I’ll start by admitting that I never finished Orange is the New Black… in fact I never even pushed through the first full season. I couldn’t watch once Piper was put into solitary confinement. I was raised in an area and home where these stories were all too real. Not only does upstate New York have a large number of prisons, but my mother has been employed by Prisoners’ Legal Services of NY since before I was born.
I started watching OITNB because so many of my friends on social media got excited about new seasons and binge watched the new episodes in a weekend. Before I even got to the SHU episode, I was confused about the entertainment value of the show. Shows like this are necessary so people can see things they aren’t regularly exposed to, but at least my friends were not watching the show for the educational value. They were watching for the drama and were amused by the lesbian scenes. Or as this post suggests, because “Taylor Schilling is all kinds of adorbs” and “you get to see Jason Biggs masturbate again!” Jesus.
What if you watched 13 Reasons Why and had similar emotions at the rape scenes or the other 11 reasons? This stuff is real. I can’t blame anyone for watching either show, but I do find it very confusing how anyone could find real entertainment value out of either show.
Everyone is jumping at 13 Reasons Why and whether or not it is appropriate for television. I haven’t decided which side I am on and have only watched a few episodes, but I know that even the people who love the show are not in it purely for the entertainment value. They are watching because they know this stuff is real and finally someone is talking about it. I have yet to see someone with the same reaction to OITNB.
Most of the episodes I watched featured flashbacks for a particular inmate that delved into why or how each woman committed a crime that put them in prison. The one that really stood out to me was Miss Claudette. (Spoiler) Her crime was murder. She ran a housekeeping business and one of the young girls who worked for her was sexually assaulted by one of her clients. She treated these young girls like her own daughters and ended up killing the man. My reaction to this was heartbreak and understanding for Miss Claudette. Most of us are fortunate enough to not be forced to our breaking point, to never have to live to see what we are capable of. Perhaps the majority of us could never commit a crime no matter how extreme the circumstances, but I would be surprised to hear if you watched that scene and didn’t sympathize with Miss Claudette.
If you can sympathize with Miss Claudette and the other characters in OITNB, why does this sympathy not translate over to real life? When I wrote my first blog post about the prison break in upstate NY, I received a lot of (expected) negative responses. It is difficult to relate or frankly give a sh*t about prisoners, especially ones that performed heinous crimes, but we don’t know their story. If we put ourselves in their shoes for a day, would we do what they did? If we had the mental illnesses they have, would we do what they did? We can’t say we wouldn’t, because we don’t know. It is too difficult to predict our reactions to situations that we have never had to face. I know I can’t. I’ve never lived through extreme poverty. I’ve never dealt with severe mental illness. I’ve never been bullied on a daily basis. I’m not a member of a minority group.
I think, at least in upstate NY, that many people feel they have to choose sides. Their parent or sibling or friend is a corrections officer, so they have to be against prisoners. You can sympathize with both groups, you don’t need to choose one or the other.
Proof: my mom just won an award at a NYS Bar Association dinner for ‘Outstanding Contribution in the Field of Correctional Services.’ In her speech, she emphasized that the purpose of the NYS Penal Law (criminal law) is punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation and reintegration. Too often we only focus on punishment, but my mom has spent her entire adult life stressing the importance of the other three. The NYSBA recognized this and she was a very fitting recipient of this award.
But I digress, back to OITNB. All I ask is that when season 5 comes out on June 9th, try to see through the entertainment and recognize the underlying issues in the prison system.