How Real is “Orange is the New Black”
As a former inmate, I am intrigued and at the same time, frustrated by the popular show, “Orange is the New Black.”The Netflix series at times has captured sublimely—the authentic prison experience, but at the same time, the show was completely ridiculous in its portrayals of certain inmates.
First, let us look at the sublime. Nicky, a heroin addict, was having difficulty selling the heroin that she and Big Boo found in season two. The audience watched Nicky trying to sell the heroin to a prison guard, but she just cannot give up the white powder. Unlike the majority of inmates at the prison, she comes from a privileged background. We saw through flashbacks that her mother neglected Nicky while growing up, but supported her through her increasing drug addiction and legal problems.
It is a simple fact of prison life that drugs are really available in our prisons. A Washington Times article reported that prison authorities have seized about 1,000 times every year, illegal drugs from inmates. Florida prisons had 1,132 inmates test positive for drugs one year.
The portrayal of drug use by the inmates was not the defining moment of episode 3. Nicky was accused of having drugs in the prison and the warden immediately ordered her removal from their minimum security prison to the hill–a maximum security prison. She was shackled and transported in the prison van. Nicky looked completely shell-shocked,forlorn, and defeated by her latest acts of self destruction. Watching this scene, I remembered the same image in a real prison van.
During my time at pre-release, a young inmate acted out numerous times with the correctional officers. He was about 19, but looked 15 years old. The guards requests were reasonable, but he liked to show off in front of his friends. One day, the young inmate was ordered to wash one of the prison vans. It was a reasonable order for a nice summer morning, but he refused to do so.The next morning, I was on the morning prison van for a medical appointment at another prison. The young inmate was escorted shackled to my prison van. Because of his reckless actions, he was remanded back from pre-release to a hard core prison. His look of bravado was replaced with fear, shell-shock, and defeat. The young inmate and Nicky looked the same in their respective prison vans.
In terms of absolute ridiculous, Piper, the main character, expected Alex to forgive her for being responsible— for Alex being back at prison. Absurdly, the audience watched as Alex was slowly forgiving Piper after rough sex. It was not credible that Piper missed Alec so much that she intentionally caused Alex’s violation of probation. Once Alex was told by Piper about her scheme, it was not realistic that Alex would want any contact with Piper other than wanting to hurt or kill her.
Even with any such silliness, “Orange is the New Black” is worthwhile to watch for those poignant moments of real prison life.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com
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