Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S5 E1 “Riot FOMO” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S5 E1: “Riot FOMO”

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.

As you may remember, I was not rewarding the OITNB hackers, so today was when I took my first look at Season 5. It was like Christmas. Well, it was like Christmas if I got up early and started watching television instead of running downstairs to open my presents. 

You know you love a show when you wake up early to watch it when you can check it out anytime you want later. 

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 5 Episode 1 "Riot FOMO"

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OITNB S5 E1 "Riot FOMO" is about:

* Duh, the riot. More specifically, answering the question of what Daya (Dascha Polanco) does to Officer Humphry (Michael Torpey) and the question of what the aftermath is for Litchfield its COs, and it's inmates (spoiler - total chaos). 

Riot FOMO follows smaller groups of prisoners and CO's around the prison as all hell breaks loose:

* Doggett (Taryn Manning) and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) hide out in the commissary and occasionally provide people with goods.

* Morello (Yael Stone) and Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) fight with the meth heads for control of the dispensary.

* The Latinas battle for control of the riot forces and Daya tries to come to grips with what she has done and with what she faces. They also round up and intern all of the remaining guards and use locks from the commissary to secure the prison doors from the inside.

* Piper (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Laura Prepon) try to stay safe, ultimately picking up a straggler in Linda (Beth Dover)...aka the fashionable but idiotic mouthpiece for the private prison company that owns Litchfield and the woman who despite having a career in penology has never actually been in a prison...until now.

* Poussey's close friends, PR guy Josh (John Palladino), and Caputo (Nick Sandow) fight for control of Caputo's office and to control the public messaging about Poussey's murder.

* Humps gets shot and there is a battle to save him. This battle is led originally by Gloria (Selenis Leyva) but ultimately taken over by former firefighter and all-around badass Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox).

The end result of this battle leaves Humps alive but tied to a hospital bed right next to Suzanne (Uzo Aduba). This could be a problem since Suzanne was forced to physically fight Marie by Humps in Season 4.

* Red attempts to find dirt on Piscatella (Brad William Henke).

* Judy King (Blair Brown) and SoSo (Kimiko Glenn) have an interesting conversation about human resiliency.

Oh, and "Riot FOMO" is meant literally.

There is a riot and many of the characters are in FOMO aka "Fear of Missing Out."

5. "Less Think, More Shoot"

So, Daya shoots Hump (in his inner-thigh) during the standoff that started in S4 E13.

Hump makes the mistake of trying to talk to her in Spanish (which she doesn't actually speak) and only pisses her off more, so she shoots him.

Also, after Daya is done shooting him Maritza kicks him until he is unconscious.

In case you were wondering why CO"s don't carry guns, and why Humps had to convince other CO's to let him take a gun into the prison, now you know.

An aside, before I left prison, Michigan was starting to give CO's (if they requested them) tasers (Personally, I think this was a terrible idea). 

Anyway, prisoners certainly have other deadly weapons that they can use and use against CO"s, but a gun creates an entirely different level of lethality and is much more likely to create a hostage situation. CO"s in riot gear can probably separate a prisoner and a shank but they have a harder time dealing with a firearm.

The larger issue here is why would Daya shoot a CO?

So, here is the thing, and I know it is always hard for people to accept this, but, we are all (given the right circumstances) capable of shooting someone.

I absolutely believe that we are all capable, at any time, of both great cruelties and of incredible compassion.

Given the situation, and the stress, that Daya found herself in, it didn't surprise me at all that she ultimately shot Humps.

A month before I was arrested, I remember seeing a story on television about someone committing a crime very similar to the one that I was charged with only a few weeks later and thinking how terrible that person must be. Zero self-awareness. 

I think it has to be a basic design flaw in human nature, we are just totally unaware or unwilling to see our own inherent potential for fallibility or our own hypocrisy.

I often wonder how many judges who smoked dope sentence people for smoking dope? 

