Unicorn or Dragon: Orange Is the New Black S4 E7 “It Sounded Nicer In My Head” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S4 E7: “It Sounded Nicer in My Head”

As a formerly incarcerated person, I have been engaged in 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 (a really deep dive, as this is my 51st recap).

If you have not seen all of my recaps, here is a link to the complete guide.

If you are a fan of the show, you should help me in supporting “Dignity For Incarcerated Women Act” in the US Senate and House of Representatives (ensuring that women prisoners have free access to sanitary napkins, aren’t put in solitary when pregnant, and aren’t shackled when pregnant etc.).

Contact Your Senator

Contact Your Congressperson

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

Some Things About Season 4 Episode 7 “It Sounded Nicer In My Head”

Netflix

Netflix

OITNB S4 E7 “It Sounded Nicer In My Head” is about:

* Lolly’s Backstory. Lolly was a reporter at a local newspaper but she is let go at work (because she has become increasingly mentally ill) and runs away from an attempt to place her in a group home (for other people struggling with mental illness) after one of the residents threatens her.

Once Lolly becomes functionally homeless (she squats in an abandoned car) she starts a successful neighborhood business selling coffee door to door (from a shopping cart). Eventually, her neighborhood gets gentrified, her squat gets turned into condos, and she is arrested for vagrancy (technically for selling coffee without a license).

This is a very hard episode to watch for a number of reasons but one of the best parts is when Healy finds Lolly in the “time machine” she is building out of a large cardboard box (it will be used for many more nefarious pursuits throughout the rest of season four and season five).

Healy comes full circle in a really powerful way, he used to hide from his Mom in boxes as a kid (he called them forts) and now through Lolly’s time machine, he remembers (and maybe realizes for the first time)  how much he loved his Mom despite her illness.

* Piper trying to come to grips with her new reality (trapped hanging with a bunch of Nazis because she needs protection from the Dominicans). To add insult to injury, because she needs the backing of the White Power crew she lets Stephanie Hapakuka (her Hawaiian bodyguard) go. Worse than that, she tells Stephanie that she can’t help or protect her against the Dominicans.

At the end of the episode, Stephanie sells Piper out to the Dominicans who take Piper by force into the kitchen and brand a swastika on her arm (after Maria punches her in the face). Not going to make too big a deal of this but to be 100% honest, she got off light.

I am not saying I endorse bad things happening, I am just saying that what Chapman did would get her beaten down and maybe even killed (camps are certainly different but OITNB has made Litchfield into some kind of hybrid between a camp and a normal facility). 

* Nicky’s triumphant return to Litchfield. She solves the mystery of the shower pooper (it was Angie) and in solving that mystery (and realizing Angie was pooping in the shower to pass the drugs she was getting in the visiting room) realizes that she can score drugs from Angie. Red sees her leave with Angie and appears to have figured out what is happening with Nicky.

Nicky also lies to Gloria and Sister Ingalls about her part in what happened to Sophia.

* Judy King dealing with a troubling racist episode before she became famous. Short form, this was an OITNB riff on the Paula Deen plantation party controversy from 2013. Not sure why Judy King has to be a stand-in for both Martha Stewart and Paula Deen (not exactly original), but that’s where we find ourselves.

Meanwhile, Tastee and her crew are still trying to get a good picture of Jud to sell to the tabloids At the same time, Yoga Jones has started to take advantage of her situation. She informs Caputo that, because of the racial incident, Judy is in danger and she negotiates several goodies as well as protection.

* Caputo is thrilled when he finds out that Linda has gotten MCC to agree to his education programs only to find out that the programs are really just cover for MCC making the inmates do all of the work (for no pay) constructing more dorm space so that the prison can expand.

* Aleida starting to plan for her future after release. Daya puts her on blast about her lack of ambition so Aleida starts dreaming of starting her own nail salon.

Nail Salon

I already wrote about Aleida’s release (during Season five) but I want to reiterate how right she is to be depressed about her prospects after getting out. I know for me, as crazy as this sounds, the years after I was released, when  I was on parole and probation, were worse than prison in many ways.

When I was released, I was given a long list of super detailed requirements that seemed nearly impossible to comply with. Parole officers believe that it is more important to “Trail Em, Nail Em, and Jail Em” than it is to help provide meaningful support for reintegration into the world outside of prison. Not surprisingly, parole and probation in the United States have been almost comically ineffective:

"Nationally, about 60 percent of those who exit probation complete it successfully. The 40 percent who fail are made up of those whose probation is revoked for either a technical violation of probation, the commission of a new crime, or absconding (Glaze, Bonczar, and Zhang, 2010; Kaeble, Maruschak, and Bonczar, 2015); the majority are composed of technical violations and/or the commission of new crimes (Austin, 2010; Burke, Gelb, and Horowitz, 2007). According to the Pew Center on the States, along with the large growth in the number of people on probation, the number of people on probation who are revoked and sent to jail (or prison) increased by 50 percent (220,000 to 330,000) from 1990 to 2004 (Burke, Gelb, and Horowitz, 2007). Such numbers show that probation is not simply an alternative to incarceration but a key driver of incarceration in the United States.”

