Orange Is the New Black: Orange Black or Bleak: S5 E12 “Tattoo You” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S5 E12: “Tattoo You”

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.

Here we go, the last week of my Season 5 recaps (I might do a piece on the whole season too, but we will see). 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 12 "Tattoo You"


OITNB S5 E12 “Tattoo You” is about:

* Filling in some of the backstories behind Alex and Piper always coming back to each other despite all the fighting.

Piper also has a really nice phone discussion with her Mother after seeing her in the crowd outside the prison.

Oh, and before I forget, Piper asks Alex to marry her, which was surprisingly earnest. Alex says yes (which probably means that they will be separated next season in the aftermath of the riot).

* The after effects of Gina’s releasing of the Piscatella video suggests an increasing wave of public support for the Litchfield inmates. Near the end of the episode, the video hits one million views (which is an interesting counterpoint to the original video the inmates put out and that received almost no hits)).

* The ending of official negotiations between Figueroa, Taystee, and Caputo. This is almost immediately followed by Maria’s release of the hostages Gloria had schemed to release.

* CO Bayley continuing his wandering around larger New York State in search of answers. He ultimately ends up at Pousseys Father’s place (with predictable results).

* Nicky finding Morello, finding out that Morello is really pregnant, and taking it on herself to reconnect Lorna with Vince.

* Doggett escaping through the fence, because sometimes, this riot makes no sense. She also goes directly to CO Donuts house and puts on his clothes and sleeps in his bed, because sometimes, this show makes no sense.

* After Linda tries to escape without paying Boo off, Boo reveals her secret to the rest of the inmates.

* Red and Piscatella finally having a discussion about everything that has happened between them over the last two seasons.

“Tattoo You” is a reference to Piper getting a tattoo for Alex (of a fish), Alex getting a tattoo for Piper ("love is pain"), and Larry getting a tattoo of the Kool-Aid man (oh yeah). In the end (yes, Larry got the tattoo on his butt), seeing Larry getting his tattoo makes Piper wistful for Alex.

5. Did I Mention That Fence?

So, I don’t want to belabor the point, but really?

You want us to believe that all it would have taken to escape would have been to walk out a hole in the fence?

Doggett can just walk out the gate and nobody is around to notice, because why would anyone be guarding the entire boundary of the facility during a riot?

Oh, and it isn’t odd at all that Doggett goes straight to Donut house (sigh).

4. “We Won The Riot?”

Taystee says this right after Fig says the State is accepting every single condition the inmates put forward except the one that they don’t have the jurisdiction to grant, arresting CO Bailey.

The bizarre thing is that this is kind of true and kind of false, the crime happened in a Federal prison, which could certainly mean that the prosecution would have to be Federal but the Federal government has not had any role in suppressing the riot which means that they did not assert their jurisdiction over the riot in general so why would they have jurisdiction over prosecution of any specific crime instigating the riot or committed during the riot?

The official handling of the riot is one of the biggest “plot holes” I have ever seen but it is the critical enabling fiction around which the entire season revolves.

It seems impossible (and improbable) to me that the Federal government wouldn’t have taken the lead with the help of the State of New York backing them up. That the Federal Government deferred, the State barely reacted, the MCC ran away is totally and insanely unrealistic.

And let’s not forget that they appointed a lead negotiator who was almost recently a prisoner herself (for suspected embezzlement).

However, if we suspend disbelief and accept that the State does not have jurisdiction to bring charges for a crime committed at a Federal Prison, why would Taystee not also know this by now?

And trust me, if this was an issue in controversy during the negotiations, Taystee could have gotten the answer from any of the likely jailhouse lawyers at Litchfield about jurisdiction (and as they have mentioned many times, the library includes a legal section).

So, either Taystee is an idiot (which she most certainly is not) or this critical part of the plot makes next to no sense.

Why in the world would Taystee let the entire negotiations fall apart and sacrifice every other part of the agreement that was so carefully constructed in the interest of the inmates of Litchfield over an issue the State of New York has no jurisdiction to grant?

I guess what I am saying is that even if you suspend disbelief enough to accept this strained premise, it still makes no damn sense.

Look, I do love the show, and I am willing to play along to a certain extent. But parts of this season have made very little sense.

All of that said, it is totally heartbreaking to see Taystee end up standing on principle even at the cost of everything she could have accomplished.

The aftermath of this thing is likely to be brutal.

