Episode two gives us an in-depth look at Taystee and the part of her young adulthood surrounding and involving Vaughn “Vee” Parker, who acts as a den mother, while also using her for her skills in sales and mathematics. Natalie Figueroa continues to cover for her own embezzlement of Litchchfield’s funds by providing the women with a Mock Job Fair and other programs. Last but not least, Vee makes her grant entrance into Litchfield. For an overview of themes and social justice issues contained within this episode, click below to continue reading.
The title of the second episode of season two are the very first words that Taystee speaks to Vee, her future adoptive mother. Vee is sure to correct her: “Blue and red are colors, darlin’. They’re not flavors.” Taystee’s response conveys her childlike innocence as well as the root of her namesake: “Well, it’s tasty. I like me somethin’ tasty.” Vee says that the name suits her well, and thus begins Tasha Jefferson’s new name. The episode is titled after this exchange, for it defines just how deeply Vee has impacted Taystee and what an influence she was during her childhood and young adulthood. It is this influence, that of Vee upon Taystee, that is the structure for the major plot arc of this season.
Natalie Figueroa lists the Dress for Success program and the Phillip Morris Company as sources for rehabilitation that Litchfield offers its inmates; however, we can assume that this is simply a cover for where the funds are really going: into her own wallet.
The Mock Job Fair is one of the first scenes of this episode, and it points out a few aspects of life-after-prison for the inmates. Flaca asks: “If this is really about career dressing for us, shouldn’t this be all, like, McDonald’s and maids’ uniforms?”. She doubts her ability, as well as her fellow inmates’, ability to obtain a real career after their sentences are up. Despite the fact that the woman representative of the Dress for Success program encourages the women to dream big and dress for the career they want to obtain, the cycle of poverty in America tells otherwise. I previously wrote on class and race; however, I would like to take a moment to discuss what prisons actually do in regard to inmate rehabilitation.
There are organizations, like Lionheart Foundation, which “[provide] education, rehabilitation and reentry support to incarcerated men and women in prisons and jails throughout the United States” (“Prison Project”); however, prisoners usually do not receive adequate preparation for reentry into the outside world:
Under current policies and practices, newly released prisoners face major challenges assuming or reassuming economic and social roles in the community. They face legal barriers in securing certain forms of assistance and types of employment and in assuming civic roles and responsibilities, including voting. They usually receive little training, preparation, or support while in prison to prepare them for reentry and often [find] themselves further behind when they leave prison than when they entered (Gaynes 8).
While recognizing that prisons need to “provide needed services and supports related to family, employment, mental and physical health, and spirituality,” prisons often start too late, if at all, on the reentry process. If these preparations do not begin “at the point of incarceration,” the services may have been offered in vain. Prisoners on the brink of release need a “comprehensive discharge plan that includes living arrangements, medications, identification, transportation, emergency funds, escorts, and linkage to community or faith-based organizations and mentors” (Gaynes 26). We know from last season that Taystee had to align her living arrangements before she left prison; we will see in this season that Alex is immediately discharged, which leaves absolutely no time for planning or strategizing. The only “linkage to community . . . organizations and mentors” Alex receives is a twenty-minute meeting with her parole officer once a week.
In her article for Harvard Magazine, Elizabeth Gudrais follows Bruce Western’s interview with ex-cons as a way to “put a human face on the statistics and dashed preconceived notions in the process.” She contends:
Western has come to believe that just as offenders’ crimes carry a cost to society, so too does the shortage of social supports and rehabilitative services for offenders . . . He is determined to help the American public understand how crime is shaped by poverty, addiction, and histories of family violence, in an effort to promote a more humane—and more effective—prison policy.
In addition to Litchfield’s lack of occupation and career-oriented services, up until Figueroa was challenged to show where the money was going, Litchfield lacks a drug rehabilitation program. Although there is some talk about Nicky Nichols attending a program for a month, it is not elaborated on, and thus leads me to believe that Litchfield is not making a real dent in any of the inmates’ drug habits (why should they need to? They aren’t using, you say). Rehabilitation and programs geared to help inmates overcome their addiction is what would ensure that the inmates do not go back to using as soon as they are released from jail.Natalie Figueroa, the woman claiming to be “taking care” of the inmates snaps when Taystee inquires about her reward for winning the Mock Interview portion of the Job Fair program: “Why is it so hard for you people to understand? You’re like babies. ‘Where’s my present?’ ‘Pay attention to me.’ ‘Give me things.’ ‘Fix the heat.’ ‘Build a gym.’ I’m not your goddamn Mommy. Grow up” (emphasis in original). What is interesting, yet unsurprising, is her language use: defining the prisoners are “you people” and mentioning the gym — the facility that the reporter and Piper eventually uncover that never got off the ground, despite reports of it beginning construction — highlights her perceived superiority over the incarcerated. Instead of doing what she should do for Taystee, get a job in line or at least a real interview upon her release from prison, Figueroa simply gives her a $10 commissary credit.
