Things are looking up for the women in Litchfield, who are being offered the opportunity to sew intimates for the Whispers lingerie company for nearly ten times the current pay rate of the other jobs available. Several of the women begin searching for purpose in their daily lives, whether it be through work or genuine relationships; however, prison never lets any of the women be their truest selves without at least squandering some of their hopes, dreams, or potential.
“Coveted New Job[s]” and the System: The Reality of Prison Labor
Since the MCC’s takeover in Litchfield, the inmates have experienced a decline in food quality, but improvements in pay and in privacy (stall doors were installed in the bathrooms). Whispers lingerie company has bought its way into Litchfield to not only offer women a “whopping” $1 per hour pay rate (which is ten times the current pay rate of all other jobs), but to increase their profit margins by taking advantage of these women.
As it turns out, this actually happens. About a month ago, I posted an article that exposed twelve major corporations (including Walmart, McDonald’s, Fidelity Investments, and Victoria’s Secret) for exploiting prison labor in the past two decades. Everything, from denim and intimates to fast food meats and milk, in these corporations is filtered through the U.S. prison system, which leads us all to wonder just exactly where our intimates have been. Inmates have also become an increasing source of agricultural labor, effectively beginning to displace migrant workers in Georgia, Arizona, and Idaho, among several other states (Henderson). Fidelity Investments even invests in prisons to contribute to the prison industrial complex. According to Emily Yahr, South Carolinian prisons produced $1.5 million of clothing in the early ’90s.
Dayanara: “I hear they’re setting up a call center.”
Flaca: “With my sexy voice, I’ll be making mad commissions.”
Gloria: “Commissions? Right. You get 10% of nothing on every nothing you nothing.”
While $1 per hour is a significant pay raise for the women of Litchfield, we can be sure that the benefits of Whispers lingerie end there. While 80 percent of the women who worked for Third Generation, the underwear factory contractor, in the ’90s were eventually offered the opportunity to work for the company after their release, the results of last season’s job fair inform us that Litchfield’s rehabilitation promises are nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
Salon reported that food vendors, notably Aramark, a company that supplies food to my own university among thousands of others around the United States, not only are making a ton of money off of prisons, but their employees are responsible for importing contraband, and having sex with inmates. The poor quality of food caused riots in Kentucky in 2009. Aramark has been fined as much as $200,000 for their unsanitary operations (and their food containing maggots on several occasions was just the least of their missteps).
Just as Daya offers rumors of a call center, telecommunications companies are also notoriously known for profiting off of the prison industrial complex. Global Tel* Link (GTL), one of the major companies offering collect calls to inmates, can charge up to $1.13 per minute and get away with it because of their exclusive contracts with prisons, which eliminate competition (Henderson). Furthermore, big-time technology companies, such as Microsoft and Dell, contracted United States prisons in 1990s and in 2003 to shrink-wrap products and recycle desktop computers, paying these workers a mere 35 cents per hour (Henderson).
Perhaps what is even more shocking than the fact that prisons are not exactly in the business to churn out reformed citizens is the way in which Danny Pearson, Litchfield’s figurehead for the MCC, treats this new job assignment. Despite the effort the women go through in analyzing the given test to enhance their chances of getting the job, it turns out that the tests were printed at random and none of the answers were actually reviewed (likely a critique of the American education system’s emphasis on tests over the process and value of learning itself). The forty women were selected from the pile at random with no regard for their qualifications, potential risk, or ability. Pearson claims that this system “eliminate[s] the ugliness . . . My system is to make the ladies think that there is a system, so they don’t hate us for not getting the job; they’re mad at themselves for not having what it takes.” Although Pearson reports that his corporation has had “a lot of success with this model,” Caputo second-guesses their motives and sense of responsibility toward these women.
The introduction of this higher-paying job further elucidates Maria Ruiz’s pessimistic sentiment regarding prison bonds: the relationships one forms behind bars are not genuine; rather, the need for community and belonging overshadows the fact that these friendships are temporary, as is the state of their incarceration. Flaca feels no remorse in ditching her prison family in the kitchen (because she’s “so much better than that”) for the higher-paying job, one that she once scorned her mother for while on the outside. As a rather hot plate of karma, she must now eat her words to her mother and is now forced to stick with this new job after burning her bridges in the kitchen.
Surprisingly, the above image also pictures a Safe Place flyer, which is C.O. Healy’s floundering counseling group from last season. It is interesting that it is not mentioned, even though it is likely a failed attempt on Healy’s part to combat Berdie Rogers’ drama class. This is yet another reminder of all of Litchfield’s failed inmate rehabilitation programs. Perhaps her indirect approach to emotional catharsis is preferable to Healy’s counseling group not only because of who is in charge, but because they are given the freedom to express themselves however they wish.
Because Whispers seems to only be interested in making money off of Litchfield’s women, Piper will be somewhat justified in her prisoners’ panties business in the following episodes. Though Berdie Rogers’ drama program seems to be an emotionally beneficial program, we can never get our hopes up too high behind Litchfield’s bars.
Litchfield: A Comedy
Taystee: “You should see what piles up in the corners of the showers. Little pube-troplis of buildings and shit for spiders and bacteria living their lives, growing—”
Poussey: “See, you went urban. I would’ve said a hair jungle, right? Spiders be jumpin’ from pube to pube. Bacteria’s all like, ‘Fuck. It rains a lot in here. Get off me.’”
Suzanne: “Wait, so, do you think Ishould talkto somebody and say… you know, explain myself.”
Taystee: “See, I think that ship has sailed, my dear.”
Black Cindy: “Mmm-hmm.”
Taystee: “Time to go sweep up some pube hives.”
Suzanne: “I like to think of them more like… pube nests.”
Red: [about Berdie Rogers] “Not enjoying your new colleague, hm?”
Healy: “She’s perky. I mean, who’s that perky?”
Red: “I agree. Perk is for coffee. It’s deplorable in people.”
Crazy Eyes: “I spend most of my time trying to understand things. [Pauses] I spend … most of my time … trying … to understand things. What are they getting at?”
Delia Mendez Powell: “Oh my god, you don’t even know me. I could be some axe murderer who wants to make coats out of the skins of babies or something …I watch a lot of true crime TV.”
Soso: [Trying to connect with Angie and Leanne] “So, um, Walmart. Uh, how about Walmart? It’s so big. I went there once. I noticed that there was a lot of… cheap shit in there! Like, just everything you could ever want.”
Henderson, Alex. “9 Surprising Industries Getting Filthy Rich from Mass Incarceration.” Salon. Salon Media Group, 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.
Yahr, Emily. “Yes, Prisoners Used to Sew Lingerie for Victoria’s Secret – Just like in ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Season 3.” The Washington Post. N.p., 17 June 2015. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.