My favorite is when people come up to me to tell me stories of the things that they did but never got caught for (that were often as bad or much worse than what I did). So often, these same people are nice to me when we are alone but uncomfortable around me with friends (because I am a felon). 

So often, getting caught seems to be what actually makes someone "bad" in our society.

We humans, seem to have an almost pathological need to construct others into objects that we think it is acceptable to humiliate, abuse, and treat like sub-humans.

In my opinion, some crime is habitual, but most crime is contextual and personal. 

Most people have no idea they are even capable of committing a serious crime until they snap under unexpected pressure and hurt someone in a way that they can never ever take back (just like Daya).

Some people dream about hurting or getting revenge on someone, someone's, or an entire society who they feel has wronged them. In those moments of fantasy, the violence seems justified and painless, even righteous, until they actually carry it out. So many times, the second after a "criminal"  has gone too far they can't even bear what they have done and start to internally collapse (just like Daya).

Some people suffer from serious mental illness and that illness makes them less likely to see the barriers between good and evil. Often we get so caught up as a society in the high bar of "legal insanity" we forget that these people we convict are often seriously mentally ill.

Sometimes otherwise lovely people become violent because of addiction or because of general intoxication.

And sometimes violence is very personal and happens as the result of a long and storied history of escalating anger and conflict between the two involved parties.

Violence very rarely happens because a GOOD person is attacked by an SUPER-Predatory BAD person but, for some reason, that is the frame we put on every person accused of a so-called "violent crime" (and the reason why we insist that reform only happens for "non-violent" prisoners). 

For whatever reason, we internalize the frames that allow the simplest explanations. Many believe that "criminals" are inherently bad people who are totally incapable of changing (Piscatella makes this statement explicitly in Season 4) but this is not the case at all even for the most so-called "violent" of so-called "offenders" (see above).

Don't get me wrong, it totally sucks that Daya shoots Humps but let us not forget that Humps (just two episodes earlier) was forcing inmates to beat each other down for his (and the other guard's) entertainment. 

On balance, it would be possible to argue that Humps and the other CO's who followed Piscatella's sadistic path were much more complicit in what happened than the inmates of Litchfield themselves (Daya literally could not have shot Humps if Humps had followed protocol and this could easily be traced back to the problems of training raised throughout season four).

Of course, that still doesn't make it okay that Daya shoots Humps or that Maritza kicks him repeatedly after he had already been shot, but while watching it I bet you forgot how much legitimate anger the prisoners had towards him. 

I think we as a society sometimes worry more about what it means for the world as we know it if we start accepting that people are complex and that violence is contextual than we do about carrying out or getting "Justice."

Violence almost always happens in situations and in context and you could just as easily be the person instigating it (or I could be). You just don't know what you are capable of until you are placed in that one situation when you finally snap.

In other words, "Less Think More Shoot."

4.  "Have Fun Storming The Castle"

Boo is, of course, channeling Miracle Max from "The Princess Bride" when she tells Blanca to have fun "storming the castle" with the riot (as she and Doggett continue to hide out in the commissary). 

I suspect the larger point, however, is the next line from Princess Bride when Max responds to his wife's question (about if the pill that he made to revive the "Man in Black" would work) when he says, "It would take a miracle"

As Caputo later suggests, riots rarely work out well for the rioters. In fact, I suspect riots go pretty badly for all of the inmates (even the ones who just happened to be present but did not commit new crimes during the riot).

Prison administrations, State legislators, and all other involved persons tend to throw the book at folks in prison whenever violence happens especially when it can send a message to any other prisoners throughout the country who might be paying attention.

I don't see this ending well for most of the people involved directly or tangentially. In other words, a happy ending (at this point) would take a miracle.

To put it another way, I don't think it was accidental that Alex, for instance, mentions that Piper, "only has a few months left."  It is certainly possible that we will follow her journey of re-entry but it is equally possible she will have "new bits" added to her sentence in the aftermath of the riot.

How can this possibly end well for Daya or for Taystee or really for anyone? I wouldn't at all be surprised if they even found ways to charge Sophia with something just out of spite.

