Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S5 E10 “The Reverse Midas Touch” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S5 E10: “The Reverse Midas Touch”

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.

What a week, gave a 30-minute speech about my experiences with Mass Incarceration at a benefit for an artist on Death Row at the Ann Arbor Buddhist Temple last night (which was fun) and I am meeting with my State Rep tomorrow night to talk about the criminal justice reform agenda in Michigan. Big day on Friday as both the Michigan Coalition to End Mass Incarceration and Nation Outside meet.

Can’t believe we only have three more episodes to cover in Season 5 after this (barring something unforeseen problem, Season 5 should be a wrap a week from Sunday). After I finish Season 5, I will jump back to the last two episodes of Season 2 and then start on Season 3.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

5 Things About Season 5 Episode 10 "The Reverse Midas Touch"

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OITNB S5 E10 “The Reverse Midas Touch” is about:

* The backstory of how  Desi Piscatella became a sadist and a psychotic (and the story of how he brutally murdered another inmate). Also, we get to see his torture of Red and her Family,

I won’t lie, watching this episode once upset me deeply (and now I have watched it three times). Ultimately, Piscatella partially scalps red and breaks Alex’s arm before the screaming alerts the women in the bunker that there is trouble right outside the entrance to the bunker.

* Linda finding a place to hide from the Nazi’s and Zirconia (In "the Poo" in the stall next to Doggett's).

* Frieda, Yoga, Gina, Norma, and DeMarco coming to grips with the boredom of privilege with food and things to do all alone together in the bunker. Frieda also reveals how the bunker got started (she had a relationship with a volunteer at the prison (his name was Skin and Bones).

* The Meth-Heads find Leanne’s fingertip and decide to try to get it reattached. When they are informed that is impossible, they want the nurse to cut another inmate's finger off and “transplant” it to Leanne. The less time spent on this idiocy the better (One of the dumbest subplots in the history of television).

* Suzanne descending further into madness after being left without her meds, bound, and mentally tortured. Another reason this is the saddest and most disturbing episode in the history of the show. Suzanne also becomes obsessed with trying to deal with Humps dead body.

* The ongoing sexual tension between Caputo and Fig is played out endlessly as the negotiations continue. Watching this makes me feel even more sorry for Taystee and all of the women in the prison.

* Gloria beginning her machinations necessary to free the CO’s so she can earn a trip to see her son in the emergency room. Mostly this involves her attempts to out maneuver Pidge and Ouija (which turns out not to be so easy for her to pull off - they are surprisingly dedicated to the cause).

Fig claims that Caputo has “The Reverse Midas Touch” because “everything he touches turns to shit.” Caputo’s response, “What does that make you, honey,?” is equally awesome.

5. “The Trojan Taco”

Gloria talks Pidge and Ouija into taking some time off to catch a nap. They decide to sleep in the television room and are woken up by Zirconia who loves to watch the 24-hour news. During the newscast, an academic prison “expert” mentions that inmates guarding hostages almost never survive riots.

Anyway, the academic tells a story about hostages in one standoff escaping by asking to use the bathroom which got the event named the “Trojan Taco.”

For some reason, this makes Pidge and Ouija decide to run right back and make sure the hostages are guarded. Upon their return they find Gloria trying to take all the hostages “out to pee.” They assume Gloria is just “soft” and take control and move them all back into the bubble.

I do wonder why anyone is willing to guard the hostages because absent an amnesty miracle being directly involved in crimes (like torturing and holding CO’s hostage) means at best that they will be moved to Max and at worst really serious new charges being added to their sentences.

I would totally get it if prisoners who had sentences of natural life were guarding the hostages but there are no people with “serious” sentences at Litchfield because Litchfield is a low-security Federal camp.

In essence, absent a grant of total amnesty, anyone who the surviving CO’s could identify as being involved in their capture and incarceration (and most certainly in their abuse) would be 100% SOL after the riot.

4. “Forgive Me For Trying”

There is a scene where DeMarco refuses to play another game of Scrabble because Frieda calls her out for using the abbreviation “Gyno” which is short for men with breast tissue in slang and short for a gynecologist in this instance (I think).

Scrabble is actually a HUGE thing in prison and I knew people who tried to memorize “The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary” just so that they could dominate Scrabble games in the unit or on the yard.

Chess is also surprisingly common.

I mostly played Chess (strangely enough I have never been very good at Scrabble and I had no urge to memorize the Scrabble dictionary).

One of the best things that ever happened to me in prison was that one of my friends on the outside paid to send me a subscription to the New York Times. What a blessing, I could spend hours reading it cover to cover and then spend another hour on the daily crossword puzzles.

Believe it or not, you can get the New York Times just about anywhere. We didn’t get mail on the weekends or on holidays but I would try to stay about a half-a-week behind so I had papers to read on the weekends.

Some might think inmates should just sit around doing nothing all day but that would be a recipe for total disaster 24/7. Remember, inmates are not sentenced to brutality, trust me losing our freedom is an unbelievable and constant burden.

