“How To Do Life” Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S7 E4 (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S7 E4: “How To Do Life”

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 most recent guest was Eli Savit who is running as a 2020 candidate for prosecutor in Michigan.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5. “Yeah, Immigrant Detention”

After over one full season we finally get to see the reunion of Flaritza. Gloria takes 

Flacca as part of her new co-parenting ICE kitchen crew with Red and since Maritza is one of the folks incarcerated at the ICE facility which ipso facto brings the dynamic duo back together again (at least for a few seconds).

Sidenote, Bell and O’Neill are also back with us  as correctional officers working at the new ICE facility (formally the camp where all of the ,. Apparently, they now have a child together and still are mostly odd. Lorna and O’Neill have a long discussion of parenting on the ride to the facility 

So, Maritza tells Flaca about her dilemma and asks her to call someone who can get in touch with her Mom and get her identification. Using one of the unbelievably ubiquitous cell phones every single incarcerated seems to have at Litchfield. Now I am not saying people in prisons can’t get access to cell phones, but usually very few people have them and they are treated like treasure and certainly not used in the cavalier manner that folks on the show seem to be using them. Anyway, Flacca gets in touch with Maritza’s mom and finds out the sad news that Maritza was not actually a “citizen” (not born in the United States).  

This is a tragic turn (among many tragic turns in this episode), but it seems particularly unbelievable to me, although this could be from my own naivete, .how in the world would Maritza NOT know she wasn’t a citizen? Are we supposed to believe she never had to procure identification or go to the DMV? It is very possible that I am totally wrong here but it feels like one of those times where the writers had a plan that they were not going to deviate from and which changed character to fit the new story line. 

One thing that is really powerfully portrayed so far in this season is how fragile our claims to citizenship and belonging can be.  We put so much into the worlds that we invest in no matter where those worlds might be and when they are disrupted it often is incredibly traumatic. This is likely true no matter if you are a kid being moved away from your friends or an adult being moved from one prison to another. I can only imagine how it must feel to not only lose immediate relationship to friends or family members but also to everything you know. At least some of the stories I have read about deportations revolve around people deported to countries that they have no experience except as a child. To be forced to sit in a processing facility awaiting deportation to a place where you will be, most likely, a  stranger in a strange land with no place to live, no money, and no connections. 

There is a true cruelty to the things we are doing right now and I say we because this is all being done in our name. 

Oh and Red seems to be losing her mind.

4. “I Miss My Little Muchkin So Much”

It was maybe a bit unnecessary for Lorna’s kid to die?

I don’t have a lot to say here except that given everything Lorna has gone through it seems really cruel to take away the one thing that was helping her find some happiness. Usually, when we talk about mental health care on this show we think about Suzanne but Lorna struggles with serious delusions as well.

Somehow, despite her delusions and suppressed anger issues, Lorna, against all odds,  managed to meet, marry, and have a baby with a guy who seems to authentically care deeply about  her, could we let her just end with a win? 

I am not saying that every character has to have a happy ending, and I haven’t seen the entire character arc yet, but I feel like this was unnecessary. It really would have been nice to see Lorna find some happiness, peace, and maybe get some serious therapy.

Look, I am not looking past all her issues, or her newfound anti-immigrant furor (sigh), but writing cruelty is a bit like beating up on someone who really can’t defend herself, there better be a damn good dramatic reason for the abuse.

It is no surprise, given what happened to the baby, that Lorna immediately goes back to constructing elaborate fantasies and getting lost in delusions (totally ridiculous that she is just sitting on her bunk using the cell phone like it is nothing).

3. “27 Empty Pudding Cups”

Welcome back Freda...she and Cindy are now sharing a cell in Florida.

Freda is old school and has been in prison for a long time, so at some level, she could get away with a lot, but generally people in prison are NOT messy. In fact, most folks in prison are serious germaphobes, most people clean their cells or cubes multiple times a week and one of the fastest ways to get in trouble with the people that you share space with in prison is to not keep your space clean. 

And I know they preface it by saying the CO’s let folks in Florida have some freedom, but she has stacks of property all over the room and food left out all over her cell. People just don’t want to live in filth. 

I mean half of the people in the units that I lived in would not even touch the  door handles to go outside without covering their hand with a jacket or part of their shirt.

Also, when people can be out in the unit most people will not stick around when their bunkie needs to use the toilet. Usually, whenever your bunkie needs to use the toilet you leave and give them a few seconds of privacy. 

