"Cha Cha Slide" OITNB S6 E1 "Who Knows Better Than I"

"Who Knows Better Than I" Orange, Black, or Bleak Season 6 Episode 1 (Netflix)

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I am so excited to be adding my friend Kathy Morse, one of the <former> inmates featured in the Documentary "Rikers: An American Jail" to Orange, Black, or Bleak this season.

While I am formerly incarcerated and can add a lot of context to what happens on the show, I was <obviously> incarcerated at a men's facility so it is great to add the perspective of a formerly incarcerated woman.

I want to thank Kathy for sharing her experiences and perspective as a formerly incarcerated woman with us too. 

I hope you have been listening to my podcast Decarceration Nation (episode 27 will be posted on Monday 7/30/2018 and features my discussion with Bianca Tylek (Founder and Director of the Corrections Accountability Project) and Michael Crowley (worked on justice policy in the Office of Management & Budget in both the Obama and Bush White Houses). 

Decarceration Nation has recently been featured in a Bustle post by Taylor Maples about prison podcasts and Orange Is the New Black.

If you have not watched OITNB Season 6 Episode 1 before *Spoiler Alert*

Kathy’s Take

Initial impression - the episode was all over the place.  All these treads and story lines.

Let’s start with just some basic comments.  Ad seg with the ladies were placed is not designed like that in any facility I have even been housed in.  Ad seg or “administrative segregation” is just nicer words for “solitary.” However the cells in these scenes are more like glass cages, in “real world” solitary all the walls are cinder block with one door that is solid steel with a very small window in it and a slot in the door where the food tray is placed and where the individual will be asked to turn their back to so that they may be handcuffed from behind prior to being released from their cell.  No one is taken from their cell in ad seg without handcuffs being placed on them first, followed by shackles and in some cases a “spit” mask will be added along with muffed placed over their hands.

There is much more noise, there is constant screaming, constant banging on walls, bed frames, doors, constant yelling for the officer, it is not a quiet housing unit at all and this goes on 24/7. The lighting is poor in a real solitary unit, it’s very dark, gloomy not well lit and the stench of urine, feces, and body odor is sometimes overwhelming to where you may gag.

Those in Ad Seg have their own yard area and do not ever mix with general population, the scene where the one woman <Daya> was taken out to the “yard” and placed in the small cage is unrealistic and not accurate - the yard for ad seg is a smaller version of the yard that gen pop uses you are still in an enclosed area, very small but you are allowed to move around in some cases there is even a basketball you can bounce around, you never mix with gen pop at all. Typically you are given a choice, rec or shower in this case it seemed that they were not given that choice but rather just selected.

The telephone calls in ad seg are few and far between and never done in small groups.  All telephone calls are randomly monitored and in this case with officials trying to get information from the ladies regarding the riot they would probably be monitoring ALL calls with the exception of any to clergy or lawyers as that is forbidden by law.  Hence the one woman <Cindy> called her rabbi and the other reached out to her father who she had not spoken to in years because he is an attorney and she knew that by law the call would not be monitored. Piper and the other woman <Gloria> simply called their family and yes the calls are time restricted and would automatically cut off.

Trying to commit suicide in solitary is not uncommon but I am not sure where the woman <Frieda> got the razor to cut herself since all of your property is searched and taken from you and you are never given a razor to keep in your cell.   

The officer <Hellman> asking the one woman <Taystee> to see if she wanted to use the telephone and then going into her cell, calling her closer to him so he could beat her repeatedly in the ribs could potentially happen but there are cameras around and the camera would have picked up on him going into her cell and questions would have been raised as to why he went in.  Also in ad seg officers are typically in pairs when dealing with the incarcerated, never alone in the event that something should happen. The door to the cell is simply not open but first, the cuffs are put on the person and then the door is open. Their recreation of ad seg gave me the impression of a regular housing unit in a maximum facility where you are typically locked in your cell a majority of the day but even cells in a regular housing unit would not have open walls with the Plexiglas windows.  They would be all cinder block walls with a solid steel door or steel bar door.

The woman who was hallucinating because she was being denied her medication <Suzanne> was wrong on multiple levels.  By law, they are not allowed to withhold medication, and it was obviously causing her great distress. Causing her to have a mental health crisis.  