Let’s just talk about my case, I lost:

* My job

* My career (and I worked my entire life to be very good at what I did for a living)

* Hundreds if not thousands of friends

* I had to tell my parents, singlings, co-workers, and close friends what I had done

* I lost almost all of my possessions

* I lost every dime that I had in either legal fees, court fees, and for the privilege of being incarcerated (including all of my savings and retirement)

* I lost my residence

* I lost my community (at one point I was actually led into the courthouse of the town I live in wearing an orange jumpsuit and cuffs and when I tried to go to my neighborhood hang out people asked me to leave).

* I face a lifetime of public shaming, lack of employment, and of being ostracized

* Oh, and I was locked in a pole barn with 160 other unfortunate souls 24/7 for three years of my life.

I am not feeling sorry for myself, I am surprisingly well-adjusted now but it always makes me both angry and frustrated that people seem so happy to wish for prisoners to experience things like prison rape or being beaten up or stabbed.

We have become a very cruel society and as a result, everything is failing. We used to aspire to be a city on a hill, now we are a city that cheers brutality.

Anyway, I read the New York Times every day and I had cable television.Believe it or not, despite that, my life in prison was still a neverending parade of stressors, terror, shame, and despair.

3. “Clowns Cannot Help It”

I know I talked about this last week, but I have to speak up again.

Putting Suzanne in "white face" is NOT okay unless you have a damn good dramatic reason to do so.

Some might say that because Suzanne is so loved and the depiction was so memorable, it will change people's feelings towards racism (The so-called Will and Grace effect) but that just seems like using her character instrumentally as an object.

I guess what I am saying is that there are plenty of sympathetic characters and maybe brutalizing them isn’t critical to accomplishing social change?

Someone might respond that Suzanne keeps her dignity throughout the experience, and in a way that is true, but I can think of a million ways to accomplish this goal without degrading one of Litchfield’s most vulnerable inmates.

2. “We Take Them Out When They Start Screaming”

Hard enough to take Piscatella breaking Alex’s arm or scalping Red, but literally seeing him handcuff an inmate in an industrial shower and scald him to death was a bit much (and I have actually seen people stabbed and beaten down with a bag full of locks).

I get that Rosado (the inmate in question) was a homophobic brutal rapist but an eye for an eye makes everyone blind. The question isn’t what people did, or what you think they deserve if you get enjoyment from watching them brutalized that says more about you than it does about them.

We don’t have to be brutal because society is brutal.

I spent years in therapy unpacking all of the thinking errors that led to my crime because it is wrong to impose your will on other people.

Do I think prisons should be entirely abolished? No.

Do I think we should always treat all people in prison with dignity and protect everyone in prison from violence? Damn straight I do.

* I believe a better option (like diversion) existed for almost every person in prison.

* I believe that prison should always be the absolute last resort

* I believe a very small minority of people are such a danger to others that they have to be in prison and that even those people should always be treated with dignity.

And yes, I have met several of “those people.”

Most failures of incarceration are caused by too few CO’s trying to maintain control of far too many inmates, in far too little space, with far too few protections (and with almost ZERO) real treatment).

I am not saying everyone can be rehabilitated (a word that is usually code for something far worse than rehabilitation) but I do believe that in the end what matters is how we treat other people (not how they treat society or us).

And let me take this one step further, I believe Desi Piscatella is intended as a stand-in for American punitive culture.

Desi Piscatella, in other words, is the face of “tough on crime”

In many ways, Desi Piscatella is the face of American Criminal Justice.

You can talk all day (like Fig does) about how many programs are provided (in Michigan, the truly innovative programs exist for approximately 200 people a year in a 40,000 inmate system) but what we are really good at is retribution.

As I have said before, our problem is that we conflate revenge with justice.

Desi Piscatella is a pure revenge engine.

Desi Piscatella has become worse than what he despises, all he can see is his anger.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “passion governs, and she never governs wisely.”

I have come to authentically care about many of the women of Litchfield prison (as much as you can care about fictional characters) and it is awful to see them instrumentalized to make a larger point. In this case, I really do believe that Desi represents our culture and the contradiction at the heart of retributive violence.

The amazing thing, and perhaps transformative thing about this episode is that despite all that he did, I still felt sad for Piscatella. I still, even now, feel real empathy for him.

We are all (even the most brutal amongst us) complicated and capable of great good and incredible evil.

I guess what I am saying is that I can hate this episode, hate its use of the inmates, and still think that it was ultimately worthwhile (if hard to watch).

1. Negotiations?

Is it just me or has the negotiation just Fig repeating the same arguments over and over again in the face of the same demand?

If the negotiations can not move forward without the inmates producing Humps, the negotiations would end until Humps was produced.

If Fig was not empowered to meet the inmates demands, why did she take the gig (and why would the Governor ever ask her, of all people, to be the chief negotiator?).

If Fig was empowered to meet the inmates demands, why is she fighting every item tooth and nail (why the heck does she care, she doesn’t work for the Governor or for Litchfield which is a FEDERAL FACILITY.

In other words, why the hell is the Governor in charge of this negotiation at all? And where in the hell are the DOJ, the FBI, and the Federal Department of Prisons experts?

How in the hell would any of these people sign off on a discredited, embezzling, former Assistant Warden?

The worst part of this riot has been the mind-bogglingly bizarre mechanics of the response to the riot by the authorities.

Okay, only three left in Season 5.

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 Scene in Orange Is the New Black Has Disturbed You The Most?"

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