Exploitation or Empathy?: Orange Is the New Black S3 E10 “A Tittin’ and a Hairin” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S3 E10: “A Tittin’ and a Hairin’”

As a formerly incarcerated person, I have been engaged in a deep-dive into the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black to help explain some of the things that folks watching the show without a felony background might not catch.

This episode is OITNB at its darkest and least redemptive, this is probably my least favorite episode of OITNB in the entire history of the show (tbh I almost skipped it entirely on purpose).

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

Some Things About Season 3 Episode 9 "A Tittin’ and a Hairin?”

OITNB inmates.jpg

OITNB S3 E10 “A Tittin’ and a Hairin” is about:

* The backstory of Tiffany Doggett (much more on this in a few minutes) but this is one hour of unrelenting awfulness. It starts with her getting terrible advice from her terrible mother as a young child, moves through her one bizarre but semi-positive relationship, and ends with incredible brutality.

* Piper continuing her deepening relationship with Stella (right in Alex’s face) exactly at the moment Alex needs her the most. There are few times during the entire run of the show when Piper has been less relatable, more selfish, and less compassionate (which is really saying something). Even if Alex were being irrational about Kubra, how can you continue to believe Piper ‘loves’ Alex when she is so quick to bail on her?

Piper recruits Maria, Flacca, and Maritza to join her panty business but Flacca (always smarter than she lets on) figures out that Piper is totally exploiting her workforce and starts to educate the rest of the panty-wearers about their value vs. reward.

Also, Alex finally figures out that Lolly is totally batsh*t crazy as opposed to finding out that she was sent by Kubra to kill her

* Leanne continuing to wear out her welcome as self-appointed leader of the Norma group. Also, SoSo gets counsel from Birdie and stands up for herself against Leanne (and Caputo threatens to shut the Norma group down).

* Litchfield's population finding out that Judy King is being sent to Alderson Correctional instead of Litchfield (be careful what you wish for).

* Morello finally finding her true love in Vinnie and then sending him (and his friends) to beat the hell out of Christopher. I get that Lorna is “La Loca” but things like this make it really hard to root for her. I mean this poor Christopher dude was a total jerk when he exposed her insanity in the visitor’s room, but he didn’t deserve everything she has done to him.

And, why in the holy hell isn’t Morello getting any counseling or meds? This probably fits right in with my criticisms of the paucity of mental health care in prisons and jails, but I dearly wish she would get some help (there are times you really can tell she has a good heart).

* Red finally getting to make something delicious in the kitchen to make her staff “feel human again,” one of the few bright spots in this darker than dark episode.

* Suzanne being pursued by Maureen romantically. In one of the few other touching scenes (no pun intended), Suzanne asks Morello about sex (because she has never had any form or variety of sexual contact before). I would be more excited about this if Maureen was a more stable character.

* Gloria deciding it is unfair that Sophia can see her son Michael but won’t allow her ex-wife to continue to bring Gloria’s son Benny for visitation too. This seems totally insane to me because absent Sophia’s grace, she wouldn’t have seen Benny at all. On the other hand, it is a prison, so this could happen.

Unfortunately, she and Aleida decide to press the issue and Sophia pushes Gloria’s head into the wall in a moment of anger. Yup, another of my favorite characters heading down what will likely be a really dark path going forward.

In fairness, I think the writer’s keep having real problems coming up with storylines for Sophia so they keep finding ways for her to be present then do something to make her disappear.

* Cindy continuing to pursue Judaism.

* Mendez convincing his Mother that she should still adopt Daya’s baby because even if the baby technically isn’t Mendez’ baby, he tells her that believing the kid is his is the only thing keeping him going.

Mendez mom visits Daya, makes the offer, and Daya accepts her offer (will it never end).

Exploitation?

Okay, I have zero problems with showing violence or even brutal violence if it is done for a meaningful reason or if it ultimately serves a redemptive purpose.

I have watched all five seasons of OITNB (and most episodes at least three times) and I have yet to see a justification for the ongoing brutal treatment of Tiffany Doggett. For those of you who are only on Season three, I will leave out the details but this episode is a really hard watch.

Her mother tells her that she is valuable because of her sexuality and that she should just let men do what they want, she starts defining her only value in being a sexual object and then is used and ultimately raped twice in the-most-awful montage imaginable at the end of the episode.

Why? We already knew that Tiffany Doggett had a horrible life surrounded by neglect, drug addiction, and brutality. Why did we have to see her totally destroyed as a human being over and over again, what purpose did it serve?

If I were being kind and assuming the point was to increase our empathy for Doggett, didn’t we already have that and did we have to see her degraded and treated like a piece of meat by donuts in the last episode and then brutalized over and over again during this episode?

If I were being cynical, I would wonder if it was intended to entertain, and that would just be sad and wrong.

Part of what is supposed to be, according to Jenji, the core mission of this show is to see prisoners as human beings and as more than their crimes. Part of seeing even fictional characters as human beings is to treat them with dignity. This doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen to them, but when these bad things happen it shouldn’t seem unnecessary or gratuitous.

I will say that I have a great deal of respect for Taryn Manning as an actor. These scenes were made even harder to watch by her incredible and courageous performance.