The Internal Affairs interviews was classic 50s TV (Dragnet came to mind with the business suits) - that is not how it is done.  In the instance of the investigation of the death of an officer for State facilities, the State police are called in, in federal facilities, the marshals have jurisdiction, not the buffoon who was conducting this interview.  Any of the interview scenes were purely the imagination of the writers. It was painful to watch someone hallucinating being questioned by the investigator (typically they work in pairs), even with legal representation and who I assume as a psychologist present in the room.  The other problem I have with this is that the women being interviewed <Suzanne> is clearly traumatized by what she witnessed and overheard and needs the time to properly process it all, plus fighting to keep it all in. The ensuing segments with her going to the mental health unit for evaluation and to get stabilized on her medications is pretty accurate.

The dazed and blank stares of the women on the medication line in the mental health unit is accurate, typically you are over medicated and totally out of it and numb.  You do not wear those jumpsuit type outfits, you are stripped of all your clothing including underwear and given a “dignity suit” to wear which is typically this quilted like blanket wrap around dress that has no sleeves, no buttons, zippers etc. Velcro is used.  Medication is brought to you, you do not line up to receive it. There is the occasional individual who does not have that over medicated look and is rather animated like the one particular woman and they do provide some comic relief. The questions that were being asked during the partial mental evaluation are standard, however, most evaluations take place over a series of days and weeks and a true mental evaluation would typically take 90 days to allow for the individual to be stabilized on their medications.

The woman who tried to slit her wrists <Frieda> would have been placed in an observation cell where she would be stripped of all clothing, including underwear and placed in a paper gown, there is a bed that consists of a hard plastic frame often referred to as a “boat” laying on the floor, she would have been given a shot and would be heavily sedated. In some cases if the person is highly agitated they are put in “four points” which means they have restraints around their wrists which are connected to the bed frame also restraints at their ankles, it makes them look like they are pinned to a cross on the floor. The light in the cell would remain on 24 hours a day, the ceiling in the cell is very high to prevent hanging, there is only a toilet and sink, no windows, solid steel door with small window and slot to put her food tray in.   She would be monitored by a heat-sensing camera which only shows images and not her in person in the event that she should become naked.

The woman placed in the “restraint” chair is medieval <Frieda>.  Currently, “restraint” chairs are all metal, you are strapped in by your wrists, another two straps criss-crossing your chest, one around your waist and then one on each ankle, you head in not in that “helmet” type device, one in the chair you are wheeled around.  There are laws on the amount of time you can be confined in a “restraint” chair and staff would need the permission of a Captain to put someone is such a device.

The raid with the boom squad officers was reminiscent of the early morning cell searches conducted at Rikers, the officers in the “turtle suits” with their wooden sticks, helmets, the dogs that were brought in to sniff for drugs that would run all over your bed and tear into your personal property and food, the excessive use of pepper spray was all a reminder as I said of cell searches at Rikers so it does not surprise me that these same tactics would be used in the aftermath of a riot when clearing rooms and buildings.

The mindset of the officers, while it might seem a bit exaggerated, was close to the truth, instead of “fantasy inmates” there are “fight clubs.”  The indifference of the officers is typical although the officers in OITNB is a bit exaggerated and almost comical in their stupidity and ignorance (think keystone cops)  nor do some of them with their mercenary mindset surprise me, some are ex-military and their training is so ingrained they cannot train when put in a position of supervision of individuals, they have been in combat and still think they are in combat.  I had one CO who was a drill sergeant in the military and he brought that background over to being a CO, he ran the unit as if we were in the military and we were required to march in military formation when going anywhere, our beds were required to be made to military standards, there was no softness, he was devoid of all human feeling, he barked his orders. Some officers have this brutal attitude and it is not unusual to see those incarcerated being punched or hit with a club “just because” and it will be done not in the range of a camera. The sexual innuendos are also not uncommon especially with male officers assigned to the female housing units, for some it can be uncomfortable to have to listen to, it can be rude and borders on abusive as well.  But yes it does happen.

Finally, the officers setting up the murder scene so that an incarcerated woman takes the blame does not surprise me at all, it happens in the community, and yes it does happen in a correctional facility, including the “staging” of the crime.  I am interested in seeing how it all plays out over the season as the “staff” just seems so incompetent, disinterested, sadistic and burnt out.

To summarize my impression of this episode, some of the scenes are very accurate, majority, however, play into what the community thinks goes on in a correctional setting, overall there is much creative license, some instances of putting a comical spin on something but this episode was all over the place, no common thread, jumping back and forth, here and there and very hard to follow.  It seemed as if they were trying to pack a lot of storylines into a very short period of time where they could have really delved into one or two treads for the entire episode. But I feel they also felt they needed to be closure to Season 5. To me, the episode was too busy.

