange Is the New Black are just wrong about lifers in this episode. It is absolutely true that lifers are given respect. It is absolutely true that lifers have less to lose since they are already stuck in prison for life and could often care less about new charges (although many of them do). But, it is not true that lifers are generally time-bombs waiting to explode. Most lifers that I know are leaders and a large percentage of them are working hard to improve the prisons that they are housed in. Most lifers I know want the facilities to be low-drama and want to help the younger folks who come in. 

Don’t get me wrong, lifers will not put up with much nonsense, but they also do not generally want much nonsense happening around them. Badison would not be more scared of Taystee just because she had a new sentence, but she would be more wary (Taystee doesn’t have as much to lose from new charges). Unlike almost everyone else in prison, they are often a calming factor in prisons.

The lifers I know organize folks in prison, suggest reforms to prison administrations and activists, and suggest model legislation for reforms. 

It would take some time for Taystee to figure out her new life, and she would be in a really foul mood (which Badison would know) but getting a life sentence does not magically make people any more dangerous than they were before they were sentenced to a life sentence. Prison can make people more dangerous, the lack of hope can make people more dangerous (which does apply to lifers), but lifers tend to work together and make prisons better not worse.

I do think Badison was way over the line and Taystee had to step up to Badison. That was not as much about her being a lifer as about Badison challenging Taystee directly. My point here is more about the discussion between Suzanne and Doggett.

One last thing, we have lost track of a large number of important characters over the last few seasons (Sister Ingalls, Yoga Jones, Boo, Norma, Brook, and SOPHIA). I know I am leaving folks out, but it would be really nice if over the last 12 episodes we get to learn what happened with them too?

Fingers crossed!

Unlocking The Gates



I do one recap a week.

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.

Leave comments, let us know what you thought! We will answer any questions you have (that are civil).