“Orange is the New Black” Review
“Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix’s latest original series, is based on Piper Kernan’s 2010 memoir. It is a comedy-drama about a naive yuppie, named Piper Chapman, sentenced to 15 months in a fictional federal minimum security women’s prison in New York. The author was incarcerated 15 months at the real Danbury Correctional Institution (also minimum security) in Connecticut for money laundering. As in the author’s real life, Piper is charged 10 years after leaving the drug business.
The first two episodes are intriguing, especially to viewers who are middle class and have wondered what prison is really like. This prison has the various assortment of characters that viewers typically find in a prison movie. The inmates included drug addicts, a transgendered hair stylist, lesbians, and even a nun who was serving time for violating the law at a public protest.
The episodes used, to great effect, flashbacks with all of the characters to create complete three-dimensional human beings. At first, the tough red Russian, Kate Mulgrew from the “Star Trek” series, appeared as the typical prison bully intent upon starving the new inmate for an insult. The episodes revealed a complex character who was far more than a bully.
It was fascinating to watch the main character, Piper, come to terms with the loss of every day amenities that were taken for granted by her in the outside world. Amenities such as decent food, privacy in the bathroom and shower, communications with family and friends, and the list goes on. The officers in charge are not portrayed as in detail as the inmates, but I found this aspect realistic.
As a former male inmate incarcerated for 15 months for a non-violent economic crime, I agreed with the show’s portrayal of the correctional officers. Some officers were bad, a few were good, and many were indifferent to the inmates warehoused in our prison system.
Inmates do not want to interact with correctional officers. Interaction can lead to misunderstanding and punishment. Correctional officers do not want inmates to know about their lives outside of the prison for obvious safety reasons.
Just like Piper in the first two episodes, my money from home for commissary arrived late. I did not have any funds for shower shoes. Shower shoes were so important if you wanted to avoid catching any fungi or bacteria in the shower. An inmate who observed my dilemma, pulled me aside and gave an old pair of shower shoes that were considerably taped to me. I will never forget this random act of kindness by a fellow inmate.
Although you do see some fighting in the show, the atmosphere of potential violence at any time was not part of the episodes. This omission was realistic since the prison was a minimum security facility and the inmates were not male. If you want to get a sense for prison culture it does a decent job. The creator also wrote “Weeds” so you get a great balance of the dramatic with the comedic.