I left the episode feeling that the writers took what could have been some very heavy material, stuff that they could have made a statement out of and made a joke of it.  I am constantly reminded of Attica and most recently Lee Correctional and this episode could have been a perfect platform to address some serious issues and the real root causes that lead those incarcerated to take such a dramatic step to riot, they know the consequences of their actions and do not take these things lightly.

5 Things About Season 6 Episode 1 “Who Knows Better Than I”

 Netflix

Netflix

Reminder: it is going to take a long time for the series to make sense of everything that just made zero sense by the end of Season 5.

5. Correctional Officer Cruelty

Many people online have been wondering, if the depiction of the CO’s in Season 6 is accurate? The answer is, given the very specific circumstance...

Kind of.

The three most important lines in "Who Knows Better Than I" (if you want to better understand why the correctional officers are acting crazy) were:

1. Daya’s comment to Piper about why they were really all being kept in Segregation:

“They only brought a few of us in here, we're the focus group, they are going to focus on blaming us for the riot.”

2. CO Ward’s  comment to Daya when she was put in the cage outside:

“if it were up to me you'd never see daytime, see you later guard killer, be back in an hour.”

3. The new CO who used to work with Taystee back in the day who said to Taystee:

“You're team killed two players on mine. What did you think was going to happen.”

All of the girls who have been placed in Administrative Segregation (aka solitary, aka SHU )are there because they were believed to be the ones most responsible for the riot. Two Correctional Officers died in the riot which means the CO's are going to be VERY interested in these women.

In reality, they would most likely move them far away (this is exactly what happened most recently in the Lee Correctional Riot in South Carolina).

Daya surrendered herself as directly responsible for one of the CO casualties (Humps) so it makes total sense that the officers would give her a particularly hard time. The reality is that the CO’s would carry out revenge in many much shadier and less overt ways.

They would definitely keep Daya in SHU as long as possible and make her time in SHU miserable (waking her up at all hours and maybe even incentivizing other inmates to attack her in the showers or during her recreation time). Once Daya got out, every inmate would know they would curry favor with the CO’s by giving Daya grief or worse. The officers would give Daya every ticket possible and ride her relentlessly. Her cube would always be the first one tossed. She would be challenged by every CO every day.

It is, however, very unlikely that they would directly abuse her themselves. Abuse leaves a paper trail and they could make her life a living hell without ever hitting her themselves. If they really wanted to physically assault her, they might have an inmate start a fight with her and get shots in as they broke the fight up.

Don’t get me wrong, Daya would be abused, set up, subject to massive emotional and physical duress, and the CO’s might induce the other inmates to do something terrible to her. The rest of the inmates under suspicion in SHU would be treated poorly, but not as brutally as Daya (most likely).

Oh, Taystee would also be in a lot of trouble, she was the lead negotiator for the inmates and would be seen as a ringleader and therefore as responsible for what happened.

In my experience, as much as I generally disliked CO’s, it is unlikely so many of the officers would be brutal or blindly allow other officers to commit abuses (at least not out in the open). Usually, there was a good mix of officers who:

  • Wanted  to be friends (particularly dangerous)

  • Were extremely professional (best)

  • Were mildly unprofessional

  • Were on the goon squad

  • Were corrupt and craven

Anyway, more on the CO’s later. And if you have forgotten, they are not guards because they don’t guard anything.

Oh, in case you were wondering about why Daya was reluctant to take the candy bar, it is an old prison convention that if you take candy from someone, that means you are “with” them...as in with them sexually.

When I was in quarantine (where they prepare you for admission to prison), they even showed us an educational film which included a dramatic reenactment of someone making the mistake of taking candy (very serious).

4. Suzanne’s World

I loved the opening montage of Suzanne watching "television."

If you didn’t get it, Suzanne was translating everything she saw from her cell window, through her own extremely unique point of view, into seeing it as if she were watching television and could simply change the channel when something was disturbing to her.

Suzanne has not had her regular schedule of meds or been keeping to her daily routines, for at least a week and throughout it all...there was incredible disruption, brutality, and rapid change surrounding her. Suzanne is trying desperately to make digestible and palatable all of the horrors that she is seeing.

It made total sense that she would process what she couldn't digest as if she were watching television or talking to her mother. 

It would have seemed bizarre to see her lawyer working so hard to get her released from SHU and back into the general population...Except that these were the same instructions he has followed throughout the entire duration of the series. It is unlikely that Suzanne, especially in her current state, would be able to communicate the higher danger level that she will face in a maximum security prison as opposed to the minimum security camp she has lived in for years.

