Orange Is The New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S1 E8 “Moscow Mule” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S1 E8: “Moscow Mule”

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.

Next Tuesday my "Better Call Saul" recaps return (haven't decided on a name for this year's version).

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 1 Episode 8 "Moscow Mule"

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OITNB Season 1 Episode 8 is about:

* Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) up and Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs) down.

Larry's article about Piper comes out in the NYT (it was called "One sentence, two prisoners"). Larry reads Piper the story over the phone and his perspective about her prison time starts to expose the difference between the person Piper (Taylor Schilling) sees herself as and the person that Larry sees when he looks at her.

* Continuing backlash towards Piper from Sam Healy (Michael Harney) from her end-run (pun intended) around his authority that resulted in the track being reopened.

The important thing to remember here is that Healy literally thinks that any woman he can't control or understand must be a lesbian (because to him lesbian means "a woman beyond men" or an "unnatural" woman).  As long as Piper remains the person Healy wants her to be, she remains protected but if she diverts from his idea of who she should be, she is immediately banished and punished.

* Red's ongoing war with Mendez (Pablo Schrieber) over his desire to use her kitchen smuggling connection to get his drugs into Litchfield (more on this in a bit). Also, FYI, Moscow Mule is a name Mendez calls Red later during the episode.

* The escalating war between Doggett (Taryn Manning), Alex, and Piper.

5. "Is There a Doctor in Here?"

Maria Ruiz (Jessica Pimentel) has gone into labor and when she asks "Is there a Doctor in here" she gets the response, "no, but there is a nurse."

In Michigan, as I mentioned once before, there is almost never a Doctor on call. One of the many ways that Prisons save money is by having Doctors "on staff" but rarely "on call."

God forbid an actual emergency happens and a Doctor needs to be present. Generally, an ambulance is called, and it gets there when it gets there. Usually, the "emergencies" are the result of terrible acts of violence when time is of the essence.

On the good side, if you have something serious and treatable, they will take you to an expert outside of the prison (to avoid lawsuits). One of the guys in my cube had a serious eye injury and was taken to a specialist for surgery at U of M Hospital. 

But sadly, for most prisoners, their health problem is either something chronic or withing the acceptable purview of the mostly invisible facility Doctor. What it means in practice is that most of your care comes from a nurse practitioner.

Dental care is the worst, you are supposed to be able to get one cleaning a year but it is based on a waitlist and I was at a facility for well over a year and never got a cleaning. In addition, if you need anything other than a filling, the default is to pull the tooth. They actually see teeth as elective.

Psychology and Psychiatry in prison are a mixed and upsetting bag. Prisons and jails treat the vast majority of our nation's mentally ill population.

If you are mildly depressed or have been placed in programming, the assigned psychologists can be good or bad. I was lucky, all but one of the psychologists I came into contact with seemed competent.

In general, they prescribe SSRI's and anti-psychotics like candy in the hopes that it will keep the prisoners in line but the treatment varies greatly depending on the competence of the therapist.  In addition, many inmates will not avail themselves of psychological services because they believe the parole board will use treatment as a reason to deny parole. There is also a stigma "on the yard" if you are going to therapy.

However, for the mentally ill, prison is an incomprehensibly awful place.

Many of the emotionally hardest things I personally saw in prison were as a result of mistreatment and neglect of the mentally ill. 

Unless you have been to prison, you just have no idea how badly people inside are treated. I met people who spent YEARS in solitary. I met people whose treatment was to be doped up and locked down. I listened to women crying all night in jail after being tied to chairs and left to detox. 

For the sane, jail and prison is a brutal place that can make you lose sanity. For the mentally ill, it seems, to me, to be a system full of never ending cruel and unusual tortures 

I have said it before and I will say it again, nothing I saw in my entire time in jails and prisons made me as ashamed to be an American as seeing the "treatment" of the mentally ill.

No amount of distance will ever wash away my feeling of disgust at seeing the things that I saw.

4. Stockpiling Meds From Commissary

There is a flu epidemic going around Litchfield and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) mentions that she "never gets sick" because she stockpiles meds from the commissary.

First of all, there are not "meds" on commissary there are pain relievers and cough drops. Medicine treats your symptoms while pain relievers and cough drops suppress your discomfort. So, if Nicky took those "meds" she would be sick she just would suffer less than someone without "meds."

However, she is right about the value in stockpiling pain relievers and cough drops. The prison will not give you pain relievers when you are sick because they expect you to purchase your own. I had multiple bottles of aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen stockpiled in my locker for emergencies.

The way I looked at it, it was better to have pain relievers and not use them than need pain relievers and not have them. 

Oh, I also stockpiled Vitamin C for winter (which can be preventative).

Sick, however, is sick. Aspirin doesn't stop you from getting sick.