Will the women of Litchfield do well after the riot Max? "It would take a miracle."

3. "If I've Learned Anything From This Kleptocracy Called America, It's That Big Pharma Rules!"

Nicky uses that line to justify gaining control of the dispensary to Morello but it is pretty prescient.

I have been following the different State and Federal responses to the Opioid crisis and shockingly, Big Pharma doesn't seem to be the target of any of the corrective legislation.  

In fact, in Michigan, our AG Bill Schuette wants to charge dealers for murder whenever there is an overdose but he is strangely silent about Big Pharma's role in heroin addiction.

I know this is a little off-topic, but let me also mention that the distinction lawmakers and tough on crime advocates create between "dealers' and "addicts/users" is fake. Many users become dealers (once addicted) so that they can afford to continue to use and many dealers start sampling product and become addicts.

Tricia from Season One (Madeline Brewer), for instance, was a user who was forced to deal by CO Mendez (Pablo Schrieber). Too often, low-level dealers are used as justification for the ongoing failed War on Drugs.

One of the key elements of forcing real criminal justice reform is continuing to call out fake distinctions that politicians put into legislation to make it seem more palatable. Usually, these "carve-outs" end up neutering the effectiveness of the legislation almost entirely or allow retrenchment and/or easy circumvention.

Whenever you hear that a law is "going after the dealers" it should send up a red flag (that lets you know that the legislation is most likely ineffective feel-good lawmaking).

By the way, we have been fighting the War on Drugs seriously in the United States since 1971. In all of that time, the availability of drugs (the entire point of the War on Drugs is to reduce supply) has never gone down. 

Millions of lives impacted by mass incarceration, tens of thousands of deaths from the militarization created by prohibition, millions of lives directly impacted abroad (we enforce our Drug War internationally and often tie our military and other assistance to official foreign government cooperation), billions of dollars spent, ZERO results.

Oh, and our current Attorney General, Mr. Jeff Sessions, has recently doubled-down on the failed drug war and it's failed Mandatory Minimums (sigh).

Just saying.

2. "My Friend, Who Was A Person, And You Didn't Say Her Name"

As sympathetic as Caputo seems here, Taystee (Danielle Brooks) has a point.

Why is Caputo's first concern, even to the exclusion of calling Poussey's father, protecting Officer Bayley (Alan Eisenberg)? 

I think for most former prisoner's watching S5 E1, we were thinking what Taystee was probably thinking, Caputo sees Bayley as a person (whose life and death count) and Poussey (Samira Wiley) only as an inmate (whose life and death don't count or are of less import).

I don't even think Caputo sees it.

He seems basically to think that he is a good person who just wants to run a good prison but his priorities have been totally blurred by decades of working in corrections.

Even the blowhard PR guy Josh sees it (calling  Caputo out for going off-book when Josh wanted him to finger the only person who had actually "killed someone"). 

Sadly, it is not hard to imagine any of this happening. I have seen inmates treated like meat and beaten within an inch of their lives and seen everything go back to normal within minutes.

And, I have met inmates who were left in solitary confinement to rot for years while nobody seems to care or notice that anything has changed (just a new bunk to be filled). 

What makes this interesting to me is not how different Caputo is from Piscatella, but rather how S5 E1 exposes how similar the two prison officers really are.

The difference between Caputo and Piscatella is not between one protecting and caring for the inmates (Caputo) and one who is brutal to inmates (Piscatella) but rather the difference is that Piscatella accepts and embraces the true cruelty of the system while Caputo maintains the fiction that prisons protect and care for the inmates as he looks the other way as the gears of the prison continue to smoothly function in grinding inmates to dust. 

This is the difference between CO"s treating inmates openly like animals and having inmates spend months in SHU (brutalized out of sight and out of mind).

This is the difference between CO"s starting fights between inmates and denying inmates basic medical care or necessary surgeries (Rosa for instance).

This is the difference between CO"s taking indiscriminate revenge on inmates and ignoring or intentionally suppressing their legitimate needs for budgetary reasons.

