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What “Orange Is the New Black” Has Taught Me About the American Prison System

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Whenever I am asked what my favorite TV show is, or when people ask for recommendations of what to watch on Netflix, my go-to answer is ALWAYS Orange Is the New Black. Some people make a face and reply “Oh, that show is too graphic for me.” or “I couldn’t get through the first season, there was too much sex!” While yes, Orange is the New Black is a very graphic, sexual oriented show, there are so many hidden meanings. In my opinion, Orange is the New Black is one of the most “woke” shows of our time. It brings up important issues of prison reform, sexual assault, and gender and racial equality. It’s so much more than sex.

For those who don’t know, the show follows the character of Piper Chapman, an imamate who ended up in jail because of unfortunate circumstances. Throughout the seven seasons, we learn about all the different characters that make up a minimal security woman’s prison. 

One of my favorite parts about this show is learning the background of some of these women. They are mothers, daughters, and wives. Throughout the show, viewers get to learn about their past lives, and what circumstances led them to prison. Most of the time, they were just trying to get out of a tough situation that they didn’t ask to be in, whether it be personal or financial. The character of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren brings attention to mental health issues, and more importantly, how mentally ill inmates aren’t given the proper care and treatment they deserve. The character of Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson brings up issues of how easily a person with a record can be falsely accused of committing a crime they did not commit, and how it can completely ruin their life and desire to live. The character of Poussey Washington brings up issues of police brutality dealing with race, that in extreme cases, leads to death. The character of Gloria Mendoza expresses the struggles mothers endure while they are in prison. Galina “Red” Reznikov details how putting someone in isolation for a long period can take a toll on their mental health in extreme ways. And almost all the characters are mistreated by the guards. These are just some examples of the very real issues that characters in the show face.

Courtesy: NBC News 

In season six, a prison riot breaks out. I found this to be the best season of the show because I learned so much about the dynamic of a prison. When people say this show is just about sex, I would have to disagree with them. During the prison riot, many issues were brought up that I was unaware of. While watching this show, I learned about how unfair these women are treated. They are sexually harassed and assaulted regularly. Some are forced to get involved in the drug culture, even if they don’t want to. They have to do unspeakable acts to survive. They are denied basic rights, such as certain feminine products. And the worst part about this is that it’s not too far off from the truth. Season seven also brought in issues that people face with ICE and deportation. These issues are especially relevant in 2019, as they are very real issues that people face today. 

What is interesting about the show is that it was inspired by a novel written by Piper Kerman titled, “Orange Is the New Black: One Year in a Women’s Prison.” This is a memoir where Kerman discusses her time spent in prison. 

Overall, this show is definitely worth watching if you are interested in learning more about the very real issues women in prison face. No matter if you agree with them or not, criminals are still human, and they deserve to be treated like everyone else. While yes, this show had me invested because of the dramatic elements, many plot twists, character developments, and relationships formed, what got me was the social issues these women faced. I am embarrassed by how ignorant I was about these issues before watching Orange Is the New Black. So, I urge you to give it a chance because this show can change your perspective on how you view prison reform. 

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Sarah is a Sophomore at Florida State University, pursuing a degree in Advertising and Hospitality. In her free time, she enjoys going to concerts and taking pictures.
Her Campus at Florida State University.