Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain

Orange is the New Black season 4 puts viewers through the wringer. Abuse, murder, death, mental illness, surviving rape, corporate greed. It’s dark and horrifying. There are moments of hope, of light. There are ways of dealing. I thought it would good to end my series of posts on the latest season of Orange is the New Black with something brighter. There are spoilers ahead.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Finding a Balm for Your Pain”

Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations

Season 4 of Orange is the New Black is on everyone’s mind now. I’ve barely had time to watch it all. This post collects some random observations and stray musings on season 4. It is not meant to be a review of the season, but there are some spoilers.  Continue reading “Orange is the New Black: Musings and Observations”

3 Themes in Season 3 of Orange is the New Black

Season 3 of Orange is the New Black returns again and again to several themes. My big 3 are the difficulties of maintaining a family while in prison, the need for some sort of spiritual hope, and the need for love.

If you haven’t watched all of season 3 yet, there are spoilers ahead.

Parents in Prison

Elizabeth Rodriguez and Dascha Polanco in Orange is the New Black

Pregnant prisoner Dayanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco) struggled for most of the season with what to do with her baby. Her mother Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is in prison, too. Aleida is a terrible parent – the worst! – but she tries to guide Daya to a good decision.

Daya hopes the baby’s father, Correctional Officer John Bennett (Matt McGorry), will step up and take the baby, but Bennett isn’t up to the challenge.

Daya reported another Correctional Officer, the horrible “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber) as the rapist who got her pregnant. Now she’s living with the lie.

Mary Steenberger in Orange is the New Black

Pornstache’s mother Delia (Mary Steenburgen) wants to adopt the child. Alida loves this idea because it means money. Even after Daya tells Delia the truth about whose baby it is, Delia wants it. Daya wobbles back and forth between wanting to give her baby to Delia and wanting to keep it in the family. The decision she finally makes feels right, but ends in disaster.

In other story lines about families, the character Maria (Jessica Pimentel) is dealt a painful parenting blow from her little girl’s father. Gloria (Selenis Leyva) struggles to keep her teen on the straight and narrow. Sophia (Laverne Cox) has some especially hard parenting problems.

The fact is, most women in prison have children, over half of them under the age of 18. Because of changes in sentencing laws during the war on drugs, the number of parents of minor children in prison increased by 79% between 1991 and 2007. Orange is the New Black can’t take us through story lines about the long term effects of so many mothers being locked away, so many broken families, but the series does its best to bring the problem to the front.

Think about Big Boo’s (Lea DeLaria) comments on the book Freakonomics about the number of unwanted children being reduced by Roe vs. Wade resulting in fewer neglected and abused children turning to crime 20 years later. Flip that on its head and ask yourself what the result of harsh drug sentencing laws that sent thousands of mothers to prison for minor drug crimes will be in 20 years.

Faith & Religion

Annie Golden as Norma annoints an inmate played by Danielle Herbert.

Norma (Annie Golden) is at the center of one of the crazy rumor-driven stories in the prison. Some of the prisoners decide she is holy. Since she doesn’t speak, she simply smiles and pats them on the shoulder when they suggest this. They think she’s blessing them, and eventually she starts enjoying the attention and begins to act like the guru she followed as a younger woman. Everyone wants something to hang on to, some spiritual hope, and Norma is it for the moment.

A second plot line around religion involves the discovery that if you ask for a kosher meal, you get better food. Many of the inmates start asking for kosher food. Black Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) wants to learn enough about being Jewish to pass the test when they ask her why she should be eating kosher.

Cindy starts off on her Jewish experience watching Woody Allen movies but soon turns to an actual study of the faith. By the last episode, she has been accepted as Jewish by other Jews and even experiences a mikveh, or total immersion in water, as a symbol of her new identity as a Jew.

The Need for Love

Taylor Schilling and Laura Prepon in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Was it love that made Piper (Taylor Schilling) rat on Alex (Laura Prepon) in season 2, so she would be back in Litchfield Prison in season 3? Whatever the case, they reunite with hate-sex that involves lots of slapping, shoving and biting. Piper eventually asks Alex to be her official girlfriend. Alex says yes. Then the new inmate Stella (Ruby Rose) catches Piper’s eye and official girlfriends don’t seem so important.

Uzo Aduba and Emily Althaus in Orange is the New Black

They had to burn all the books because of bedbugs. Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) fills the gap in reading material when she writes crazy sci-fi porn and passes it around the prison. She gets fans! She has readers! Prisoners are desperate for any kind of love and/or romance they can find, and Suzanne provides them with a semblance of a love story. One fan in particular, Maureen (Emily Althaus), really wants to connect with her idol Crazy Eyes. Suzanne doesn’t know how to act around the idea of having a real girlfriend, not a dandelion. In the last episode, Suzanne and Maureen make tentative but thrilling contact.

