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Orange  is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E3 “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” (Netflix)

Orange is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E3 “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S2 E3: “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” 

As a formerly incarcerated person, I am doing a deep-dive on the Netflix show "Orange Is The New Black" to explain some of the things that folks without a felony background might not catch.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 2 Episode 3 "Hugs Can Be Deceiving"

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In case you are wondering, I have no urge to watch the leaked Season Five episodes until Netflix releases them. I understand that other people have made other choices, but I will not start my coverage of Season Five until Netflix releases the official episodes.

S2 E3 is about:

* The beginning of Vee's rise and Red's growing awareness that there is about to be "Big Trouble in Litchfield City.

* The return of an angrier and darker Piper (Taylor Schilling) from Chicago back to Litchfield's low-security block.

* Part of the heartbreaking backstory of Suzanne (Uzo Adubo)

* Lorna Morello's discovery that her "fiance" has decided to get married to someone else.

* The full story of what actually happened at the end of Piper's brawl with Doggett (Taryn Manning).

"Hugs can be deceiving" refers to a hug that Caputo (Nick Sandow) forces between Doggett and Piper in his office and a hug between Vee and Red (they knew each other during Vee's last period incarcerated at Litchfield).

5. "It Get's Better"

In addition to Vee (Loraine Toussaint) and Piper returning, we also meet an entirely new (and often annoying) new inmate Brook SoSo (Kimiko Glenn). During one of her first nights in quarantine (the area where the new inmates stay until they are given the tan uniforms) SoSo will not stop crying so Piper is forced to try to talk her down from the ledge.

Anyway, Piper tells her "It gets Better" to calm her down.

In my experience, what Piper told SoSo is actually true (although one of the problems with being in prison is that things can "break bad" at almost any time).

When I was first arrested, coincidentally for the first time in my life, I was so down that I had to convince myself that things would be okay if I wanted to have the mental wherewithal to survive. 

I remember sitting in this small holding cell in the Ypsilanti, being driven from Ypsilanti with my hands and feet cuffed (also for the first time) all the way to the Macomb county jail.

I remember being asked, upon arrival, if I was feeling depressed.

I mistakenly admitted that I was. I then spent about seven hours in a small holding cell with twenty other new arrivals at the Macomb jail.

The toilet at the end of the was smeared with waste, and it was right in the middle of the end of the ten-foot-long and narrow holding cell. In other words, if as a very distressed Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferer I needed to use the toilet, I would have to do it in front of twenty other people and on a toilet covered in human waste.

When we were given food, it was disgusting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which I could not eat safely (and could not dare be risky given the state of the communal toilet).

When I was finally taken out of the cell and processed, I found myself given a bizarre suit called a Bam Bam (a Bam Bam is kind of like a padded hospital gown with velcro instead of strings or snaps) and taken to a cell that was plexiglass on all four sides and which contained two double bunk beds, a toilet (in the open again) and a sink.

I was moved to the glass cell instead of a normal block because I mistakenly admitted that I was feeling depressed (which to them means suicidal),

Oh, the room was also kept at what seemed like freezing temperatures (which I guess was supposed to keep us from being too frisky).

After a day in the glass room, I was moved to the psych block for what turned out to be a long weekend. For the first two days, I was locked in a room for 23 hours a day. After meeting the psych, I was moved to the general psych floor (less restrictive) and then to a general block before I was finally bailed out.

I am telling you this because the experience formed the basis of my philosophy for surviving mentally in jails and prisons (a philosophy that served me well over my three years).

First, and most important, you will be put in boxes but the boxes get better and the benefits improve the longer you remain ticket free and out of trouble. My goal became moving from the worst possible box to the best possible box.

Second, you have to treat your space like a Japanese Garden. In Japan, they have little space so they work very hard to perfect and enjoy the spaces that they have. My philosophy was that if I have a desk, a locker, and a bunk make those the best spaces you can.

Third, watch more than you talk (especially at first). Prisons and Jails are complex social environments with many unwritten but closely followed rules. If you don't pay attention you won't see the patterns and the rules play out.

Oh, and last but not least, never owe anyone any money, period.

Anyway, it does get better. Or at least it gets better as long as someone doesn't get irrationally angry and take it out on you or as long as you don't become a target for violence or extortion or best.

4. "You Are Always Pushing Me To Do These Things"

In some ways, this is, for me, one of the most heartbreaking episodes because of the dual mental illness on display with Suzanne and Morello (Yael Stone). 

Yes, I am glad Suzanne, arriving on the fight late in an agitated state, punched Piper twice making it appear that Doggett had been complicit in the fight between the two of them.

But, after seeing all of the footage from Suzanne's childhood, it is so sad to see her reduced to seeing Piper as a phantasmic version of her over ambitious and pushy Mother (who means well but who forces Suzanne into situations she cannot handle). 

Sadly, like many predatory prisoners (and as much as I stand up for prisoners there are predatory people in prisons), Vee is gifted at reading exactly what Suzanne needs from an "alternative" Mother (To be accepted and valued for who she is, not the "normal person" her real Mom wished she was and tried to force her to become).