3. "Russians Don't Play Baseball"

Officer Mendez forces Red to keep Tricia's withdrawal quiet after he loses the ability to smuggle new drugs into the prison. He correctly fears that if the prison administration finds out that long-term inmates are in withdrawal that they will know the drugs came from someone inside the prison. 

Red decides to force Tricia (Madeline Brewer) to go to the prison administration and admit that she has been using and is in withdrawal (in essence, exposing that drugs are getting into Litchfield). Basically, Red decided to expose the drugs and put all of the pressure from the administration on Mendez. This obviously doesn't go over well with Mendez who furiously starts to try to turn Red's allies in order to find out how she gets contraband into Litchfield.

Nicky is obviously not thrilled either that Red is forcing her bunkie, Tricia to turn herself in (which probably means getting sent to real prison and having new charges added to her jacket). As an addict herself, she also knows that punishing someone for using in the hopes of bottoming them out is insanity. She says to Red:

"It's not personal it's chemical."

And, in my opinion, this is 1000% correct.

Recovery and sobriety happen as the result of a process of retraining your brain after a long period of becoming aware of the relationships between your triggers and acting out behaviors. The terrible pseudo-science behind "tough on addiction" messaging has done little to help addicts recovery and, often, at massive costs to those addicts.

Most of what Red is doing here is playing politics against Mendez, but she is also just wrong about her approach to addiction. The reference to baseball was Red's argument (to Nicky) that two relapses by Trish were one too many for Red.

2. Music

Officer Mendez searches out Nicky who tells him how Red smuggles her contraband in after finding her lying in the chapel listening to music on an MP3 device (through earbuds).

You might be wondering about music.

Yes, you can get MP3 devices in prison.

It is, however, one of the biggest scams in the universe, preying on prisoners and the families of prisoners who are already trying to figure out how to make ends meet and struggling with court fees, restitution fees, and trying to put money into their loved one's commissary account.

It has been three years, but when I was in prison the MP3 player cost a ton (and was a substandard knock-off) and each download cost nearly $2. And this was after streaming.

This is pretty typical of DOC's. They contract with vendors NOT because they provide the best price to prisoner's, they contract with vendors because they give the DOC the best cut of the profits. 

Amorality abounds in prison contracting (because who cares if you gouge prisoners..right?).

Piper raised the question of short-term vs. long-term cost when she was fighting for keeping the track open (exercise reduces long-term health costs).

This lack of DOC vision is also apparent in other areas too. For instance, we got some knockoff "suntan lotion" that didn't protect against UV-A or UV-B or have an SPF rating. Given how much time prisoner's spend on the yard, it would seem smart to try to prevent costly skin cancers. It would only require a better vendor or an honest assessment of the vendors that was not based only on DOC kick-backs.

It is in the interest of every prison to keep prisoners occupied with television, music, and exercise activities. It is in the interest of every prison to have prisoners taking the best possible care of themselves. Having affordable but quality items on the store list should be a no-brainer.

But, of course, what they do is almost always pretty shady instead. Just recently, the MDOC raised the cost of both email and phone calls when both were already incredibly expensive and President Trump is rolling back the FCC regulation designed to stop price gouging on phone calls in prisons.

1. "Clean Ladies Are Healthy Ladies"

For most of "Moscow Mule," there is a flu epidemic running through Litchfield correctional. The administration announces over the intercom that "clean ladies are healthy ladies."

The truth, as I have mentioned before, most inmates are germaphobes. I have seen fights start over someone reaching their arm over someone else's food. I have seen 50 people in a row open a door only with the sleeve of their jacket (instead of using their hands No matter how clean you are in the unit, because of warehousing (they pile inmates in units like cordwood), viruses spread throughout units very quickly (hence, my stockpiling of pain relievers and cough drops). 

I have to say again, people do tell tales to guards in prison but those people do not generally do very well or last very long. Nicky has been around a long time, it is my opinion that she would be very unlikely to give a guard information on Red (despite being really mad at her). 

It is much more likely, she would have engineered a way to get revenge on Red. Prisoners take care of their own business, they do not go to guards.

The same thing is true of Doggett. When she set Alex and Piper up for being busted by Luschek (Matt Peters) she violated a pretty core rule of prison (you don't turn people in or cause people to be turned in). 

You are supposed to solve your own problems in prison.

Unlocking The Gates

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.

Tonight (4/5) I was lucky enough to give a speech (about being formerly incarcerated and about Nation Outside) at a screening of Ava DuVernay's excellent documentary feature 13th.

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If you have not yet seen 13th, it is available on Netflix. It is very disturbing but important.

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 for Nation Outside by clicking on the hyperlink above). We would love to have you working with us on Criminal Justice Reform.

Today's Comment Question is:

"Why won't anyone answer my Comment Questions?"

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

Today's book is Piper Kerman's book Orange is the New Black (I am rotating my favorite CJ Reform books).