Samira Wiley and Kimiko Glenn in a scene from Orange is the New Black

Poussey (Samira Wiley) is so lonely and love-starved that she stays drunk on her homebrew most of season 3. Soso (Kimiko Glenn) is lonely, rejected, friendless, and depressed most of season 3.  Something happens that brings these two closer and may be the much needed relationship they both lack.

The loyalties, the friendships, the “families” that form inside prison help people retain their sanity. Maria points out in the first episode, “Mother’s Day,” once people get released, they forget their prison friends. Yet, while inside, the need to feel connected, to be seen and understood by at least one other human being, does not go away. Crazy Eyes even says it out loud, “People need love.”

In addition to this big 3 list, season 3 of Orange is the New Black also deals with the idea of for-profit prisons and the lack of mental health care for inmates. It does all this while still managing to be funny, character driven drama of the highest order. It’s changing American culture, one story at a time.

Note: This post was syndicated at BlogHer.com.

Orange is the New Black: Sent to SHU

Two of our favorite characters on Orange is the New Black spend time in the segregated housing unit (SHU) in season 3.

Season 3 spoilers ahead.

According to a recent report on solitary confinement, the practice of solitary confinement is overused and ineffective.

. . . evidence mounts that solitary confinement produces many unwanted and harmful outcomes—for the mental and physical health of those placed in isolation, for the public safety of the communities to which most will return, and for the corrections budgets of jurisdictions that rely on the practice for facility safety.

Nicky

Natasha Lyonne as NIcky in Orange is the New Black

Remember the bags of Vee’s heroin that Nicky hid in the vent in the laundry? Yeah. That heroin. Well, Nicky and Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) decide to get it out of the prison. Luschek (Matt Peters) will help them and will sell it in the outside world. They plan to use the tunnel that opens into the greenhouse.

That plan falls through. Nicky gets nervous and moves the bags into a fluorescent light housing in the laundry. It falls out. The girls in the laundry get stoned on it. Luschek gets all the remaining heroin from them, puts it in a toolbox with Nicky watching, and carries it out of the prison.

Nicky saves one tiny bag and sticks it under Luschek’s desk. She can’t bear to let it all go. The laundry girls talk, so Caputo (Nick Sandow) searches electrical. Of course, they find the little bag.

Nicky gets all the blame and is sent to SHU Maximum Security [see comments]. Luschek points the finger at her, and that’s all the proof anyone needs. There is no investigation. Nicky’s just carted off. Luschek is not blamed for anything.

This happens in episode 3. Nicky is gone for the rest of the season. Orange is the New Black just isn’t right without Nicky, you know?

I wish there had been an episode near the end of season 3 where Nicky returned. It would have been good to see the effect on her. Maybe that will happen in season 4.

Sophia

Laverne Cox as Sophia in Orange is the New Black

Motherhood is one of the main themes throughout all of season 3. Sophia’s story as a parent is particularly difficult and touching. Her son (Michael Rainey, Jr.) is doing the teen rebellion thing and she doesn’t know how to help with it. She doesn’t know if he needs mothering or fathering from her. She’s conflicted and upset. Her wife (Tanya Wright) says Michael is out of control.

She tries to help by having him come to the prison more often. Gloria (Selenis Leyva) is trying to see her teen-aged son more often, too. She arranges for him to ride with Sophia’s wife for the visits.

The boys get in trouble. Sophia blames Gloria’s boy. Gloria blames Sophia’s boy. Sophia’s wife stops bringing Gloria’s son to visit.

Tension between Sophia and the entire kitchen staff results in Sophia being targeted with transphobic bullying. It sweeps through the prison like a wave. She’s attacked and beaten up by other black women. They even take her blonde wig right off her head. Dirty fighting, that.

The fight wasn’t Sophia’s fault, but she gets taken to SHU “for her own protection.” Nothing happens to any of the instigators or attackers, although, to Gloria’s credit, she looks really sorry about what happened.

Misuse of Solitary

At least in Sophia’s case, Caputo argues against sending her to SHU. But the for-profit bosses running the prison overrule him. I have heard that putting transgender prisoners in solitary “for their own protection” is a common practice in prisons.

In both cases, SHU was used as a quick answer rather than a solution. In both cases, the person who will suffer the horrors of isolation for who-knows-how-long should have been handled in some other way.

There are documented cases where people are kept in isolation for YEARS. As many as 80,000 individuals may be held in isolation per day in federal facilities alone. “Long-term isolation can create or exacerbate serious mental health problems and assaultive or anti-social behavior, result in negative outcomes for institutional safety, and increase the risk of recidivism after release.”

