“Orange is the New Black” (or, if you are a rabid fan/ supercool, you call it “OINTB”) is a drama centered on incarcerated women and the staff at Litchfield Prison, operated by the Federal Department of Corrections. The main character is a privileged white female that is incarcerated for a year.
There is no Litchfield Prison or Federal Department of Corrections. Both are fictional. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is the role model for the FDC.
I worked in corrections for almost 10 years in the county jail and in the Bureau, employed at a female and a male prison, so a friend thought I would love the show.
So why do I hate the show?
1. There are only five officers and three executives running the entire prison. When there is a meeting, or something going on, you see only a handful of staff.
2. All of the staff is corrupt in some way. Most are hateful. In every group of people, 10% of that group will be corrupt: doctors, cashiers … and officers. 90% follow the rule and laws. And if someone stayed angry that much – screaming, snapping, frowning – they’d drop dead in the prison environment.
3. The background is unrealistic. SHU (Special Housing Unit, or lock-up) and the Psych Unit look like torture chambers where staff doles out rotten food and medicine on a whim. I worked SHU and the Psych Unit in real life. The actual SHU cell does reflect the real thing, but that’s about it. SHU and the Psych Unit are the quietest places to work.
4. Inmates receive free hygienic items, and government laws ensure programs such as religion, crafts, physical fitness, and work detail. OITNB is like “Friends” on lockdown: no one has a job, they spend a lot of time sitting around yapping, and they’re all so cuddly cute.
5. The stars of the show, and the author who spawned the show, all discuss in interviews the difficult, numerous, and unfair prison rules. Well, it is prison. Rules are in place for a reason; for example, count time. It is the prison’s job to protect the incarcerated. We not only counted to ensure all were accounted for, but that everyone was safe: not being attacked, not having a heart attack. If your loved one was locked up, would you not want to know everything was being done to keep them safe?
6. Thumbing through the books “Orange is the New Black” and “Out of Orange” you get the feeling neither author feels drug smuggling or use was/is serious, and the prison was so nasty and unfair. See #1-5.
I could go on, but the comments made by the people on the show are made by people who have never been inside a prison for work or time: about how the clothes, food, lack of privacy, etc. being all so horrible. I have negative things to say about the system, too. But I also say: we all know the result of illegal activity can be incarceration. And prison is not comfortable or fun.
So why do I love “OITNB”?
1. The characters are realistic. A prison is a society, a cast of characters: the mother hen, the psycho, the hero child, the lost soul. The actors do an amazing job of portraying inmates.
2. The OINTB inmates are incarcerated through no real fault of their own. How many times did I hear tales of innocence and woe? Out of the years in corrections and thousands of inmates, only two admitted guilt to me.
3. I miss coworkers and the work environment. I made great pals. Maybe I disliked them on the outside, but when the doors closed behind you, there was a kinship, a team. Only an officer understands another officer. Every day is a test; every day is different in the law enforcement business.
4. The prison life is (mostly) portrayed well: the stingers to heat up food, laughing over inmate mail, requests and complaints from inmates, the new officer you hope will live through it, the inmate you hope will get a break in their case, the hidden talents in people.
5. It is well written. I love a good cliffhanger.
So if you want to binge-watch with me, bring healthy snacks (and chocolate). I promise I won’t keep saying, “That would not happen.” Because I hate (and love) “Orange is the New Black.”