Orange is the New Black is the story of Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling), an upper middle-class WASP woman convicted of criminal conspiracy and sentenced to Federal prison for a drug-related crime committed a decade earlier. Chapman’s girlfriend at the time, Alex, convinced her to pick up a suitcase full of drug money from an airport. This one-time bad decision came back to haunt her ten years later just before the statute of limitations ran out.
Chapman is a fish out of water: her privileged upbringing did little to prepare her for the realities of prison: loss of freedom, loss of privacy, and loss of basic human dignity. She has nothing in common with her fellow convicts; she’s wealthier, better educated, and well traveled.
She doesn’t understand prison dynamics and on her first day she insults the cook who prepares the food. The cook starves her for a while in retribution until Piper makes amends. This illustrates Piper’s main problem: she’s spoiled, selfish, narcissistic and very good at making bad decisions.
I liked the series overall, but with two caveats: initially it was hard for me to get into. The first couple of episodes set the background, but they can only go so far, story wise, so I felt they were kind of boring. But with a little persistence, it paid off. I couldn’t stop watching and binged until the final episode.
The other caveat is that it did become a bit melodramatic. There was a story arc with Piper, Alex, her former lover, and her frustrated fiance.
One interesting point the show keeps making is that many of the women are there because of circumstance. Many are only tangentially involved in criminal activity or in the wrong place at the wrong time. It raises the question of whether the inmates “deserve” their punishment or not. Piper clearly does, she made as stupid mistake and was caught and punished, but with a relatively light sentence due to a plea bargain. For the other women, it is more ambiguous. Flashbacks show how individual characters came to be incarcerated and the circumstances which cause them to make bad decisions and ultimately incarcerated for them. We see that while the criminal justice system is black and white, the circumstances which caused each woman’s incarceration are not.
Another point the show makes is that the correctional officers and other prison officials are committing crimes just as bad, if not worse, and really deserve to be in prison. But due to the warden wanting to avoid scandal, their crimes are overlooked an/or swept under the rug.
This TV series is based on the best-selling book of the same title written by Piper Kerman.
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Worth a look for those interested in compelling look into modern day incarceration.
Skip it if melodrama is not your thing.