A Microcosm of the Real World: Anti-Hispanic Racism, Misogyny, and White Male Supremacy
Despite the fact that the vast majority of prisoners are male (Gudrais), one of the women working in the kitchen ponders aloud why Joel Luschek isn’t in jail for his MDMA use, whereas many of the women were arrested for the same thing (albeit maybe not the same drug). Although he retorts: “I’m in jail every day,” we see how the white male always wins when in competition with non-white females that commit the same crimes.
When I think prison inmates, I think of murderers, rapists, and thieves; I do not think about drug users and abusers, and yet that is who we see in Litchfield. The “real criminals” are companies, according to Black Cindy: “BP” was the name that stuck out to me on her list.
Taystee is adamant about winning the interview portion of the mock job fair because: “we can’t let Skinny Bean [Flaca] win. They [Hispanics] already got the kitchen, and they got the best seats at movie night . . . y’all gonna let them take this, too?”. Although this is in relation to how Gloria Mendoza runs the kitchen, and thus “her people” are at the “top of the food chain,” it also extends to the real world in which the Hispanic population is forever increasing. Within the next ten to twenty years, Caucasians will no longer make up the majority of the population. As a resident of the hateful and racist Long Island (which is where, coincidentally, OITNB shot for a few weeks at Suffolk County Jail in Riverhead — likely standing in for the Chicago, IL Metropolitan Detention Center), I see just how anti-Hispanic people can be in regards to them “taking all of our jobs” and being “the reason for the terrible economy.” Wake up, people. American is becoming more and more of a melting pot, and not all Hispanics are undocumented workers or “aliens” (kudos to Jenji Kohan for slipping that one in there).
Golden Girls Gang
Aside from being a pop-culture reference, the Golden Girls are the geriatric population in Litchfield who are trying to get Red to join their group. Although Red is reluctant to do so, for she feels that it would be officially announcing that she has retired from her kitchen contraband operation, we see her reading Dana Reinhardt’s We Are the Goldens; ironic, eh?
One of the Golden Girls says: “already no one notices us. We’re old and invisible, so why not be old together? We keep each other company;” however, they will not be invisible for long with Red as their newest member.
Homophobia and Sexuality Studies
Larry, his family, and Piper’s family have had the hardest time with Piper’s imprisonment solely for the fact that these crimes Piper committed were when she was a “lesbian.” Larry claims that “she was not a lesbian anymore” when they were together; however, “then she’s in prison, what, a few weeks? Bam! A lesbian again. Or bi? I don’t even know.” I have discussed this topic before in “The Bases Are Loaded: Sex and Sexuality in Litchfield”; however, this topic warrants yet another conversation for Larry finally uttered the word I have been looking for all along: “bi[sexuality].”
As accepting as the family would like to appear, Larry’s father admits to taking him to a gay bathhouse because he “had a Groupon.” The disgust and discomfort is evident while the two sit and talk, among the sexually aroused men that belong to the club, which arises from both the fact that people are shamelessly having sex in front of them, and because they could both be mistaken for being homosexuals.
Litchfield: A Comedy
Nicky Nichols: “According to this aptitude test, I should be a professional athlete, a park ranger, or a correctional officer . . . Are you at all aware that you just told an inmate in prison that she should become a correctional officer? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Lorna Morello: “Maybe I’ll Pinterest. I hear that’s a thing.”
[Yes, it is a thing. Coincidentally, most people (read: women) Pinterest about all things Wedding.]
Sister Ingalls: “I went from wearing a habit to wearing a prison uniform. I don’t think the fashion industry would be a viable option for me.”
Gaynes, Elizabeth. Reentry: Helping Former Prisoners Return to Communities. Ed. Jacqueline Lalley. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2005. Print.
Gudrais, Elizabeth. “The Prison Problem.” Harvard Magazine. Harvard Magazine, Mar. 2013. Web. 13 June 2014. <http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/03/
“Prison Project.” The Lionheart Foundation. Lionheart Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 June 2014. <http://lionheart.org/prison/>.