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Does “Orange is the New Black” show a realistic view of prison conditions?



Inmate Review Orange is the New Black 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



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PrisonPathAaron PetersDiane Recent comment authors
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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 »

Aaron Peters

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 »