3. “A Fair Wage of Ten Dollars a Day”

The chief legislative aide to the Governor protests this $10 a day demand, suggesting that paying inmates $10 a day would convince “Whole Foods” and “Whispers” to outsource prison work to New Jersey.

Until 2016, Whole foods did indeed buy foods provided by prison labor but discontinued the practice after being called out. This issue is incredibly complex and to be 100% I am not even sure where I come down on it.

In Michigan, the prisons operate a company called Michigan Prison Industries, and if you get one of the few jobs available in those facilities you have better hours, make a better wage, and have a much better sense of prison stability.

At the same time, violence often accompanies these jobs (people who feel they deserved to get them fighting with those that get them) and at the end of the day, they still pay impossibly low wages for an honest hour of hard work.

For the vast majority of prisoners, you work in unnecessary jobs for only a few hours a week at an even smaller wage and all of this is only possible because of the 13th exception in the Constitution (people in prison can be treated as slaves).

In my opinion, one of the best solutions to this problem would be to create in-reach programs using companies willing to train prisoners while they are in prison and, barring problems, also willing to hire them upon release. By nurturing a meaningful relationship, including training, when released prisoners could finally have some real hope of financial security upon release.

Economic security is critical to reducing recidivism, and most inmates face real economic challenges upon release.

This is similar to the program I was suggesting to Jeff Bezos and that I asked for everyone to tweet him about (but sadly, never received any response to). Someday, I am going to find a way to make this happen.

Even if such a program resulted in a few years of terrible wages (and I would hope they could at least pay minimum wage in such a scenario) it would ultimately be worth the sacrifice if it provided real hope for a new and meaningful future for incarcerated people upon re-entry.

2. “Arsenic And Old Lace”

Piper wants to go upstairs and find “fresh” pain relievers for Alex (who is dealing with a broken arm) because she doesn’t trust Frieda’s “date-challenged” pain meds.

Frieda responds by suggesting that “Expiration dates are a marketing scheme.”

You might write this off as typical survivalist mumbo jumbo but it is actually true. Yes, millions of dollars of waste are manufactured by expiration dates on a yearly basis (which is transferred into the price of drugs) but only to guarantee you the most potent dose possible (or some other nonsense).

Crazy Frieda may not be so crazy after all.

1. A  “Human Being”

Red tries to give Piscatella some beer so that he will stop coughing and he spits it out. The resulting dialog is one of the most powerful snippets of dialog of the season and really encapsulates the entire world view of the show.

After noting that her “human being skills” are returning Red says in response to Piscatella’s refusal to accept Red’s gesture:

“In addition to not being able to see yourself. You can’t see me”

Piscatella responds:

“You are a prisoner and I am free”

For prisoners, and formerly incarcerated people like myself, we see life as a continuum where most all of us have done many good and some terrible things. Many of us take full responsibility for our crimes and we paid a terrible price.

Orange Is the New Black is about trying to create a bridge between the people who have never been incarcerated and the people who have. It is a translator designed to allow non-prisoners to see incarcerated (and formerly incarcerated) people as human beings again.

For many opponents of criminal justice reform, what matters most is an adjudication, not the moral guilt of committing the act itself (or they reckon guilt as determined only by adjudication).

This is why judges who smoked dope in college have no problem throwing the book at personal drug users, for instance.

Piscatella literally cannot see his own criminality because he determines guilt and innocence only through the lens of adjudication and also because he refuses to see inmates as human beings.

Often the law is lawless and a just sentence is absent any justice.

And even when the law is just, the objects of adjudication are rarely really “the scum of the earth” as Piscatella puts it.

Piscatella believes, like so many do, that if someone becomes a prisoner they no longer have to be afforded the dignity extended to human beings. Piscatella believes that he cannot commit a “crime” against an inmate because an inmate body deserves nothing but punishment.

For people like Piscatella, the law isn’t a means of protecting society, it is a means of dividing who has to be respected and who can be abused.

I met so many CO’s just like Piscatella during my time inside.

I am glad, finally, that Red is starting to remember who she actually is.

Okay, Taystee overplayed her hand and now it doesn’t matter. The Riot troops are being sent in. Whatever happens, we will talk about it together in just a few more days (if you remember, I started writing about OITNB in the first place because I knew Season 5 was coming up and wanted to start early).

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).

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“How mad would you be at Taystee?"

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