Between the Morello, Piper, Sophia, Daya, and especially the Doggett storylines in this episode it really made me question my support for this show (which made it even harder to have to watch the brutality again).

This is one of the few episodes which really made me deeply question my support for the show. If there had been many more episodes like this one I would have quit watching.

Wage Exploitation

By now, I suspect you know that prisoner’s get paid pennies an hour.

Last week I was responding to a post on Linkedin about a group of prisoner’s banding together to donate a pretty hefty sum to hurricane relief.

I said something like, “even more amazing when you remember they get paid pennies per hour.”

Like clockwork, someone chimed in with “I wonder how much their victim’s get paid?”

Sigh.

First of all, prison is a truly awful and brutal place, trust me, there is plenty of punishment to go around. For all of you folks who think that prison should be brutal, don’t you worry, it really is (also not everyone in prison has a victim or did something that would justify brutality even if you believe that an eye for an eye doesn't make us all blind).

I was at a low-security level prison and I saw stabbings and beatings at least once a week for most of my three years of incarceration.

Second, when asked, most victims of even violent crimes, are not huge fans of incarceration, as Danielle Sered (who was just lucky enough to meet last week) explains:

“The fundamental need for safety should not be equated with an appetite for incarceration. Even though incarceration provides some people with a temporary sense of safety from the person who harmed them or satisfies a desire to see someone punished for wrongdoing — or both — many victims find that the incarceration of that person makes them feel less safe. For some, this is because they fear others in the community who may be angry with them for their role in securing the responsible person’s punishment. For others, it is because they know the person who harmed them will eventually come home and they do not believe that he or she will be better for having spent time in prison; to the contrary, they often believe that incarceration will make the person worse. Many victims who live in communities where incarceration is common are often dissatisfied with its results. And even those victims who do want the incarceration of those who hurt them are often disappointed by what it delivers in practice. Many survivors seek incarceration only to find later that it did not make them safe and did not heal them in the way they had anticipated. Even in the context of what could be described as a four-decade media and public education campaign promoting incarceration, the number of victims who see it as an effective remedy is far smaller than public discourse reflects. When it comes to punishment, survivors consistently express a desire for options other than incarceration and an interest in them when they are available. Yet the criminal justice system rarely offers alternatives to prison as responses to violence.”

Third, incarceration doesn’t make us safer.

Let me repeat that...Incarceration doesn’t make us safer.

Don’t take my word for it, here is the evidence from one of the largest meta-analyses of the effects of incarceration ever completed:

"Drawing together the findings from this long journey of scrutiny leads to a surprisingly simple conclusion: the best estimate of the marginal impact of incarceration on crime in the US today is zero. The claims that increasing the severity of incarceration even mildly deters appear weak.After Effects appear to cancel out incapacitation in most contexts. But while zero is my central estimate, I do not view it as certain. On the one hand, the Georgia studies, as reanalyzed here, depart from the rest in not finding harmful crime aftereffects from incarceration. On the other, Mueller-Smith’s formidable study goes strongly the other way: aftereffects do not merely cancel out incapacitation but easily surpass it in magnitude, and mostly likely deterrence as well, so that incarceration increases crime at the margin. Meanwhile, all of the studies reviewed probably leave out most of the crime increase in prison that comes from putting more people there."

Fourth, why should these inmates be castigated for doing something positive either way?

So, given these findings, it seems more than a bit insane to throw around victim's rights as the reason to enforce slave labor wages and continued brutality for brutalities sake. It seems pretty clear that the best way to ensure victims safety is to do our best to train and equip incarcerated people for their return to society.

The sad truth, demonstrated by Piper’s exploitation of her fellow inmates is that compared to what people in prison get paid normally, extra flavor packets seems like a pretty great deal or at least a good enough deal that most people wouldn’t even think to question the good fortune and collectively bargain for better wages.

Of course, we just had a riot at the Kinross facility in Michigan over wages, but the MDOC insists (despite charging multiple inmates with inciting a riot) that it wasn’t a riot. This is the inherent danger in organizing to try to collectively bargain in a situation where you are considered to have no rights.

I am not sure if I agree with the methods utilized in Kinross (I believe in non-violent resistance) but because of the opacity of the prison system, it is hard to get an accurate picture of what actually happened in this incident. This is one of the reasons why transparency is so important in prisons (which are essentially black boxes).

The best solution is to treat prison as a 360 intake through employment life-skills and employment skills training system. If incarceration doesn’t increase safety, why not start changing it so that it becomes an engine of safe reentry into an engine of recidivism. As Danielle Sered put it:

“The United States will not solve the problem of violence by relying on prison to do so.”  

Okay, sorry, that ended up being a long one.

Unlocking The Gates

I wanted to include my friend Monica's story because she is a total hero and works every day of her life for criminal justice reform and to help formerly incarcerated people find a home and employment when they come home (she is a member of Nation Outside like me).

Thet video is part of the AFSC Michigan's 'Good Neighbor Project.'

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).

Today's Comment Question is:

“What secret was revealed about Blanca in this episode?"

Leave a comment, let people know.  Or, if you have questions, I respond to 100% of my comments!