You Lock Me In Behind You: Orange Is the New Black S3 E6 “Ching, Chong, Chang” (Netflix)

Orange, Black, or Bleak S3 E6: “Ching, Chong, Chang” (Netflix)

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.

I will keep on pushing for the Michigan C.A.R.E.S. task force to cover mental health reforms in Michigan’s jails and prisons (This is a new version of my paper which was published on the Daily Kos site). To date, the only discussion that has happened was around diversion programs before and after incarceration. Until mental health treatment doesn’t include solitary confinement, I will keep on fighting for this everywhere I can.

If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*

Some Things About Season 3 Episode 6 "Ching, Chong, Chang”



OITNB S3 E6 “Ching, Chong, Chang” is about:

* Chang’s backstory, she was a less than attractive young woman and so her brother couldn’t arrange someone who was willing to marry her and no longer wanted to be responsible for her. Eventually, he hires a matchmaker but the man sees her and bails out  (the matchmaker was Madame Gao from the MCU FYI).

Chang ends up working for her brother, somehow becoming a gangster, and ultimately getting brutal revenge on the arranged groom who was supposed to marry her but backed out (it is unclear if this is what got her arrested).

We also find out that Chang secretly wants to be a writer, that she is really good at being invisible, and at making lemonade out of lemons. Unfortunately, when Chang finally tries to reach out to the other inmates through her writing, they reject it.

By the way, I would never have used the very offensive and pejorative title of this episode in the recap but for Chang’s response to Doggett. When Doggett says “Ching, Chang, Chong” Chang responds, “Fuck You Cracker.”

* O’Neal and Bell finding out that Litchfield is hiring new part-time CO’s. Basically, the MCC people are making Caputo feel secure and important at the same time that they are cutting back the inmate's wages and benefits. He is so happy to be appreciated that it is easy for MCC to run circles around him on his CO’s.

* A glimpse into life working at Whispers, I found the entire thing to be an excellent demonstration of how wage exploitation works.

* Lorna Morello starts a scam to get men to become pen pals with her, visit her, and put money in her commissary account. This is 100% something people in prison would do.

* Lolly shows up and asks for a Kosher meal (which, yes, is a real thing in prison). The Kosher meals are much better than the normal meals, so it starts to create a run on Kosher meals.

* Red and Sam have a discussion about why relationships in prison are always suspect, especially between CO’s and inmates. Ultimately, the resolution of this discussion results in Sam getting Caputo to go along with letting Red go back to working in the kitchen.

Red Velvet Is Bullshit

I wanted to take a second to mention that Jenji and the writers nailed the way crux of the financial problem that both states, federal, and private prisons face. Facility costs, employee salaries, and employee benefits are responsible for over 60% of prison costs in the United States.

You will hear people on television and in the papers talking about per-prisoner costs, but that just isn’t true (it is like saying social spending is more responsible for deficits than military spending which is total nonsense).

Over the last few decades, DOC’s have done everything they could possibly do to cut prisoner costs to the bone (warehousing, privatizing medical costs, cutting back on programming, privatizing food, making prisoners pay for everything possible, reducing pay for prisoners, basically everything you can imagine).

Obviously, a privatized prison company would cut prisoners as close to the bone as possible and then cut everything else they can possibly cut (including CO salaries and benefits). One of the interesting elements of this episode is that it highlights how BOTH prisoners and CO”s are squeezed in many of the same ways by the system.

MCC gets kickbacks from Whispers for providing cheap labor and to induce the inmates, at pennies on the dollar which works because DOC’s pay even less than Whispers, to willingly participate in their own exploitation.

MCC has an interest in reducing employment and benefits costs so they make Caputo feel important (while really giving him no power) so that they can use him to roll-back benefits, staff, and salary for his employees. They give Caputo a title and a kickback to induce his labor force to work for pennies on the dollar.

If only inmates and CO’s had a way to find common cause in working together to change the economics of prison. If inmates and CO’s worked together to change how prison worked it might actually work. In almost all cases, if everyone being exploited realized the power they could have to work in common cause, things all over the world could really change (not talking just about prisons).

I totally agree that unions often get captured and become corrupt, but at least they created the opportunity for collective bargaining to take place. I think this is what draws me to Reverend Doctor Barber’s New Poor People’s Campaign (the whole premise is all poor people of all classes, orientations, and creeds working together to insist on real change).

Big Happenings At Litchfield

This was a pretty important episode in setting up some future events (if this is not your first time through you know what I mean). Some important moments to remember for later:

* Donuts makes his first appearance and gets hired as one of the new part-time CO’s

* Lolly arrives at Litchfield (you might remember her from when Piper was flown to Chicago at the beginning of Season 2)

* Stella makes her first appearance, she is the Whispers employee with the Australian accent, she isn’t that consequential a character in terms of her involvement in the story itself, but she has become one of the most beloved characters for other reasons (I guess? I oon't really know, she seems to have gotten lost of press but I don't get it)

* Morello meets Christopher for the first time (as part of her pen-pal scam) <a reader called me out correctly here because for some reason I transposed Vinny and Christopher in my brain, apologies>. Morello meets Vinny for the first time (DOH).

* Television chef Judy King gets convicted of tax evasion (this was a way too obvious nod to Martha Stewart)

* Maureen makes one of her first impactful appearances (challenging Chang twice)

One Really Important Discussion

If there is a core weakness with the entire approach Orange Is the New Black takes to creating empathy and it is encapsulated in one quick, but important, discussion between Red and Healy. Here is the most important part of that discussion:

“No one in here is people, you think this is a normal relationship, human to human, I take advantage you get your feelings hurt, You forget that when you leave here tonight you lock me in behind you

Whenever someone turns off the television set or finishes all of the episodes they can walk away, feel like they have connected with the prison experience and probably have affected (maybe even deeply affected) by what they have seen.

But at the end of the day, each viewer can each still physically and emotionally walk away in a way that all currently (and most formerly) incarcerated people never can.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t keep writing this series if I didn’t think making these kinds of connections and sharing my experiences isn’t valuable. Thankfully, there is some truth to what Healy says here too (we are all just people).

I certainly hope that Healy has it more right than Red (for once).

Unlocking The Gates



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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