Sanitary Issues and Sexism in 302: “Bed Bugs and Beyond”

Flaca’s supposed case of arm crabs turns out to be bed bugs. The ladies are forced to strip down their beds and bodies and waltz around in linen suits or their intimates because of the prison’s sanitation crisis. The “parade of tits and ass” serves as a reminder of women’s mistreatment both as inmates and as a gender.

Prison Sanitation and Funding

There is a reason why it’s called the prison industrial complex. With America making up 24% of the world’s prison population, clearly someone up in the ranks is making quite a nice chunk of change off of inmates, leaving prisons to scramble for money to keep prisons clean, well-staffed, and prisoners fed. We see this come to life in Litchfield, where the  budget does not allow for proper sanitation or the replacement of mattresses and books needing to be burned to eradicate the problem. Where is all that money going? Several inmates are being sent home to combat extermination costs, but the expenditure of linen suits forces Caputo to trade off materials to another prison for which he does not have the money.

“Bullshit sentences for minor drug crimes just aren’t enforced the way they used to be.”

In light of Big Boo’s comment, quoted above, it is obvious that millions of Americans are incarcerated for such nonsense in favor of private prisons’ bank accounts. Little or no thought is going into how these men and women are treated.

In 2008, prisoners at Kern Valley State Prison in California were forced to drink water containing arsenic and carcinogens. Despite a court order demanding the prison to rectify the situation, no action has been taken. In 2011, conditions still had not changed for prisoners.

The Riverhead, NY prison used to film the first episode of season 2 was also under fire for sewage backups and other sanitation concerns, which made headlines in The New YorkerIt’s one thing to make criminals serve their time; it’s another to force them to live in abominable conditions and consume carcinogenic food and drink that they need to survive.

Fortunately for the fictional sector of America’s prisons, Litchfield’s inmates are rather resourceful. Gloria Mendoza comes to the rescue with oatmeal, a natural anti-itch substance. However, this relief measure eats into (pun intended) their food supply. This isn’t the only instance of ingenuity: women are shown using maxi pads and toilet paper as makeshift mattresses and barriers between them and the cold, hard metal of their cots. Brook Soso uses what appears to be bean leaves from outdoors to ward off the bugs, and Leanne Taylor uses shaving cream to stop anything from crawling up and onto her bed. It isn’t hard to imagine that this is going on at prisons all over the country.

Women’s Rights

Once bed bugs have been pinpointed as one of the major concerns in Litchfield, the exterminators inform Caputo that books provide extra nooks and crannies for the bugs to hide in, making it necessary to burn all of them. Poussey and Taystee are visibly and verbally upset by the idea that their one escape from reality must be destroyed.

Exterminator: “Am I allowed to interact with them?”
Caputo: “They are people, yeah.”

These books are many of the prisoners’ lifelines, as we learn when Poussey laments the idea of her beloved book, The Rats of Nimh, succumbing to the bed bug blaze. Nobody in their right mind wants to perpetuate the problem, but Taystee and Poussey still mourn the fact that these books will likely never be replaced.

Sexism

“It’s like undressing in front of my dog.”

Joel Luschek comparing women to dogs in the above quote is problematic. Other than the fact that the prison guards repeatedly refer to the inmates as “poochies,” clearly a derivative of “bitches” and highly suggestive of the fact that they are like dogs, there has always been a misogynistic presence in Orange, generally embodied by Counselor Sam Healy. This episode, however, takes that conversation further with the military gag video and Cesar’s attitude toward women.

One of the Muslim soldiers who is in charge of filming the U.S. military men’s antics is scolded for filming women who are dancing rather than the men, as intended. He’s told that it’s “only funny because the men dance.” Now the entire skit is amusing, but it comments on the nature of dancing and sexual expression. The other Muslim soldiers interpret the men involved in the skit as being homosexual because they are purposely imitating provocative dances typically performed by women and commenting on each other’s physiques, actions stereotypically attributed to women and gay men. What makes this scene politically charged (other than the fact that it contains service men and women) is the fact that these men are in no way objectified, for they are imitating the objectified (women). It is in their power to make a mockery of the patriarchy that encourages women to dance as such and make a show out of it for men. The fact that the Muslim men have trouble understanding the humor in the video is further suggestive of the Eastern practice of the harem, filled with dozens of objectified women whose job it is to parade around in the way that Bennett and his combat brothers are.

