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December 20th, 2014

Why I Love “Orange is the New Black”

 

I’m sure glad that prisons exist to rehabilitate hardened criminals.

 

Just kidding, of course.

 

I wonder who came up with the ridiculous lie that prisons rehabilitate people. Probably a shareholder of one of those privately-owned, for-profit prisons.

 

Clearly prisons do the opposite of rehabilitating people. They toss people together into a violent emotional pressure cooker where the only responsibilities that the inmates have are to get tough, get mean, get crazy, or get destroyed.

 

Every year you spend in prison makes you less likely to ever become a well-adjusted, productive member of society.

 

The Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black” is as astoundingly good drama about life behind bars and its ugly effect on people.

 

“Orange” stars Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman: a likable woman who briefly worked as a mule for her drug-smuggling girlfriend during her reckless youth. The State has determined that the appropriate way for Piper to pay for her old crime is not a fine or community service or probation… it’s 15 months in prison.

 

Piper goes in thinking that prison will be a break from her life. Very quickly she realizes how naive that was. By episode three, prison IS her life. The people and things that are meaningful to her have completely changed. By the end of the season, her values have eroded and have been replaced by a simple need to be loved by anyone and survive at any cost.

 

All things considered, Piper adjusts pretty well to the shocking change. Her fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs) doesn’t roll with the punches nearly as well. When the love of his life was locked up, Larry should have simply said: “Stay strong, Piper. Do whatever you need to get by. I’ll always love you and I’ll be waiting for you when you get out.”

 

Instead, Larry foolishly expects Piper to stay 100% loyal to him and their middle class values. “Orange” gives a valuable guide to anyone who has a loved one behind bars: do the opposite of everything Larry does.

 

But this isn’t just one woman’s story. The special thing about “Orange” is that it has a huge cast of characters and we get to know all of them.

 

By showing flashbacks to their lives on the outside, the show constantly reminds us that these are not just criminals – they’re women; women who were better people before society chose to lock them up.

 

We even get to know ‘Crazy Eyes’: the black, cornrowed lesbian who makes Piper her wife soon after she’s incarcerated. In any other show, Crazy Eyes would be The Other – the scary lunatic who torments the heroine. But “Orange” allows us to get know Crazy Eyes’s point of view. Before long, we sympathize with her as much as Piper.

 

In the end, it is Piper who goes a little crazy. After months of living in a cage, she inevitably becomes an animal. She certainly doesn’t get rehabilitated. Obviously.

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