Whispers to a Scream: Orange Is the New Black S3 E5 “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S3 E5: “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More”

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 few notes this week:

1. Very much enjoyed the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the American Friends Service Committee and its Criminal Justice Project in Michigan. You might remember that I included their amazing seven-minute video about commuting life sentences several weeks ago (seriously, I bet that it will be the best seven minutes you spend today).

2. I am still pushing for the Michigan C.A.R.E.S. task force to cover mental health reforms in Michigan’s jails and prisons. To date, the only discussion that has happened was around diversion programs before and after incarceration.

3. Hope you have been reading about Michelle Jones post-prison journey (after a twenty-year incarceration) to starting her Ph.D. program at NYU. Congratulations to Michelle and shame on Harvard University for admitting her and then rescinding her admission.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

Some Things About Season 3 Episode 5 "Fake It Till You Fake It Some More”

Netflix

Netflix

OITNB S3 E5 “Fake It Till You Fake It Some More” is about:

* Flacca’s backstory, she made fake LSD (blotter paper soaked in water) and sold it to a kid who committed suicide. She was arrested for committing fraud and endangerment (even though she didn’t actually sell real drugs). Flacca's desire to be appreciated for being more than just another girl from the hood is also examined.

* Poussey discovering that her Hooch, buried underground outside of the library, has been stolen. The Meth Heads convince her that it had been stolen by a squirrel/raccoon (no they seriously thought a squirrel and a raccoon could mate).

* Daya coming to a final decision to give up her baby to Mendez’ Mom (I hate this storyline so much).

* Caputo and the CO”s adjustments to life under MCC (including the hours of the CO’s being cut by nearly 50%). We also find out that Danny, the main MCC guy, is also very good at controlling Joe C. Also Caputo makes a totally absurd argument about keeping violent criminals away from certain jobs even though we have seen so-called violent offenders in multiple jobs with access to those same jobs.

* MCC announcing a test to determine which inmates at Litchfield get to participate in a new job program promising pay of $1 an hour (massive pay for prisoners). Later we find out that the test was a scam and that the inmates who made the cut were chosen by random. The job that was being announced was sewing for a lingerie company called “Whispers.”

* Red’s attempt to use her new connection with Sam to get back her job running the kitchen. Sam thinks she is actually interested in him, but at the last minute he figures out that she was manipulating him just to get her old job back (I suspect that this will deepen his loathing for women).

* Gloria attempting to shut down Norma’s appropriation of miracles and Santeria.

* Alex and Piper continuing to fight over life and love and all while Alex is becoming increasingly paranoid about Kubra sending someone to try to kill her.

* SoSo tries to make common cause with the Meth Heads (how desperate has So So become?) but they see right through her desperate condescension.

The Whispers Problem

When the ‘specially’ elected group of Litchfield women finally arrive at their new secret job space, they find out that they have been hired to sew lingerie. This sucks, but it is sadly better than most of the jobs in prison (which usually involve cleaning up poop and pee, food preparation (well, it is called food, or yard work).

It is ironic and sad that we have no problem creating for-profit connections between prison administrations and corporations but we never lever these same relationships to ensure better outcomes for prisoners.

In fact, we hear over and over that our options are usually unpopular large-scale solutions like Ban the Box and or limited Expungements. By tying ourselves to these two solutions, which I do support but not enthusiastically, we make it highly unlikely that the vast majority of prisoners will ever be reached.

So, what would have happened on Orange Is the New Black had had MCC negotiate a different arrangement with the people at Whispers?

What if part of the contract had included requirements for training in soft skills and the possibility of being hired by Whispers after release?

If we care about societal safety, why don’t Prisons, Jails, and Governments leverage their contracting power to ensure better outcomes for prisoners?

Here are a number of reforms, many of which would not require legislation to be passed, that could create MASSIVELY positive outcomes:

1. Using contracting power to ensure DOC contracts include in-reach & training for incarcerated and hiring after incarceration

2. Making sure all inmates were trained in soft skills before release

3. Creating training programs & cadres of formerly incarcerated to deal w. infrastructure, environmental, & other predictable problems

4. Creating opportunities for employers to meet with formerly incarcerated people in social environments prior to interviews

5. Openly hiring formerly incarcerated people in State jobs wherever appropriate including in DOC's

6. Making sure all inmates get all the mental health and addiction treatment and services they need

7. Using widely available tablet technology to prepare inmates for new economy jobs (programming), not just janitorial or food service

8. Prioritizing integration with local colleges & universities, making sure the cost isn't prohibitive for people making pennies an hour

9. Creating liability shields for employers who hire formerly incarcerated folks that reach both torts and insurance bonds

I just don’t get why legislatures keep trying to do the heaviest and most impossible criminal justice reforms possible (and often these reforms, even if they were possible, would not help nearly as many people as many of the reforms suggested above).

I am not a huge believer in conspiracy theories, but I sometimes think limited reform and reforms that can’t pass are a strategic tactic to prevent real changes (I absolutely believe that some of the energy behind criminal justice reform is to create new markets in mass parole and supervision services).

Anyway, I could see possible worlds where even crappy companies like whispers could create meaningful paths to long-term employment for formerly incarcerated people. We just have to apply more imagination and look at possible reforms beyond Ban the Box and Expungement.

The Fake Test

Probably won’t surprise you but Prison’s do manipulative sh*t like this all the time too.

I knew a bunch of people who were enrolled in a “poetry” class that turned out to be a sneaky way for a criminology professor to get his students “access” to prisoners. So, they would technically 'teach' poetry but none of them knew anything about poetry.

The entire point was to use the fake-teaching of poetry to “observe” captive criminals.

Total unethical and manipulative B.S. (Sad).

Prisons and jails have no problem helping out corporations or universities but they rarely seem to have much money or desire to help out their prisoners to ensure that they come back to society in a way likely to generate successful reintegration.

Unlocking The Gates

Netflix

Netflix

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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