Nicky and Sophia have decent mental health. What if Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) or Morello (Yael Stone) or the paranoid new prisoner Lolly (Lori Petty) ended up in SHU? What about the depressed Soso (Kimiko Glenn)? They would be basket cases when they came out. Or dead.

Piper (Taylor Schilling) did a couple of short stints in SHU in previous seasons, but she had more people working to get her out. What happens when no one is trying to get someone out?

I know Orange is the New Black is TV, not real prison. But I think it brings the injustice and inhumanity of the real prison system into focus for the general public with story lines like these for Nicky and Sophia.

It’s easy to understand why the real Piper Kerman came out of prison and wrote a book. And why she became an activist for prison reform. And why she continues to provide input into this series.

Orange is the New Black: Pennsatucky and Big Boo

Toward the end of season 2 of Orange is the New Black, we saw the beginnings of a friendship between Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) and Doggett, AKA Pennsatucky, (Taryn Manning). In season 3 it becomes an important relationship for both characters.

Spoilers ahead.

Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the "Mother's Day" episode of Orange is the New Black
Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria in the “Mother’s Day” episode of Orange is the New Black

It starts immediately in episode 1 of season 3. Pennsatucky mourns all her pregnancies on Mother’s Day as the rest of the prison’s women celebrate with their visiting children. Big Boo comes to sit beside her.

Doggett says she feels terrible about all her abortions. Big Boo launches into a discussion of the book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. In this book there is a discussion about how the passage of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion, lead to a reduction in the crime rate 20 years later. The hidden side of that story – and Big Boo’s point – is that unwanted and neglected children often end up committing crimes and being incarcerated.

This discussion was handled very tactfully and gave some comfort to Doggett, who knew she was a meth head and would have been a terrible mother.

So many back stories in Orange is the New Black are about women who weren’t loved and wanted as children. We see several such flashbacks in season 3.

The “Mother’s Day” episode started Season 3 on a series of character studies about how women in prison deal with motherhood. It shows the social costs of the war on drugs and the devastating effects on families when mothers are locked up because of minor drug charges. This practice only perpetuates a cycle of neglect and is one of the greatest failures of the idea of mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.

According to this article,

. . . six in 10 women in real federal prison are there for nonviolent drug crimes. For every woman who has committed murder there are 99 drug offenders. Almost none of the 99 are international drug smugglers like Alex Vause; most of the women incarcerated for crack cocaine or methamphetamine were caught with less than 100 grams, the weight of an average bar of soap.

Big Boo, Doggett, and Sofia in Sofia's work room
Lea DeLaria as Big Boo, Taryn Manning as Doggett, and Laverne Cox as Sofia in Sofia’s work room

Big Boo and Doggett become each other’s besties. Doggett, in particular, leans on Boo’s strength and wisdom.

Two factors lead to the next part of the story.

  1. Morello lost her job as van driver after Miss Rosa ran off with the van. Doggett is the new van driver.
  2. The prison is purchased by a for-profit company. They reduce the hours of the experienced correctional officers so they can take away their benefits. They hire new and untrained COs to fill the hours.

An inexperienced CO named Coates (James McMenamin) gets the job of guarding Doggett on van drives. He’s a complete moron. Pennsatucky has to tell him how to do his job. He gets her donuts from the other place where he works. They feed day old donuts to ducks and goof off when they should be returning to camp.

We see in a flashback that Doggett really has no idea what love is or how it’s expressed. Nor does she know how loving sexual contact works. She traded sex for goods – including six packs of Mountain Dew – as a teen. She’s confused because Coates gives her treats and tells her he likes her.

Tucky's not home
Tucky’s not home during the rape.

Coates rapes her. Doggett isn’t really sure what happened. She knows she didn’t like it, but Coates brings her a cheap bracelet and she thinks he’s just showing her his love.

When Big Boo figures out what has happened, she delivers some great dialog about consent and force that makes Doggett understand that she was raped. It’s a brilliant scene. Boo brings in a pile of goodies from the commissary, dumps them on Tucky’s bed. When Pennsatucky asks what they are for, Boo says, “I want you to eat me out.” Pennsatucky says, “No, that’s gross.” And Boo defines consent in a completely compelling way that finally makes Tucky get it.

They agree it’s pointless to report Coates. It will be a he said, she said story and they know how those turn out. They decide to drug Coates and take revenge on him by sticking a broom up his ass. When they’ve got him passed out over a table in the laundry with his bare butt exposed, Doggett can’t do it. It may be her first moral decision ever.

Doggett finds a way to escape her duties as van driver, only to see Maritza (Diane Guerrero) given the job. Doggett and Big Boo look at each other in dismay when they see Maritza report to Coates. It will be season 4 before we see what happens with Maritza.

That these two unlikely souls connect is one of the most beautiful aspects of season 3. Doggett is less of a crazy religious zealot after her past experiences, and she’s less homophobic because she sees Big Boo as a person now. Boo is good for Doggett. Their friendship allows for conversations that mean much in terms of what season 3 is about. Lea DeLaria, in particular, gets to deliver some of the best lines of the season during her interactions with Pennsatucky.

Big Boo’s back story is explored in detail in season 3, which gives Lea DeLaria situations where she defends who she is to her parents and to a homophobic world with even more excellent dialog.

Both Taryn Manning and Lea DeLaria deserve recognition for their outstanding performances this season.

Orange is the New Black and American Culture

I’m in the midst of watching season 3 of Orange is the New Black. I’ll probably have something to say about it when I finish the entire season.

The pre-release publicity about it was everywhere last week. It made an impression on me when I realized how diverse the cast interviews were and how many actors have become known because of Orange is the New Black.

Here’s a short essay I wrote on Twitter.

Re: the power of media.

Orange is the New Black Rewatch Binge

June 12 and the release of season 3 of Orange is the New Black is just far enough away to let me rewatch the first two seasons in a cozy binge.

This is what fascinates me: the series starts out with the main story being about Piper, the privileged white woman who ends up in prison. The regular cast members listed are Taylor Schilling, Michael Harney, Kate Mulgrew, Laura Prepon, Michelle Hurst and Jason Biggs. By the second & third episode some of the actors like Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba, Natasha Lyonne, and Laverne Cox begin to show up as guest stars.

Actors we’ve grown to love from the show such as Dascha Polanco, Selenis Levya and Samira Wiley were listed in the ending credits. They didn’t even show up as guest stars early in the series.

I’m struck by how much of the story of what’s happening in Litchfield Prison has moved away from the white characters and how the minor actors in the beginning like Samira Wiley have moved up to become regulars.

As viewers, we have become attached to characters that we might never have had a chance to like and respond to anywhere else but in Orange is the New Black. It’s brilliant how Jinji Kohan and the other writers let Crazy Eyes and Big Boo and Gloria and Nicky and Morello sneak their way into our hearts by bringing each to the front slowly. Not to mention Sister Ingalls (Beth Fowler) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero), Watson (Vicky Jeudy) and many others.

A scene from OITNB

After two years, the most popular characters on OITNB are played by Samira Wiley, Danielle Brooks, Lea DeLaria and Laverne Cox. We no longer have to be lead into Litchfield stories by holding hands with someone white. Because of great writing, great acting talent, great personal presence, the most “other” members of the cast have become the default stars on Orange is the New Black. The story and the characters took off like a runaway train with a momentum that has carried us far from the original story in the book by Piper Kerman on which the series was based.

There are still white people in the story. Piper and Alex are still there, Red is still around, Nicky and Morello are still there, all the correctional officers and prison bosses are still there. But Piper is no longer the chief focus. In season 2, when Vee (Lorraine Toussaint) was around, much of the focus was on her and her effect on everyone at Litchfield. We’ll see where things go in season 3, but I’m 100% behind the diversity. I’d love to see one of the Hispanic characters become more known and important.

We’ve accepted the rainbow of characters who inhabit the prison, we care about them all. It’s a act of writing and planning by Jinji Kohan that I admire and respect. Diversity on our TV screens has an effect on the culture. I can’t wait to see how OITNB brings more of it in season 3.

What I’m waiting to see is the day when a black woman or a Hispanic woman or an Asian woman can be the lead character to lead us into a drama like this one.

Some Interviews with Orange is the New Black Cast Members

The cast of Orange is the New Black is busy doing publicity for season 2. There are interviews and talk shows and all kinds of press going on. I thought I’d collect a few of these videos right here for you to enjoy.

If you an obsessed fan like I am, you probably enjoy seeing the cast members being themselves in front of a camera instead of playing a part. Also, it’s nice to see them in street clothing.

This one is from MSNBC and features Lea DeLaria and Matt McGorry. Aww, they’re holding hands.

From HuffPostLive with Dascha Polanco and Lea DeLaria.

A Hey You Guys interview with Jason Biggs and Laura Prepon.

Another from Hey You Guys with Taylor Schilling and Danielle Brooks.

This one is a little heavy on the PR, but interesting.

This is from the Today Show. It’s old embed code, so it may not work on all devices. I apologize if it affects you. The interview included Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Jason Biggs and Uzo Aduba.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Another Today show interview with Laura Prepon.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Katie Couric asked for a second chance with Laverne Cox and had a much better interview than the first time. Here’s a bit of their talk.

Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoy this type of post