Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E2 “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S2 E12 “Looks Blue, Tastes Red”

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

If you like the series, please say hello sometime and share across your own networks (help a writer out).

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 2 Episode 2 "Looks Blue, Tastes Red"

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Season 2 Episode 2 is about:

* The Return of Doggett (Taryn Manning) 

* A job fair put on by Assitant Warden Natalie Figeroa (Alysia Reiner) to convince a reporter that she is not embezzling funds (but she clearly is).

* The story of how Red makes some new friends.

* Taystee's backstory and the introduction of Vee (Loraine Toussaint) 

Looks blue, tastes red refers to the younger Taystee's impression of the taste of her blue shaved ice.

5. "You A Bitch"

You may find this strange, but at least in men's prisons (as long as you are obviously kidding), you can call any other inmate any word in the English language save one.

You can never, and I mean ever (not as a joke or in any other way), call someone a bitch.

My head almost spun right off when I heard this because even among friends, in prison you NEVER ever use the B word.

4. "What A Privilege It Would Be To Work For The Phillip Morris Corporation"

I have seen some pretty assinine and insulting prison programming during my time in the bowels of Michigan's criminal justice system. 

For example, I encountered a "poetry" program that was being run by college psychology students in order to give them exposure to the "criminal mentality." They tried to keep their true identities a secret, but it became pretty obvious and eventually one of the students fessed up.  I suppose that they justified the subterfuge (and questionable ethics of using people under experimental conditions without their consent) because they actually "tried" to teach poetry (poorly).

There are also some truly great people doing great programming in prisons from what I have read and seen online, but in Michigan, the vast majority of the programming that I saw was a total sham (or a purely for-profit enterprise). One notable exception is the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project (which is amazing and does great work).

Anyway, let's just say that it didn't surprise me at all to see Fig's sham of a job fair. 

And every step of the way, from when I entered prison through parole and even after re-entry the so-called "career help" the State provided was always exactly as paternalistic as what was shown in the Litch, and usually even more demeaning. 

At best, Flaca (Jackie Cruz) spoke the truth, most will leave prison ready for a career in the janitorial or food services. To me, this is incredibly sad, I met so many intelligent and creative people when I was in prison. I met so many people who, with a real chance, could literally be anything that they wanted to be.

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with janitorial or food service work, I am saying that there should not be an artificial programming ceiling. Being a prisoner doesn't mean you have limited capabilities, intellect, or desires. 

Usually, the problem for most inmates isn't capability it is a lack of opportunity.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we started to provide inmates with real and satisfying alternatives? If people felt they had real and meaningful career training and opportunities, it could change their entire world. 

This is partially why I hate the term "rehabilitation," it is almost always a preface for telling inmates and the formerly incarcerated that they should be happy with whatever limited chances they get (regardless of fit). Rehabilitation, in my opinion, really means "be happy with what you get because you don't deserve much."

This particularly bothers me because, in my humble opinion, we pay our debt to society when we complete our sentences. And if that isn't good enough, the best way to ensure the parole to prison pipeline ends is to help inmates find work that makes them feel they are doing something they love and in a job where they feel valuable upon release.

A close friend once suggested to me that, "prisons should be run like hospitals." What he meant was that in hospitals, they start preparing for your successful release and healthy reintegration the moment that you enter the facility (what a wonderful idea).

One last thought here, when Nicky says recommending work as a corrections officer to a prisoner is a bad idea...That actually isn't true. Prior to 1996 in Michigan, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) hired formerly incarcerated people in prison administration and as correctional officers. 

Despite zero incidents (at the time there were over 100 employees and 70 correctional officers who had been formerly incarcerated), the Michigan legislature decided to ban hiring former inmates in 1996. Luckily, the Legislature is considering revisiting this prohibition in the current term (Michigan House Bill 4065).

There is a strong argument that if State Governments want businesses to hire the formerly incarcerated State Governments should lead the way and bills like 4065 send an important signal.

3. "The Poster Girl for the Right To Life Movement"

Just a quick note here on prison dentistry. 

Prison dentistry SUCKS.

You can order floss and way overpriced bad toothpaste from commissary as well as what passes as a toothbrush (it is tiny with an extremely small handle because it is easy to form toothbrushes into weapons). 

You theoretically get one cleaning per year, but you are actually on a waiting list and might not reach the top in a year and if you are moved you go back to the bottom of the list at the new facility.

If a tooth goes bad, they will not replace it or do any restorative dentistry (beyond a filling). If you have a tooth problem, they will pull the tooth.

Of course, when serious health problems arise inmates do sometimes get taken for the best care (usually to avoid lawsuits). So, it is certainly possible that Doggett could have gotten the best of Healy (Michael Harney) but it is unlikely it would happen for dental care (unless this is one of those areas where Federal prisons are different than State prisons). 

2. Two Storylines I Still Dislike

Yup, we are still stuck with Daya's pregnancy with the child of Officer Bennett (Matt McGorry). Only this time, for extra added entertainment value she is constipated and everyone in the kitchen is competing to find her a cure. 

And yup, we are still stuck with the even more absurd embezzlement scheme by Fig. There are plenty of things that I know nothing about, but this is literally impossible. Fig could steal goods and even skim small amounts but there is no way she could embezzle what seems to be millions of dollars from a federal facility (too many bureaucratic paperwork requirements seen and examined by too many eyes).

1. "She's High as a Kite on Psych Meds"

I wanted to take a moment to cheer the Silver Foxes getting a more central role on OITNB (If you haven't seen S2 and S3 yet they are constantly hilarious). It is also good to see Red (Kate Mulgrew) finding a new crew (this will also become pretty significant soon).

Looks Blue, Tastes Red also marks the entry of one of the best villains on any season of OITNB with Vee (Loraine Toussaint).

The reference to meds is a reference to Blanca (Laura Gomez) who is babbling incoherently in the cafeteria. As I have mentioned many times before, the treatment of the mentally ill in prison is absolutely abhorrent and disgusting to me. 

I have just started to lobby more actively for better mental health treatment for inmates in Michigan's jails and prisons but it is going to be an uphill battle given that in the newly announced 2017 State budget, the MDOC has been cut $40 million dollars. 

Just a reminder, in prison, so-called treatment takes three forms (in my experience):

* Solitary Confinement

* Occasional interaction with a therapist (usually in a group setting)

* Enough psych meds to kill a horse

I will never forget a man who I saw out in the yard with one shoe on and one shoe off, totally drugged out and barely coherent as he wandered aimlessly. 

Every time I think about these things it makes me ashamed to be an American.

Anyway, lots of people are as high as a kite on psych meds in America's jails and prisons (way too many).

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:

"Who is your favorite OITNB Villain?" 

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

Today's book is Michelle Alexander's book "The New Jim Crow."