Orange is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S1 E5 “The Chickening” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S1 E5: “The Chickening”

As a formerly incarcerated person, I have decided to do a deep-dive into OITNB to help explain things that folks watching the show without a felony background might not catch or have the context to understand.

I am also trying to make a case for criminal and social justice reform.

I chose OITNB because it is the least "Prison Porn" show out of the many shows on television about prison, jail, and about the criminal justice system (it accords the inmates their humanity). I  also chose it because, like Piper, I entered prison for the first time as a relatively privileged, white, adult.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 1 Episode 5 "The Chickening"


Season five covers:

* Red's mythic quest to catch a legendary and very crafty chicken.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) sees a chicken and finds out it is a chicken that Red (Kate Mulgrew) has been obsessed with catching.

Since Red virtually runs Litchfield, this makes "The Chickening" everyone else in the prison's quest as well. 

* Larry's quest to face down the myths that he himself created about who Piper is and about the foundations of their relationship.

Once Larry (Jason Biggs) finds out that Piper neglected to tell him about Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) being at Litchfield with her, he starts to compromise some of his own "rules" of his relationship.

* The first part of the backstory between Daya (Dascha Polanco) and her mother Aleida Diaz (Elizabeth Rodriguez).

* The intensification of the romance between Daya and Officer Bennett (Matt McGory).

* Sophia Burset's attempt to feign interest in Christianity in order to procure Hormone tablets from Sister Jane Ingalls (Beth Fowler). 

5. The Chickening

Look, I have no idea if it is possible for chickens to circumnavigate the razor wire to visit prison yards. 

When I was housed in St. Louis Michigan we saw all kinds of birds including Geese. 

When I was housed in Jackson at the Cotton facility, we had hawks that visited occasionally.

But, I will freely admit that I never saw even one chicken. 

Prisoners, as a general rule,  are really superstitious and prone to story-telling so the obsession part is certainly possible.

Okay, when everyone got in trouble for running, that is a thing. You can run on the track or during sporting events, but you generally are not allowed to run anywhere else on the prison compound.

4. "Todays Order of Services Is"

At the beginning of "The Chickening" episode, you hear a voice announce over the prison PA system that "Today's Order of Services Is" followed by a list of times tied to the different religions represented in the Litchfield population.

Going to Church is a pretty big part of prison life.

A large number of inmates are very religious (while others have different motives for going to church - more on that in a second) and prisons will create space for every religion you could possibly dream of following (I seem to remember that there were even Satanists at one prison that I was incarcerated or other..although I suspect they were just trying to get over on the prison administration).

However, prisons, as a general rule, prevent prisoners from gathering in large groups with only a few exceptions (for instance if there is a concert or special event) 

One of those exceptions is Church.

Because the right to go to Church is Constitutionally protected, many prisoners see "Church" as a place where they can communicate with the other members of the large groups that they belong to (yes, some of those groups are called gangs).

So, like most things in prison, Church can be a bit complicated. But, don't get me wrong, lots of prisoners are very religious (while many others use Church as cover activities).

By the way, there is no possible way in the world that Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) would have been allowed to build that massive cross (wherever they said she made it) and she certainly would not have been allowed to carry it around the complex (or hang it from the chapel ceiling).

3. "Inmates Aren't Allowed To Barter"

Officer Bennett calls Daya out and yells at her for trying to trade her corn pops for some thread. He tells her that "inmates aren't allowed to barter."

Technically, this is correct but in practice, the entire prison economy runs on barter (I am pretty sure I already explained prison economics in a previous post).

Bennett was using the barter as a ruse to both look tough in front of Mendez and also to pass a note to Daya.

So this is an opportunity to discuss the budding romance between Bennett and Daya.

I generally like OITNB because most of the subplots are somewhat plausible and because the writer's treat the inmates as human beings.

But, IMHO, this romance subplot his absurdly implausible. 