And, poor Morello, a truly sweet person with a fatal flaw. I met so many people like this in prison, people who were awesome people unless they got angry or unless they were put into certain situations. Many addicts function like this as well, perfectly amazing people who can turn to terrible methods to get a fix.

The sweetest, kindest, most beloved person I met in prison was doing an armed robbery bit.

I have so much empathy for people stuck in prison or jail with mental illnesses. I have already talked about this a great deal but it is one of the causes I care the most about. I truly appreciate the thoughtful way the OITNB writers room presents and cares for these characters (even when they are surrounded by tragedy).

One of the things I most love about Suzanne is how earnestly she is played by Ms. Adubo. She has so much integrity and dignity as a character despite being constantly surrounded by misfortune.

3. "I Am A Lone Wolf And A Vicious One"

 Piper returns to her bunk to find SoSo camped out in her house (yes, we call our bunk areas our "house" in prison - it is the only house we have). 

In fairness, SoSo is clearly a really spoiled and privileged idiot, I feel sorry for her in a way but you do not sit on someone else's bunk in prison (and you don't touch other people's stuff without express permission).

To be 100% honest, I kept waiting for Piper to say "get the fuck off my bunk." 

That she didn't, perhaps reveals that Piper still isn't as much of a wolf as she thinks that she might be. It almost seems like Piper is dealing with the sadness and guilt feelings by trying to embrace the darkness. 

One of my other big rules of prison was always, don't pretend that you are things that you are not. 

For example, I am not a gangster, if I were to pretend I was while I was incarcerated would inevitably mean that I would be tested by gangsters.

I saw so many people come in trying to act like they were bad men (thinking that would protect them). In so many shows and movies someone says "pick out the meanest looking man and punch him" but that only ensures you will continually be tested.

I never acted like a bad man but never backed down when challenged (a subtle difference but it is one that worked for me).

2. "I Was Just Wondering If We Could Make A Trade"

Vee knows that she left a pack of cigarettes hidden behind the facing of an outlet when she was a prisoner working in the warehouse on her last bit (serving her previous sentence). Somehow, through cunning and patience, she uses this to get the latinas to bake her a cake which she uses to win back Taystee (Danielle Brooks) and the rest of Taystee's crew.

In prison that is what is called "Hustle."

Prisons give everyone work, but have too many inmates for steady work and pay next to nothing (pennies and hour). To compensate, most people have both a work assignment and a hustle.

A Hustle is just something you do to get over or to earn money outside the bounds of the prescribed prison routine.

As I mentioned before, Red (Kate Mulgrew) knows what is about to happen but doesn't really know how to react. Red is at her weakest point just as Vee is starting to build her own strength. The best Red can do is pretend to be strong and get her hair dyed red again by Sophia (Laverne Cox).

Red has no strength (she lost her position and her girls - who aren't talking to her because she caused Gina to be terribly burned) and no hustle (she no longer runs the unit) but she knows Vee is about to take over. Most likely, since Vee knows her, she realizes that Vee will see her as someone who has to be eliminated while she is weak (so that she cannot become strong again). 

In other words, Red is running out of time to build her strength back up (she better start getting tight with the silver foxes).

1. "Didn't One of the Black Girls Come By?"

Morello reveals one of the guilty secrets of prison, segregation still exists. Morello gives a toothbrush and toiletry kit to SoSo but refuses to give one to Vee. When Vee asks, Morello seems surprised that one of the Black Girls didn't come by.

In Michigan, everyone gets their toiletry kit from the counselor or from a CO when they first arrive in a prison block or from a trustee when they arrive in jail.  But, there is still a ton of official segregation (I mentioned this before when we talked about elections in prisons during Season 1) and a decent amount of unofficial segregation and casual racism.

Oh, one other thing about toiletries. You are provided with rolls of toilet paper for free but you have to purchase toiletries after that unless you can prove that you are indigent (without means).  

Apparently, it is not enough for the system of mass incarceration to be built on racism, it also has to be reproduced throughout its cells and systems.

As much as I like Morello, her casual (racist) dismissal of Vee's simple request for a toothbrush is hard to entirely ignore.

True story, I coached a basketball team that had more caucasian guys than it did people of color. This was something that could have gotten me in big trouble perceptually except everyone knew it had nothing to do with race. 

Well, everyone knew this except for the CO"s, especially after we started winning games.

Many of them adopted our team and would pull us aside to talk to us about our games and remind us how much they were rooting for us. 

It was all very troubling, as you can imagine, these were all-white correctional officers. We couldn't really ignore them or act offended because they could make our lives miserable, but it made us all very upset and even could have made the rest of the prisoners think that we were racists (which could have been really dangerous). 

Thank God the season ended without incident. 

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 (which rarely gets answered) is:

"What would be your Hustle in Prison?" 

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

Today's book is John Pfaff's book "Locked In."

Orange  is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E4 “A Whole Other Hole” (Netflix)

Orange is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S2 E4 “A Whole Other Hole” (Netflix)

The "Sofa King Birdland" Spotify Playlist (I Hate Radio)

The "Sofa King Birdland" Spotify Playlist (I Hate Radio)