The truth is that these are both cruel men, the difference is that Piscatella understands that he is cruel while Caputo ignores all the evidence of his own cruelty (see the point above about everyone being capable of violence and also of being capable of denial).

Most problems end when we treat all people as human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity. Caputo thinks he treats people with dignity, but the dignity he affords the inmates is always shallow and conditional.

Please, always treat people as if they are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity.

1. "6pkAbs"

Couldn't resist calling out Josh again (we find out that one of his social media addresses is 6pkAbs - as in six-pack abdominal muscles). I think my point here is to call-out to the absurdity of the system - the fact that the prison emperor (Caputo etc.) really has no clothes.

So where does "Riot FOMO" leave us?

My suspicion is that Jenji Kohan is forcing us to confront the ongoing structural violence hidden behind the smooth-functioning of the Litchfield "low-security" machine. 

When the machine is running smoothly, it seems natural that Soylent Green (sausage) is getting made and that "Soylent Green is people" (in the movie "Soylent Green" the food that feeds the poor is made secretly out of processed dead human beings - the movie is based on the book "Make Room Make Room" by Harry Harrison FYI). 

One of many things that make me hate shows like Law and Order (if you remember way back in my very first OITNB post I called Law and Order both propaganda and an example of "Criminal Justice Porn") is that they celebrate punishment and conflate justice with joy.  Not only do they intentionally misrepresent the criminal justice sausage factory, they also celebrate vice as virtue.

One of the saddest things we should ever see is a judge having no better option than sentencing someone to prison. Prison is almost always the worst possible choice that will result in the worst possible outcomes and diversion is almost always a better option.

Even when the sentence is fully deserved, it is a signal that we have failed as a society and that we have condemned someone who was a part of our community to near-banishment, brutality, and social death.

Even when the crime is heinous, being left in such a terrible position between a victim's legitimate grievance and having no better option than flushing another human being down a toilet should never be a place for a celebration.

The real truth of Litchfield was and is exposed by the riot.

I suspect we will ultimately see a great deal of sad justice, much injustice, and a decent amount of collateral damage happen as a result of this riot.  However, I ask you to look back through the other seasons and ask yourself, how much injustice did we accept in prior seasons simply because "that is the way prison works?"

In other words, was there not always a "Quiet Riot" in progress throughout the entire run of Orange Is the New Black?

The only differences between the riot before Season 5 and the riot during Season 5 are that some of the bodies at stake are not prisoner's bodies and that the normal rules have been suspended.

And, aren't some of the "prisoner bodies" arguably less guilty (but equally at risk) than the "officer bodies" in play in this loud riot?

Can you really say that Suzanne, who is guilty of little other than being manipulated or confused, is MORE guilty than Hump? Suzanne's kidnapping conviction was "just" and "legal" (she did kidnap that boy) but was it intentional or beyond understanding given her condition? 

When prisoner's bodies are at stake, and bad things happen, we have been conditioned to see it as the exceptional outgrowth of a just but functioning system. But now, because of the riot, the truth is exposed and we are forced to confront the un-comfortability of two cadres of guilty people facing each other without the machine keeping order, "blue uniform" face-to-face with "orange jumpsuit."

For some reason, thinking about the structural violence represented by the criminal justice system always makes me think again of Tamir Rice (RIP).

What kind of law-enforcement system is it that we have created that can accept as "just" and "right" the shooting of a 12-year old boy guilty only of playing with a toy gun in a playground?

How many of us played with toy guns as kids? How many of us remember playing with guns as kids when we thought about what happened to Tamir Rice? I know I did.

Yes, the characters on OITNB are fictional, but they represent real things happening behind walls and in the streets all over this country. What happens on the show is, to some extent, a statement about who WE are and what WE stand for.

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 Do You Predict Will Be The Outcome Of The Riot For Your Favorite Character (Without Looking Ahead)?" 

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

Today's book is Shaka Senghor's book "Writing My Wrongs"