Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E11 “Take A Break From Your Values” (Netflix)

Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E11 “Take A Break From Your Values” (Netflix)

As a formerly incarcerated person, I have decided to do 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.

Also, a reminder, I am not covering Season 5 (or watching it) until it is officially released by Netflix. When Season 5 starts, I will start writing contemporary recaps (and I will return to the retro pieces after I finish S5). In other words, I am not rewarding the OITNB hackers.

In other words, expect S5 E1 in 3 days (Woo Hoo!).

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 2 Episode 11 "Take A Break From Your Values"

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Orange is the New Black S2 E 11 Is about:

* The backstory of Sister Jane Ingalls (Beth Fowler) from arriving at the convent as an innocent new hopeful all the way to getting ex-communicated and arrested for her activism (and narcissism). In addition, she takes over SoSo's hunger strike and ends up in medical segregation as a result (even though she stopped eating about a week after the others).

* Polly (Maria Dizzia) and Larry (Jason Biggs) finally coming clean about their relationship (resulting in Larry getting hit in the face by Polly's husband but only after the possibility of a threesome is shot down by both Polly and Larry)

* The unceremonious end of the newsletter once Fig (Alysia Reiner) finds out that Piper's prisoner newspaper advertised SoSa's hunger strike demands.

* Red (Kate Mulgrew) regrouping after finding out that Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) sold out her contraband route Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Vee regrouping after seeing that one of the Golden Girls tried to kill her (and ended up stabbing the wrong person). 

* Chapman (Taylor Schilling) gets the news that she is being transferred to Virginia (obviously because Fig found out she had been meeting with the reporter). Also, she talks to Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) and finds out that Kubra (Eyas Younis) got off on a technicality and is likely after Alex.

5. "I Guarantee It Won't Get Past Healy"

SoSo (Kimiko Glenn) presents the list of demands from her group of hunger strikers to Piper and Piper puts in the newspaper after explaining that it "won't get past Healy." Healy (Michael Harney) is distracted and misses it entirely. As a result, Caputo (Nick Sandow) and Fig rush to suppress the strike and Fig disbands the newspaper.

One of the least discussed but most important areas for prison reform is transparency. Yes, inmates can call and report abuses to friends and families on the outside but it is incredibly hard for reporters or laypeople to confirm actual events inside. In addition, prison administration's relocate successful jailhouse lawyers and rabble rousers all the time to make it even harder for transparency to happen.

Of course, prisons are already placed far away from population centers, are surrounded by walls, and shrouded in secret rules and traditions of silence. 

At one point during the episode, Caputo states, in reference to the length of time prisoners are placed in SHU, that a "system is in place, with strict guidelines which we are under no obligation to explain to you."  That is pretty typical of DOC opacity in my experience.

Just a few days ago, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Heather Ann Thompson wrote an article about why transparency should be an important part of criminal justice reform and I totally agree with her! 

As we say in 12-step recovery programs, "we are only as sick as our secrets" (and the prison system has a LOT of secrets). 

Oddly enough, Dr. Thompson also just wrote a piece on Orange is the New Black Season Five (spoiler alert).

4. Foosball

You might be surprised to see that Piper and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) are playing foosball in the game room. 

But yes, at low-security levels inmates often have table games like foosball. When I was at Mound Road we had ping-pong and when I was at Cotton we had a pool table and a ping-pong table in the game room.

Of course, someone did get stabbed by a broken pool cue while I was there...But, we did have a pool table (sigh).

3. "Not You, You're Not One of the Bad Ones"

"Golden Girl" Taslitz (Judith Roberts) makes this off-hand racist comment to Irma (Yvette Freeman) right before she decides that she should take Vee out herself.

I have already talked about how segregated and racist prisons can be (a point Cindy makes when she says, "this is America, the bathrooms might be segregated but the market is free"). But, this isn't just a problem in prison.

Just this week a water official in Flint Michigan ended up resigning because he was caught saying almost exactly the same thing (only in the context of blaming the Flint water crisis on the African-American residents of Flint - wow, that is f'd up).

We have to get past this nonsense soon. Racism exists. Structural racism exists. Our prisons are literal temples to white anger and fear (and before you tell me I don't know what I am talking about please remember that I was a white man in prison - I have seen the disparities up close).

My recommendation, if you want to understand the history of structural racism in America since Brown V. Board of Education is for you to read the sociological study "American Apartheid."

2.  "Chapman, You Are Being Transferred To Virginia"

Sorry, Jenji, this would never happen. 

They don't even tell you where you are transferring when you are in the van heading to your new destination (remember when Piper was heading to Chicago and nobody told her where she was going? That was accurate).

The theory works like this - if they tell you where you are going, you can call someone on the outside and arrange an escape.  They don't tell anyone ANYTHING about transfers.

In fact, if you have already seen the next few episodes, you know why telling anyone when and where they are being transferred is a terrible idea from a correctional administration's perspective. 

They don't tell you that you are moving until the day before ("pack up inmate") and they don't ever tell you where.

1. "Some Kind of Snitching Space"

Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) dominates S2 E11 despite her lack of screen time. Anyway, she is totally right, therapy in general and any attempt by a counselor to create a "safe space" would be likely be seen as a "snitching space" by the other inmates and you would be under suspicion if you participated.

Even participating in mandatory programming can make you a target sometimes when you are in prison (you have to do it to get parole but it does make people "concerned" more than usual).

Healy would certainly know this and his questions seem incredibly dangerous given the stakes. I know he is generally portrayed as an idiot...But, he should know better.

Also, what Poussey (Samira Wiley) says here is really prescient about life in prison, she says, "We don't want to get in touch with our feelings." "Feeling our feelings might make it impossible to survive in here (Truth!)."

Unlocking The Gates

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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 is your favorite 'Cindy line' from any season of OITNB?" 

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

Today's book is Dr. Heather Ann Thompson's Pulitzer Prize-Winning book "Blood In The Water."