More Prison System Injustices in 303: “Empathy Is a Boner Killer”

Berdie Rogers observes: “When a country has more inmates than teachers or engineers, we are living in a fucked up society. Prison is bullshit.” This episode illuminates the ways in which the prison industrial complex is powerful and its inmates, despite the “good guys” like Berdie who try to “fight [the system] from the inside,” are powerless.

Fight the System: Demographics, Crime, and Squandered Potential

“That’s why you women are in prison: because you suck at crime.” – Joel Luschek

Over the course of Orange‘s three seasons, we have learned to “trust no bitch.” Actually, we learned quite quickly in season one that wolves in sheep’s (correctional officer-colored) clothing are virtually everywhere. It is thus no surprise that when Berdie Rogers enters the scene, claiming that “prison is bullshit,” that Alex Vause scoffs at her apparent hope and can-do attitude. Sam Healy once claimed that he was “one of the good guys” trying to make a change from the inside out, but his chauvinistic and hypocritical views quickly gave him away. Perhaps it is the fact that Berdie is a black woman that makes her more credible than the white patriarch of Litchfield, but somehow we know we can trust Berdie in spite of the fact that we automatically doubt the change she’ll bring to the lives of the women of Litchfield. She may be “taking a paycheck from an evil system of oppression,” but at least she cares and has created the beneficial drama program.

Berdie Rogers

Prison-implemented programs, idealistically, are designed to prepare inmates to transition back into the real world. We have seen four programs in Litchfield that have had varying degrees of success:

  • Yoga
  • Alcoholics Anonymous and  Narcotics Anonymous
  • The Job Fair
  • Safe Place
  • Drama Class

Ever since Yoga Jones and Janae Watson had their falling out in season 2, it seems as though Jones has been reluctant to keep her emotions suspended in her “namastate” of mind. While yoga seemed to offer the women a method of relaxation, perhaps a state of zen could become more harmful than helpful. We only witnessed one session of AA/NA in Litchfield, but the show’s reluctance to turn it into a recurring theme or reminder of resilience subconsciously conveys that these programs fall in and out of popular fashion.

AA NA

The job fair in the beginning of season 2 promised to prepare our inmates for life on the outside; however, the promised job interview to the winning interviewee,Taystee, was never provided. This event ostensibly served the purpose of making the prison seem innovative and concerned on the outside. Similarly, Officer Healy’s Safe Place program was a poor attempt to control the women’s emotions through channeling them with a feelings chart and a talking stick in exchange for a shot off of their record. Rather than wanting to help themselves or put their deep-seeded emotions into words, the inmates used this program to ward off the potential of being sent down to solitary.

Despite these dismal attempts at a healthy method of channeling the women’s emotions, Berdie Rogers’ enthusiasm and egalitarian treatment of the women win them over, to Healy’s  dismay, and they ultimately fill up her weekly drama class, which will not only be emotionally cathartic, but encourage empathy and conflict resolution as well.

Electrical

Each inmate is supposedly assigned purposefully to their work assignment; however, we once again are made privy to the inadequacies of the jobs’ screening progress when Luschek comments that he’d be afraid of the women accessing the internet on his computer only if they were computer savvy, which they “are not,” since the prison “screen[s] for that.” Even if we had our doubts about their ability to Google search anything, Piper asks Larry in the pilot to update her website for her, which tells us that she is more than capable of manipulating the vast resources of the internet to do whatever she pleases.

It seems as though Berdie’s drama class is picking up where Yoga Jones left off. When Mei Chang and Lorna Morello are paired to do an improv scene together, Berdie encourages Morello to “roll with it” when Chang continues to turn her imaginary telephone into dogs and dicks. Whereas the women are asked to adapt to others’ needs and ideas in working together to perform a scene, the necessity for their flexibility is “only temporary.”

Prison Families

“We’re not a family. We’re a band-aid.” – Maria Ruiz

Family ties, friendship, and loyalty are brought up as a minor theme in episode three when Maritza and Flaca start getting excited about Daya and John Bennett’s upcoming wedding. Maria scoffs at the best friends’ excitement over Daya’s wedding, for she doubts the fact that the three women’s friendship is organic and not forced by their circumstances. Litchfield is a fishbowl with the dynamics of a high school. Had these women not been brought together by their mutual misfortune, they most likely never would have been friends. Vee introduced a similar train of thought in season 2 when advising Taystee to stay away from Poussey to avoid rumors on the street of becoming “gay for the stay.” Both scenarios suggest that the time spent in prison should be meaningless and not define who you really are, either before or after your sentence. While Maria is likely embittered by Yadriel’s decision to stop bringing their baby for visitation, as is pointed out, we are reminded that almost all bonds created within Litchfield are as synthetic as the color of Red’s hair when Nicky is hauled off to maximum security.

Outside Maria Maritza Flaca Daya

One of the closest-knit prison families is that of Nicky Nichols, Lorna Morello, and Red. Based off of our understanding of Red’s “deal” with her addicted daughters, we know that Nicky had the option, or was highly encouraged, to take her issue with the heroin to Red; however, in trying to move it out of the prison through Luschek to save herself, her initial hesitance to move it out of Litchfield in the first place creates the circumstances leading to her demise. When Pennsatucky questions Nicky’s reluctance to go to her “prison mama,” Nicky sulks: “Red’s not my mom. I wouldn’t wish that on her. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.” Although we have witnessed heart-felt moments between Maritza and Flaca, it seems as though Nicky and Morello’s relationship as perhaps even more profound than theirs. Even when Nicky discovered Morello’s near psychosis and proclivity to stalk and fantasize about Christopher she found even more to love about her tiny Italian friend. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is. So while some, if not many, friendships made on the inside are false, there is still hope for the bonds and what they are worth while they last.

Litchfield: A Comedy

Sam Healy: [Speaking to Red] “Nothing like being down on your hands and knees, eh? – In the soil.”

Sam Healy: [Immediately following Berdie Rogers’ laid back attitude toward Black Cindy and others] “Look who’s late. It’s Alex Vause, you dumb biiiiitch.”

Dumb Bitch

The book memorial service (but it’s also really sad, too).

Book Funeral 2Book Funeral

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