In case this is your first time reading this series, as a formerly incarcerated person who decided to do a deep-dive into the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black several years ago in order to help explain some of the things that folks watching the show without a felony background might not catch.
Also, you can read my recap of EVERY single episode of Orange is the New Black using this guide.
If you have not watched OITNB before *Spoiler Alert*
5 THINGS ABOUT SEASON 6 EPISODE 1 “WHO KNOWS BETTER THAN I”
Lots to cover on this packed episode. But first, I want to call out the Orange Is the New Black social media team. Last week they started a campaign asking people to choose which inmate team they are on (in a number of disputes throughout the season).
I am not, at all, a fan of this kind of social media messaging for one simple reason…Prison is NOT a joke. I am not saying there is no joy, or you don’t make friends, or formerly incarcerated people have no sense of humor. I am saying “playing prison” is not okay, it is not a game, and if you haven’t been there but act like you have, it isn’t a funny joke to anyone who has been there. There is a BIG difference between asking people to feel empathy, or put themselves figuratively in the shoes of inmates and asking them to make a game of it.
Not a huge deal, but worth mentioning. I remember Gucci doing a similar media and advertising campaign a few years ago that made me angry — and had me, Just Leadership, and Shaka Senghor all publicly objecting.
5. “SITTING IS THE NEW CANCER”
On the one hand, Donuts and Doggett still being together is truly problematic. Doggett was abused sexually by Donuts and he never faced any consequences. It is hard to fathom why they have continued this story-line, especially starting this season off with Doggett trapped in Donuts trunk for what appears to be many hours as he tries to get rid of CO Dixon (I guess he is now “former CO Dixon”).
On the other hand, they at least do try to show that Doggett has agency by the end. It is a small consolation, but this is just a really tough story-line and has been for a number of years. It is certainly true that abusive relationships are complicated and last far too long in the real world. I guess it is also “possible” that sometimes people who were in an abusive relationship together work out their problem and end up having healthy relationships. But:
- Donuts never paid any price for what he did (Doggett stopped Boo from exacting revenge multiple times)
- Donuts and Doggett have never participated in any therapy or done anything to address the trauma at the core of their relationship, or most important Dogget’s history of trauma and abuse (including but not limited to what Donuts did to her).
- There is still a power imbalance, Doggett still gets to live the life of a non-criminal despite having committed atrocities while Doggett is hiding in houses and car trunks.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if the show’s writers cared enough to find some — admittedly unlikely — way for Doggett to get therapy for all the terrible things she has experienced in her life? The saddest part is that this just cannot end well for Doggett (it is really hard to stay off the grid these days). Doggett has street smarts for sure, but the authorities are not going to totally forget about someone who escaped prison with serious charges (while anti-abortion folks got her sentence reduced Doggett did shoot a nurse at an abortion clinic after all).
4. “LET’S PROSECUTE A RAINBOW”
During this episode, virtually every inmate in Administrative Segregation is trying to figure out how to protect themselves, often at the expense of everyone else…even their closest friends.
The show didn’t really need to roll out a big flashback into Cindy’s life on this one, Cindy has ALWAYS been shady. We have come to like her and even trust her, but if you think back, deep-down, Cindy has always been first and foremost about herself. I suppose the flashback is intended to suggest that if Cindy could abandon her own daughter she would also have no problem abandoning her best friend…On the other hand, Cindy always knew her Mom would take care of her daughter, she has to know that she is putting what is likely a life sentence on her best friend here.
But, there is something bigger here and Orange Is the New Black is right to highlight how truly absurd and sad these kangaroo investigations and proceedings are. Here is a quote from a recent article in Mother Jones:
“Criminal snitching is an enormous problem for our justice system, in part because it’s an enormous source of error,” Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at the University of California-Irvine and an informant expert, told the Intercept in 2015. Jailhouse informants, colloquially known as snitches, can be unreliable because the prosecution tempts them to offer testimony against the defendant with a number of enticing incentives: a reduction in sentence, for instance, or a move to a more desirable prison. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a jailhouse snitch was used in 23 percent of death penalty cases where the defendant was later exonerated. In a report from the Center of Wrongful Convictions, a project of Northwestern University, researchers found these types of informants to be “the leading cause of wrongful convictions in US capital cases.”
I am not saying that all inmates testimony is unreliable, but when that testimony is coerced from people who are at the same time also at risk of being charged with new crimes it should be hard for anyone to have much faith in the fruit coming from these poisoned trees. I have done several podcast episodes discussing the “problems with prosecutors” and the combination of media and public pressure absolutely creates exactly these kind of “media furies” where certain punishment seems much more important than uncovering the truth.