In short, people spend years in prison being told daily  that they are worthless and sub-human (called “inmate,” “offender,” “felon,” or only by number) and this message is constantly reinforced once they get out by parole and probation officers who are often judged on preventing violations than on partnering for success.

Prisons, on the whole, do virtually nothing to prepare people for the return home or for training inmates in employment soft skills or employment skills (most prisons are so overcrowded that the usual inmate only works an hour a day at most).

It is very hard to survive parole and probation (even for me who my housemates referred to as a Boy Scout because I was so concerned with compliance).

It is hard to find stable housing as a formerly incarcerated person.

It is hard to find stable employment as a formerly incarcerated person.

It is nearly impossible to overcome the crippling amount of criminal justice debt that you face as a formerly incarcerated person after release.

Everything I experience during my period of parole and probation made these problems worse, not better.

Anyway, I suggested a list of evidence-based reforms to parole and probation in an article that I wrote earlier this year. And I have also written often about the need for prisons to begin training prisoners for reentry starting day one after sentencing.

There is no excuse, in a country full of people who talk about safety being their number one concern, for prisons to continue to be designed around long-failed models when we have much better evidence-based alternatives available.

Also, if you were wondering what makes parole and probation different, parole is run by the state for people returning from prison while probation is run by the county for people returning from jail.

Piper Problems Continued

It was really hard to watch what happened to Piper.

I have been suggesting for many weeks that a reckoning was coming and that there was no way for her to do what she was doing without paying a serious price (ratting prisoners out to CO’s and planting evidence etc.).  

But it was still really hard to watch. As annoying as Piper can be, after four full seasons with her, it is hard not to see her as an old friend.

My criticism was really about why the writers would make an experienced prisoner do things as stupid as the things they have made Piper do.

What is most frustrating is that within weeks everyone at Litchfield will appear to forget all about Piper’s transgressions and everything will go back to normal. What happened to Piper was probably a kindness (as crazy as that sounds in real life she most likely would have been beaten down and/or stabbed) and the way the prisoners treated Piper at the welcome home party for Nicky would never change (shunning).

Even her allies, out of a desire to protect themselves, would avoid her entirely in perpetuity.

Gentrification Crisis

I deeply believe that there is no more important confrontation in American life than the confrontation between a homeless person and a non-homeless person.

The critical contradictions that underlie so much of our public policy are never drawn more starkly than during these encounters.

Typical Americans are made so uncomfortable by these encounters that they often cut and run and so uncomfortable that local and city governments try to legally prevent them from ever happening (this is called the criminalization of homelessness).

What Lolly experiences throughout her adventures during this OITNB episode is typical of the experience of homeless or at-risk individuals all over our major cities throughout the United States. People suffering from mental illness, like Lolly, are often only treated through the criminal justice system and find themselves in prison because they are failed over and over by the system.

Lolly’s experiences might seem extreme, but they are not rare. Here is an excerpt about an assistance agency in New York City from a story about gentrification and homelessness in New York City during the Bloomberg administration:

“Often, it is a parking lot of strollers, a basic part of life for homeless families: these rolling mini-worlds are the single unchanging point of reference that many homeless kids know. The strollers proceed awkwardly through the security scanners, they queue up in a caravan going back and forth in lines in front of the admission desk, they occupy the middle of the floor of the building’s elevators while standees press themselves against the walls. Plastic bags of possessions drape the stroller handles, sippy cups of juice fill the cup-holders, Burger King paper crowns ride in the carrying racks beneath. Kids sleep peacefully while consultations and long waits go on around them. Some lean back and watch with a numbed, listless patience that suggests how much of their childhood has already been spent like this.”

Like Lolly says, her life has seen more Dragons than Unicorns and her mental illness has been with her since she was born.

I hate lots of things about incarceration, but nothing bothered me more than the criminalization of mental illness and of extreme poverty. America might feel better with the homeless and the mentally ill out of sight and out of mind...but it does not say much about the morality of our society.

<I wrote a pretty comprehensive piece about the need for mental health reform in Michigan's jails and prisons last year.>

Unlocking The Gates

Netflix

Netflix

FYI I am planning to write a long post about the problems with private prisons soon.

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).

Since only one person has responded to a question in months, I am ending the questions.