Orange is the New Black-or, how I learned to care about prison conditions

A few months ago, I’d never really considered the conditions of people who were incarcerated. I just figured that they were being taken care of. I had no idea that scarcity existed in a government facility–naive, right?!

Watching the show Orange is the New Black I learned a little about the difficulties of prison life. It seemed a very scary and unfamiliar place to be, especially for main character Piper. Later on, she learned how to navigate the complex community built inside by the inmates and guards alike. As the show progresses, characters develop, good/evil is shown, and at the end of season 3 you see that they’re adding bunk beds to all dorms.

The prison already seemed plenty crowded, but now that it was bought up by a private corporation they wanted to shove more bodies into the decrepit hulk. A company only cares about making money, after all. Why shouldn’t they shove additional humans into every possible nook and cranny? What’s the worst that can happen?

Seeing that touched something within me, and I reached out to a local nonprofit to see what good I could do for the world. I knew that living packed as sardines in a can wouldn’t be healthy or helpful for people already feeling trapped.

The episode where Laverne Cox’s character is beaten to a pulp for no good reason, and then she is placed in solitary as a “prevenatative measure” infuriated me. I wondered–is this REALLY how we treat people?! She did nothing wrong! She should be safe in her surroundings! The murder/abuse/suicide rates for transwomen are astronomical and in prison, she’s barely got any chance to defend herself!

The more I read and learn, the more I realize how little I know about this. I’ve been truly inspired by reading the book and watching the show to make a difference for a segment of the population that is incredibly voiceless.

They can’t vote, but they pay taxes. They can’t get proper jobs in most cases, due to the stigma of being convicted of any crime/serving time.

I do not believe that every person being held should be incarcerated. Plenty of drug offenses and mandatory minimums should be abolished; drug addiction should be treated as a medical problem. Mental illness can cause dreadful behavior, and yet it is ignored by many in favor of simply jailing the ill person.

I want to learn as much as possible and will work as hard as I can to affect some positive change.


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