I am not saying that there isn't sex in prison (there is) or that is impossible for sex to occur between correctional officers and inmates (especially with male guards at a woman's prison, I am saying that secret courtships and romance are improbable.

These days, prisons are increasingly covered with cameras which make these kinds of trysts even more unlikely.

I am sure I will talk about this more during later episodes, but one of the best rules to follow in prison, if you want to avoid prison sex, is to get all of your bathroom chores care of before "lights out" at night (if you know what I mean). 

2. "We've Got A Lot Of Bullets Up In That Guard Tower"

So, when Officer George "Pornstache" Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) has all the girls on the ground in the yard, asks them if they want to get shot, and mentions that they have "plenty of bullets up in the tower" there really are guard towers and those towers really do have people who will shoot you if you try to make a run for it.

There is something surreal and insane about knowing that if you cross some arbitrary line in the exercise yard that you will be extinguished. In an odd way, it kind of weighs on you at all times.

So many of the things about prison enforcement are confusing.

I met people who were in prison for everything from embezzlement to driving drunk but, no matter the crime, everyone is treated as if escape is such a physical threat to everyone outside of the prison that death is the only appropriate response.

Even more irrational, there is virtually zero chance of escape if someone rushes the fences (they are extremely high and covered in razor wire) but if you approach the fences, they will absolutely shoot you.

So, if some nerd rogue computer hacker rushes the impenetrable fence, we all should feel much safer in the knowledge that soon he or she will most certainly be shot dead by some anonymous officer with a rifle.

I myself have no problem accepting that what I did was wrong and that I deserved punishment. That said, in my entire life, I have never tried to physically hurt another human being but was still led around in chains anytime I was outside of the prison and at risk of being shot whenever I was inside. 

In fairness to the system, I suppose part of the punishment is the certainty that you are not allowed to leave the prison unless they let you or until your sentence has been served. And that you are not allowed outside "social privileges" even on pain of death unless your criminality is made blatantly apparent to the world.

It is a strange experience, to say the least. 

1. The Importance Of Basketball (And Dominoes)

Before everyone in the yard gets in trouble (for running around in pursuit of the chicken). You see Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) playing basketball while the Latinas are playing dominoes.

I sometimes joke that I am the only person in the history of the world to win both a National College Debate Championship and be in the finals of a prison Over 40 Basketball Tournament (at the St. Louis Level-One prison).

I say it is a joke, but I am pretty sure that it is also the truth.

Basketball is very important in prison. Often during league games, it seemed like the entire prison stopped because everyone who mattered was watching the games (yes, even most of the CO's).

Every unit had a basketball court right outside and we played every single day (weather permitting). There was always a pickup game, a game of horse, or a game of around the world going on (a game where you win by hitting more shots from a set of pre-arranged spots in order than your opponents).

I was too old (no longer good enough) to play in the regular league games but I played against all of the younger guys all the time during yard time. I also, in a fit of insanity, coached league basketball. 

Why was this insane? 

Well, imagine the entire prison population surrounding the court (literally enveloping you) as you try to coach. Every member of your team has friends and they all get mad when you pull them out of the game. If your team loses, it is always easiest for everyone on your team and all the friends of your team to blame the coach.

Let me tell you, you have not known stress until you have 200 inmates surrounding you and telling you exactly what they think of every coaching move that you make (every substitution, every time-out, every strategy).

For some crazy reason, I coached three full league seasons (they run a few months each).

I am still not entirely sure how I kept getting asked back or how I survived it.

Anyway, basketball is very important in prison (or at least at the prisons where I was housed).

Unlocking The Gates


Okay, another one bites the dust.

Lots of people seem to be reading this  (and I am very grateful for that) but no matter what I do, I can't seem to figure out how to get anyone to comment or engage in conversations.

Not complaining, thanks so much for reading! I will learn.

But, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them.

Anyway, 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:

"Who do you think gave the best performance in OITNB to date?" 

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

Today's Book is Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson