Does “Orange is the New Black” show a realistic view of prison conditions?
Msnbc.com posted a poll on June 9th questioning the reality of the show, “Orange is the New Black.” 728 individuals out of 1362 voted that the show gives people a window into prison life. As an avid fan of the show and a former inmate from a white collar background, I voted yes to the proposition that the show gives the viewers a window into prison life and prison culture. The show is based on Piper Kerman’s best selling memoir, “Orange is the New Black.”
One of our reviews last year concluded that the show’s portrayal of correctional officers was realistic–“Inmates review of prison guards in :Orange is the New Black.” At my prison, there was a correctional officer who not only acted like the nasty Pornstach, but resembled him to even the mustache. This officer allowed inmates additional phone time, if he was given food items that the inmates had purchased from the commissary. Pornstach in Orange sold drugs to the inmates. In Maryland, investigations and trials since 2011 revealed that a number of correctional officers in Baltimore smuggled drugs and cellphones to the Black Guerrilla Family — the state’s largest prison gang. This story was posted in “Foxes Guarding the Chicken Coop.”
This new season begins with emphasis on degrading physical conditions that do exist in many of our prisons and jails. The viewers see plumbing conditions leading to feces in the showers. For one real example, the NYCLU, have filed a lawsuit on behalf of inmates at New York’s Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead. The lawsuit was filed after inmates had officially made over one hundred complaints to courts about the filthy and unhealthy conditions at the jails. The complaints involved the constant problem of sewage overflowing into the cells, undrinkable water, and black mold in the showers. The facilities had “pingpong toilets.” A ping pong toilet, when flushed, bubbled over into neighboring cells.
From personal experience, my cell window was broken in several places. The cold night weather in 2010 started early in late October. At night, when it was 30 degrees outside, it was 30 degrees inside my cell. I slept in my prison clothes, prison jacket, and with socks on my hands. Inmates were not allowed gloves. The heat was not turned on until December and the cell window despite numerous complaints was not partially fixed until early December.
In my prison, the inmates were never given sufficient toilet paper for each week. Most inmates including myself did not have any by the end of each week. Many correctional officers ignored our requests for additional toilet paper with a laugh, a sneer, or with the comment, “Use your Hand”. However, during the morning shift, our tier had an older correctional officer who treated the inmates respectfully. This older officer always kept extra rolls of toilet paper in his desk for inmates. His shift never had any incidents. Some of the other correctional officers complained about him to their superiors.
“Orange is the New Black” provides a much needed window into the realities of prison life in the United States.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com
As a former resident of a minimum security facility I am also a fan of the show. I find that there are several of story lines that are pretty accurate. Of course there is a fair amount of creative story telling and dramatic license being tossed about, but overall the show captures a fair representation of the experience in a minimum security camp environment. I will say that the BOP correctional facility employees portrayed are not representative of the committed and professional individuals I encountered and I say that fully understanding the risk of losing my “inmate credibility” but overall… Read more »
Good day all. I have worked within the correctional system for over ten years and feel that Jess is right. The stories are pretty accurate, with drama added for ratings; but the Correctional Officer portrayal is fiction. Most Correctional staff are extremely professional and uphold the mission of the service to the letter.
Having been behind bars for 15 years (yes, staff and officers do the time as well), my thought, having read the book (a first, usually it’s the other way around), was, typical inmate; she doesn’t get it. However, I think most will be interested in the “go along to get along. mentality” Truth is stranger than fiction – even the author/protaganist ackowledges the editorial discretion that is Hollywood; and publishing. Even OZ had aspects not to be found in any penal institution.
I have recently viewed this series. As a federal criminal defense attorney much of what I have seen is similar to what my clients have described. Some good guards, some bad, all kinds of inmates and agendas etc.
My credentials here hold that I was an officer then the classification and treatment officer and now a training coordinator. 15 years total. I think the portrayal of what an offender goes through and all the emotions and different personalities they encounter is rite on the money. However I am not pleased with the staff potrayal. I can not speak for every institution but I can speak for 2 in Kentucky. We have staff walked out every week for smuggling in contraband. The most popular are tobacco and cell phones. That only makes up about 1% of our staff. With… Read more »
As a former Public Defender, I would say 75% is of the program is dead on.
As a former Public Defender, I would say about 75% of the show is dead on…..
I find the question interesting it’s entertainment. We may not watch if it were too real. I think the callus attitude among administration at times is spot on. I’ve worked now as a practitioner/vendor in the system for a few years and it’s sometimes obvious that they have lost site of their purpose. Good show I think.
I have not watched the show, but anything that gets rid of stereotypes is a step in the right direction. Everything you write about I have seen myself. There were some goog guards, who were not looking for any trouble and treated me respectfully. Most of them were burned out, cynical, and very possibly with elevated sadistic and antisocial tendencies. There was a study done by a prison psychologist in California before they stopped requiring correctional officers take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). The results showed that correctional officers were only slightly less antisocial then the inmates they oversaw.… Read more »
En Tunisie , les prisonniers gardent leurs vetements durant leurs detention provisoire , apres leur jugement et pendant l’execution de toute la peine.En principe un calecon vit le meme calvaire, la chemise et le pantalon suivront.Le nettoyage est hebdomadaire dans les meilleures chances .
as a former inmate, i will say story on their show are mostly accurate with extra drama but also will say theyare betraying correctional staff to be “hero ” which is not true for some but not all staff because they HIGHLY abuse their authority. Alot of inmates are cruicialy beaten by officers iv seen in their first hand, they are highly agressive even when you are complying with everything they ask for, and meantly abusive. I have epilepsy (seizures) i had one one day, my cell mates freaked out didnt know what was goin on, they called the officer… Read more »