Cesar expounds upon the idea of the concubine when he tells Bennett that in order to deal with Daya being imprisoned, he should “get yourself a side of bacon, like Margarita. That’s what women are made for.” It’s clear that Margarita is aware of the fact that Cesar is raising Aleida Diaz’s children, as she is present for much of the conversation regarding Daya and her baby, as well as the engagement. Regardless, she relies on Cesar to pay her rent and support her children, despite her status as his mistress. While it’s safe to say that she would be offended by the term “harlot,” Cesar seems to treat her in a way that suggests he expects to be served by a subservient woman.

Cesar

Caputo makes comments along similar lines. Although he’s been quite the scumbag in seasons past, he seems to take a more egalitarian stand on the women of Litchfield when reprimanding Bennett about how he treats Daya, all while describing women in an objectifying manner:

“You think you’re the only one ever to be tempted by an inmate? You think I never saw a tight piece sitting in my office chair crying, tears covering her khaki-covered tits, and thought, ‘could bend that over my inbox’? A lesser man would be using this place as his own personal pussy smorgasbord. Every fucking color, shape, size, around the world without ever leaving upstate. But I am not a lesser man.”

Men like Caputo are the ones that Danny Pearson later comments on having to rid prisons of. People like Caputo and Mendez actually exist in the prison system, but the way in which Bennett and Daya’s relationship is glorified is problematic. However, the fact that Bennett realizes in this episode that he is no different from Mendez likely fueled his decision to leave Litchfield and Daya and never come back. It’s an attempt to rectify the issue of us sympathizing with a prison guard, who, had this been a real life situation, would have had a far less romantic story. If you’re even half aware of what’s going on in the world today, you already know what happens with prison staff and inmates when things get out of hand. Those two murderers who escaped from maximum security out of upstate New York this past month and the prison staff going to jail is the real life results of a forbidden prison romance.

It’s interesting that Lucy, or “pocket Daya” as Flaca calls her, assumes that the present Bennett brought for her birthday from Daya is a Barbie. There was a Barbie incident in one of Daya’s flashbacks from season 1 (I believe Daya got mad at her for mistreating her Barbies), but in context of the Diaz household (as in all American households), Barbies are the teaching tools of the future generations of women, delineating expectations for impossible body types to ingrain shame practically right from the cradle. Of course these attitudes are necessary in a household like Cesar’s, for he is the head of the house, even though he is “guaranteed to fuck up,” according to Aleida.

Clothing pile

Within Litchfield, we find women are ironically more liberated about their bodies. They might be forced to walk around in their torpedo bras and granny panties, but there is an underlying sense of liberation and confidence in each of these women, despite the fact that they are exposed for all other women to consume and judge. Their time in prison, however, is not enough to erase the effect of their Barbie doll-filled childhoods (even if they didn’t have Barbies, the effect of society is the same). As we hear Maritza say to Flaca, letting your baby see you with bags under your eyes is setting a “bad example” of beauty standards. Dmitri even comments when he sees Red’s newest slock scar about it’s effect on her “beautiful face,” adding to the idea that a woman must be perfect, or else she is not living up to her potential. This season delves deeper into the conversation about women’s attitudes about their bodies and the bodies of other women, which I will discuss when we get there.

Litchfield: A Comedy

Delia Mendez Powell: “[Pornstache’s] father, my first husband, is Cuban. I never could resist an accent. Guess that runs in the family.” (Comically enough, Daya does not speak Spanish, so she does not have an accent.)

Black Cindy: “I’ve been washing my pits, tits, and naughty bits in the sink.”

Caputo: “There is one maternity size paper suit. I suggest you grab it before one of your plus size dorm mates claims it for her food baby.”

Piper: “You’re not hungry?”
Alex: “I’m not standing in that parade of tits and ass.”

Nicky: “Hey, Luschek. You like candy, right?”
Luschek: “Body by Butterfinger.”
Nicky: “I’m speaking allegorically here.”
Luschek: “You wanna talk about Al Gore?”
Nicky: “Oh, Jesus.”

Sources

Gonzalez, Blanca. “Prisoners Forced to Drink Dirty, Cancer-Causing Water.” Change. Change, n.d. Web. 3 July 2015. <https://www.change.org/p/prisoners-forced-to-drink-dirty-cancer-causing-water&gt;.

Walmsley, Roy. World Prison Population (8th Edition). London: King’s College International Centre for Prison Studies, 2009. Web.

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