We really need to realize that we have become a cruel and careless society and get over these media-driven frenzies followed by harsher laws and more certain and harsh punishments. As Andrew Koppleman, a John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern put it:
“American law, Kleinfeld thinks, “seems to have lost the concept of error.” It is “hardhearted and callous in a way that dishonors the entire tradition of Western democracy.” This is harsh, yet not harsh enough. The larger cultural context also matters. The values implicit in the practice of mass incarceration are not merely those of hardheartedness and callousness, nor of recklessness. If one were to discern the values embodied in American criminal justice, one would be a bad anthropologist if one did not notice that the population of people deemed irredeemable is disproportionately black. Paul Brest observes that one way in which equal protection can be violated is for state actions to reflect “racially selective sympathy and indifference,” meaning “the unconscious failure to extend to a minority the same recognition of humanity, and hence the same sympathy and care, given as a matter of course to one’s own group.” Racism, sadism, and mindless inertia interact in complex ways.”
3. “FOUR POOPS A DAY”
Orange Is the New Black highlighted two other very important issues accurately in episode 2.
First, when Piper runs into Lorna in line waiting for meds Lorna informs her that many of the former Litchfield inmates were shipped all over the country after the riot. Second, Blanca claims that Ruiz was promising inmates cellphones (notice how the eyes of the investigators light up at this information.
Both of these things would be very typical after a riot with one major difference…they usually ship the people they think were the most dangerous away (after the investigations end), not the least dangerous.
In other words, it is unlikely the “ringleaders” would be kept together at the same facility, much less a facility where they have connections (Daya and Ruiz would not be going to Gen Pop at Litchfield Max).
Sadly, we had a real riot a few months ago at the Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina (it was the worst prison riot in a quarter century with 8 people dying). And after the Lee Riot the SCDC moved inmates all over the place.
And just like on Orange Is the New Black, officials follow a playbook. You can always expect:
- Officials will talk about how violence was an “inevitable part” of prison
- Officials will scapegoat technology and contraband
- The majority of media outlets will exclusively focus on official stories and discount inmate stories or refuse to interview them entirely
- Systemic causes of prison violence will be erased entirely from official and media narratives
- Politicians will take up the need for new tough on criminal measures and insisting on extreme and punitive treatment of any prisoners who were “responsible” for the violence
So, this group of investigators — who are the stand-ins for all of the folks creating the punlic and legal, public, and official response to the riot are figuring out who to throw charges at…not because the people being charged are guilty…but because they need to have bodies to throw under the tires of the riot bus.
And as one of them sees and, more importantly, smells another of the investigators eating take-out Indian food she says:
“Its like you are a sociopath, you have no regard for human life.”
Piper finds out that her new cellmate Hoffler killed her kids because the Correctional Officer on duty goes out of his way to call her out.
I may have shared this story before, but when I was at quarantine (the place all inmates go in Michigan before being classified and sent to a normal facility). I was walking the yard with another inmate — about 22 years old — who had been involved in a “consensual” relationship (I totally agree with consent laws — I am just saying that so that you know it wasn’t forcible) with a 17 year-old girl.
As we were walking the yard, one of the correctional officers called out — in a loud voice — his name, his prison number and then started to share his crime with the entire yard. Officers do this kind of stuff all the time, and it really can put peoples lives at risk.
If another inmate assumed that message meant that he could curry favor with the CO’s by attacking that inmate or just didn’t approve of the crime, violence could be the result. Regardless of what you think of the crime the person committed, it is not the job of Correctional Officers to be judge, jury, and assistant to the executioner.
Now, I was crazy, I told everyone inside what my crime was up front. It is also very easy for inmates to find out what you did by calling someone on the outside and having them look up their prison numbers (this is called “running a tag”), but CO’s should not be part of the chain of agency causing prison attacks.
1. “I’M THE F*CKING WARDEN”
Anyone who has been reading this recap since the beginning knows I find the Fig (Natalie Figeroa) story-line abso-f*cking ridiculous.
Fig embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars (maybe millions) from Litchfield and while it took a combination of Piper and Caputo to uncover the embezzlement, ANY accountant who did an audit (which they most certainly would have done at some point — if not right after she was fired) would have discovered her OBVIOUS embezzlement. She wasn’t laundering money, she was straight out taking money from the prison (yes, I know, this would also be impossible…A point I made often at the time).
Regardless, it is even more insane that now, she would have been picked to negotiate the end of the riot or re-hired as the warden of Litchfield. Neither of these things could ever happen. Never ever ever ever ever. Zero chance.
Okay, I think that is enough for this week. I have to admit, it was good to see Healy again. Sure he was a terrible counselor, but he was a much more important character to the show than Fig ever was.
Hope we will see him again (back in the prison of the mind or from outside).
UNLOCKING THE GATES
New recaps will come out once a week (usually on Sunday mornings).
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).