Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Orange is the new black but only if you have green

I recently realized there are some themes to the TV shows I like - politics, period pieces, anything forensic pathology (goes back to my Quincy obsession - which I happily can watch again on Netflix) usually fit the bill.  I also realized that I also seem to be attracted to intense, intelligent, slightly off kilter - ok crazy - female characters.  I am sure at some therapy session in the future I will need to discuss my connection - am hoping I start the session with the crazy and end it as a intense woman with passion.

I recently read a book called "Orange is the new Black".  The main character makes some bad choices and they come back to haunt her years later and she winds up serving time.  Of all the irrational fears one could have - mine is about being in jail.  I know it is not really irrational because jail is nasty, dangerous and not someplace anyone wants to be in but I actually get afraid and picture myself in the orange jumpsuit, getting shanked (yes I got the lingo), and having to go to the bathroom without doors.  Yes I know, last one seems lame  - but it is my fear and makes me slightly ill to even type this.  

As I started to read the book I first thought about the main character Piper.  I judged - I mean her bad choices are all about a bored, wealthy girl trying on the "dark" side.  Yes it stunk that she carried money only once, yes it sucked that she got dragged into getting convicted 10 years after the fact, no it was not fair that the main drug dealer never actually did any time but his lackeys did.  However, at the end of the day she did not do it because she did not know about other choices, needed the money or even had some sort of drug problem to sustain - she did it because she had led a life of privilege that she knew she could play away from. 

I watched the show even though it differs from the book.  As I watched it I thought both about the book and the tv characters.  These women, for the most part, are victimized from birth.  It is easy to say why did they try meth or crack or heroin when they saw their mother or grandmother or whoever was taking care of them go down hard for the same addiction? It is easy to tsk tsk from a comfortable middle class existence at how they subject their minds, their bodies and their freedom to men who deserve nothing because they give nothing except misery.  Mostly it is easy to judge them in much harsher terms then we judge the Piper character - she made a mistake, they on the other hand made a choice. 

Piper is saved by her money, her circle of acquaintances and yes 15 months in jail is horrid.  Not being able to pee without asking for permission is not something we should ever take for granted, nor eating when we want, showering and sleeping as we need to, or any other basic need that we have the freedom to do without walls, fear, and someone else telling us to do it.  

Piper is saved by her education and her family - she is able to take from this experience what us taxpayers should want for every inmate, particularly those in these minimum security places.  It takes her a while but she accepts her personal responsibility for what she has done.  She is able to make money and be successful from this misery.  She survives her jail time and moves on.  

The women both in the show and in the book do not get these chances - they are not saved because it is not race, or sexual orientation but money or the lack of it that keeps them in the revolving door that is addiction, prison, poverty.  It is insanely expensive to house these inmates and yet there is nothing to help them get out - and I do not mean leave jail.  There are some that find the comfort of institutional life safer and more orderly the world outside of the barbed wire walls.  These women very often have very little support system, live in areas where they have no one to teach them a skill, may learn a skill that no one employs them with a record for.  They get out to a world where there are no real good options or choices.  They may be below, at or above average intelligence but that does not mean at any of those levels that society would not benefit from breaking this cycle as much as they would benefit from it.  

Orange is not the new black - Green is the new, old black.  Dollars should be spent on programs that get dollars back in taxes from inmates who are given options that no longer have to rely on abusive relationships, welfare programs and a never ending parade of children who they do not want to, cannot or have lost interest in taking care of.  Those children would not be in orange - they would be out of the red  - in financial terms it would put our economy in the black.  

I admit I like the show, mostly because I genuinely like many of the characters and find myself wishing to find a way to save their "real" counterparts.  I admit I watch the show but as I watch it and I cannot help wondering as Piper turned her error into her success how many of those inmates who helped her in their own way survive jail does she help in return?  I wonder how we break this cycle for these women because it would be a benefit both morally and economically.  

In one of my all time favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption (prison theme), Red has a very famous line  "hope is a dangerous thing in a place like this" that is the harsh reality for most of the women Piper served time with - and they are all fascinating in many ways - my favorite character is Crazy Eyes because she never ceases to remind those of us watching her that there is more to any of these women then the color of their skin, the color of their jumpsuit and the lack of color in their incarceration. 

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