My favorite scene in the entire episode was the one where Suzanne was being evaluated by the psychiatrist and starts imagining everyone around her is doing the "Cha Cha Slide."

No matter what is going on, Suzanne always tries to finds her way to making lemonade out of lemons. I hope she can somehow turn the general population experience in Max into something pleasant (I really hate it when they are cruel to Suzanne).

A quick side note here:

I am having a really hard time with Frieda attempting suicide. I know her entire secret world was discovered and destroyed (when everything went up in smoke at the end of the riot), but nothing about Frieda has ever suggested that she was the suicidal type prior to this season (remember she famously dealt with her ex-husband by, well, removing a part).  

3. Beware Badison

I met people like Badison in prison, total sociopaths who enjoy and even feed off the violence and chaos of prison. One of the guys on the basketball team I coached in prison was, like Badison, both charismatic and volatile in just this way. 

She might seem a little hyper-real but there are many people in prison you don’t want to get on the wrong side of.

It took literally ten seconds of listening to Piper whining about Alex for Badison to decide to injure her badly enough to send her to medical.

Red is also just a bit full of sh*t here.

Badison is right, when you have serious time, getting new charges don’t really matter too much to you She enjoys causing trouble, likes hurting people, and could give two damns about Red’s family. And, to be fair, Red and her gang are great people but not particularly “fighting” tough...at least not in the fighting tough sense. We do love them, and Red is crafty, but if you remember back to Season 2, she is not exactly a great fighter in the trenches.

I feel like Red is really trying to convince herself, as much as she is trying to convince Badison, that she is ready to step up to this new - and very real - challenge.

And, on top of that, she has only ONE real fighter in her crew and that fighter just attempted to commit suicide. I am sure, in the end, it will all work out okay (because it’s television), but Red hasn’t even gotten to Gen Pop yet and already she has made a powerful enemy (and remember, in Suzanne’s dream, Red was a clown).

Badison has also left a marker with Piper When Piper returns, people will expect her to either step up to Badison or be considered weak.

2. Fantasy Inmate

Episode one introduced us to an  entire roster of new CO’s:

  • G. Hellman

  • D. Garza

  • T. Ward (Taystee’s friend)

  • J. Alvarez

  • V. Copeland (seems to be in charge)

Apparently, these CO's (or at least the ones in SHU) play a game called “Fantasy Inmate” in which they draft inmates and are assigned points based upon the activities that those inmates that they "own" engage in.

Probably would never happen for a LOT of reasons but the first and probably most important reason is that CO’s are just as terrified of pissing off the inmates as inmates are of terrifying the CO’s. They are not terrified of individual inmates necessarily, but they don’t want to unify inmates against them (as a general rule).

How different is this game from audience members having reasons for why they adopt one or another inmate as their favorite cast member? How different is this game, or how we watch Orange Is the New Black, from how Suzanne processes what is going on all around her at the beginning of this episode?

And I think that gets to an important point, once you make someone into an “other” it becomes harder and harder to treat them as a human being worthy of respect and dignity. This game is an example of how, in prison, the relationship between correctional officers and prisoners is inherently unhealthy and dangerous.

1. Exploitation?

One of the reasons, many years ago, to cover Orange Is the New Black was that it generally treated its inmates like human beings. Every inmate "had a story" worth telling and who weren’t reduced constantly to caricatures or who weren’t allowed to be more than their worst moments.

I am a little concerned that some of the depictions of violence in episode one are getting very close to crossing the line from subjectivity into exploitation (where they are more for the titillation of the audience than they are about serving the narrative).

In particular, the shower scene where CO’s Hellman and Garza force the girls, while handcuffed, to "make out" seemed a bit over the line.

Are CO’s sexually inappropriate and sexually abusive in prison? Of course, they are.

But it seemed a bit cartoonish, especially immediately following Gloria and Maria's "run-fighting" during Recreation time.

I hope that I am wrong about this one, but I won’t lie, I found myself feeling several times throughout "Who Knows Better Than I" whether some of the depictions of violence during this episode seemed more gratuitous than necessary.

Okay, that is it for week one! 

On the whole, I thought it was immediately obvious that they were taking this season much more seriously than they seemed to take Season 5.

Unlocking The Gates

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Netflix

New recaps will come out once a week (usually on Sunday mornings). You can catch up on the first 65 episode recaps by reading this guide to Orange, Black, or Bleak.

I am 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.

If you are interested in criminal justice reform or are formerly incarcerated yourself, please consider joining the fight (if you are a Michigan resident - you can sign up by clicking on the hyperlink above).

Leave comments, let us know what you thought! We will answer any civil questions.