Now, for most of the time we had group bathrooms, but I did do some time in cells with toilets too. Bathroom etiquette is a big thing in prison and understanding the rules of the bathroom is very important (and a critical safety practice is being considerate of the rules and other incarcerated people’s needs).

2. “Every Day that I Say Alive They Win”

Given the incredible coincidence in timing between what Taystee attempts and what just happened in real life, let's deal with the Epstein situation first.

Today, the coroner determined that Jeffrey Epstein’s official cause of death is that he hung himself.

The short form of my long take on this whole debacle:

  1. Prisons do not generally run efficiently, while there are some excellent correctional officers, there are also ALWAYS bad correctional officers

  2. Prisons do not have crack mental health treatment or crack mental health care. 

  3. Correctional officers are absolutely not and should never be mistaken for mental health professionals

  4. It is NOT surprising that Mr. Epstein’s time on suicide watch was short. Suicide watch requires a large commitment of resources and the preference is to get people out as soon as possible.

  5. In general, high-profile people in prisons are placed in cells by themselves. They are almost always segregated and kept away from the general prison population. This is done because someone like Mr. Epstein, with the kind of crimes he is alleged to have committed, would be dead in minutes if he were allowed to be around the other incarcerated people. It is absolutely NOT surprising that Mr. Epstein went directly from suicide watch to a segregated cell.

  6. Suicide is not at all uncommon for people in segregation and yes, officers often do not arrive in time.

  7. It is exhausting listening to thousands of people who have never done time or even been inside a prison opine in official press outlets about how prison incidents that really are normal are somehow totally abnormal. Now, it should be even more disturbing that these kind of incidents are normal, but they are absolutely not abnormal.

Okay, if you have questions or comments please feel free to leave comments. I will do my best to answer them as soon as possible.

Okay, now to Taystee’s suicide attempt.

First of all, while Taystee’s sentence could not get longer, she does have things to lose and she could always be locked in solitary. Also, and maybe this probably isn’t universal, but I was in like five facilities and I never saw the warden or assistant warden in the unity ever (unless they were leading someone in on a tour of the facility). Maybe they do it differently at the federal level but it seems very unlikely that a warden would just be walking around the facility with no backup (and for good reason because she would be a target).

Like I said, I am not sure what happens at the federal level on this question, but it would be really irregular for a warden to be in a cell one-on-one with an incarcerated person. You could theoretically meet with a warden in her office, but it would be very unlikely and dangerous for a warden to be alone with an inmate in a cell.

Second, I am glad Taystee decided not to kill herself, she has always been one of the best characters on the show and nobody needs a redemptive arc more than her (let’s all hope there is something good at the end of her story).

1. Restorative Justice

I am a big proponent of restorative justice. For those of you who listen to my podcast you likely know that I have had several guests on to discuss restorative justice in the past. I am also a steering team member with Friends of Restorative Justice here in Michigan.

It is a little odd to see Caputo leading a class on Restorative Justice given that as one of the people in his class mentions, he has actively done harm to them. I know many folks see him as “the good guy” and in a sense he might have become a better person, but he is the one who chose to pursue advancement in his MCC (now PolyCon) career at the expense of the safety and security of the people in his charge and that resulted in tragedy. 

Anyway, it would be hard to learn restorative justice from a person who arguably did you or the people around you direct harm. If, however, you watched the CNN show “The Redemption Project with Van Jones” you have seen exactly how these programs work inside prisons to bring people who did harm together with the people who they harmed in order to find healing and reconciliation.

Look, we know that prison is one of the worst possible solutions we could apply to most problems and that the results are generally counterproductive, there are other alternatives and if we want better outcomes we should be testing other methods. It might surprise some folks reading that there is an organization in Brooklyn New York called Common Justice that has had great success using restorative methods as an alternative to incarceration, even in cases where violence occurred. If you want to learn more from this perspective, I would highly recommend the book “Until We Reckon” written by the Director of Common Justice, Danielle Sered. 

The real challenge is NOT creating Restorative Justice classes in prisons, the real and critical challenge is to implement Restorative Justice practices as alternatives to incarceration. Incarcerated people should absolutely start to grapple with the harm that they have caused, but we need to build a new system that is actually based around healing the harms created by crime .

Unlocking The Gates



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).