Upon entering Litchfield and being showed the ropes, Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (portrayed by Dascha Polanco) is given a swift backhand across the face – by her mother, Aleida Diaz. Daya currently works in the kitchen under Gloria Mendoza. As of season three, episode three, Daya has 36 months left of her sentence.
As a child, Aleida found a summer program to send her daughter to; however, when her mom tries to drop her off, Daya refuses to let her go. However, she soon makes friends and develops a strong relationship with one of her camp counselors. It is at this summer camp that Daya develops her love of art. In addition, Daya blossoms from a shy, introverted girl to a well-adjusted, confident individual.
At the end of the summer, her mother returns to pick her up, and Daya practically has to be pulled out of the camp. When she returns home, she hears Aleida say that she never should have sent her to that camp, which compels Daya to agree with her mother, despite the fact that she absolutely loved it, in favor of gaining more of her affection.
Flashbacks reveal that her mother had five children by five different men, leaving Daya to raise them all while she helped her drug-dealing boyfriend, Cesar, cook crack in their kitchen. Daya’s mother took the fall for her boyfriend and went to prison. Upon being wrongfully accused of sleeping with Cesar, Daya gets back at her mom by going home and doing just that. In an interesting turn of events after finding out that Daya is in a relationship with John Bennett, Aleida attempts to sabotage the relationship and to get even. As a child, Daya spent a year in the foster care system, likely due to her mother’s arrest.
Just before Maria Ruiz goes into labor, she says that Daya and Aleida’s relationship is “like some cautionary tale shit” (108) that would be featured in a “novella” or soap opera. Ruiz says that “you two should tour high schools for abstinence ‘cause a minute with you two is better than Plan B … if my daughter ever talked to me that way, if I ever talked to her that way, I mean, shit, what’s the point? This world is full enough with bitches tryna kill you” (108).
Despite Daya’s slip-ups, her mother still believes that all of her children can go on to do great things, even Daya. Despite their differences, they plot to cover her and Bennett’s relationship and provide her with an excuse to leave the jail (or at least account for her pregnancy) while in jail. In “teaching her daughter a lesson,” Aleida asks Gloria to give Daya a potion that supposedly would abort the child, which brings the mother back together.
They plot against George Mendez to frame him for having sex with Daya to cover up the pregnancy. This plan causes tension between Bennett and Daya, given the fact that Mendez’s two encounters with Daya had him head-over-heels.
Season two begins and Daya begins reading up on prenatal care and asks Bennett to try to sneak in prenatal vitamins so they can ensure they have a healthy baby. The other prisoners catch wind of this and blackmail him into doing as they say, for if he does not, they will out him to the administration. Daya even suggests that he fess up to impregnating her so that she can get proper care.
There is some talk about sending Mendez to maximum security; however, Daya has some objections as to incriminating the wrong man. The logistics of raising the baby start to overwhelm her and John, and for a while, their relationship becomes strained. Even when Bennett does fess up to Caputo, they still are not out of the woods. Caputo makes it clear that they have to keep quiet about him parenting Daya’s baby.
In sesaon two, Daya becomes the cartoonist on Piper’s short-lived newsletter staff, which allows her to express herself once again through her art.
Seeing as Daya’s pregnancy has been made public by the arrest of Mendez, an alarming number people try to have their say in what Daya should do about the baby. While Bennett is still in the picture at this point, Daya cannot foresee him taking care of the child on his own, nor does she want her mother or her mother’s boyfriend raising her child for her. Since she spent a year in the foster care system and feels that she turned out just fine, she sees no issue with giving the child up for adoption; however, once Bennett proposes to her, Daya begins thinking more about her future and the family she could have with him.
Except there’s one problem. Bennett has not returned since he proposed to Daya. She anxiously awaits his return, going so far as to interrupt Joe Caputo in the middle of giving the MCC a tour of the campus just to find out where he has been, which ultimately tips her off to the fact that her baby daddy might be gone – forever.
It is after Bennett’s disappearance that Daya begins considering letting Delia Mendez Powell adopt her child to make sure that she is taken care of. The shock of the news makes the baby feel like a “grenade,” and she no longer feels any emotional attachment to it, thus making it easy for her to promise the child to Delia.
Delia is the first to notice that Daya is depressed and lonely. She suggests that Daya seek some professional help on the inside, but Daya explains that “my counselor is an old white man who tries to connect by saying ‘hola‘ in the hallway.” Their relationship continues to develop until Daya discovers that her mother is virtually “selling” Daya’s child. She comes clean to Delia, who leaves disappointed, but ultimately returns to Daya because she still wants to help her raise her child.
Disgusted with her mom’s behavior, as soon as she starts going into labor, she rejects Aleida’s help entirely and allows Gloria to take her place. When her daughter is finally born, it becomes evident that she loves the child more than she ever thought possible. However, in preparing to give the child to Delia, she is surprised and also annoyed when she sees Cesar and their cousin Jazmina show up to pick up the baby. This decision confuses Daya, considering the fact that Aleida was once committed to Daya giving up the baby for adoption and having a better life for the child; however, despite their argument, the two make up at the lake, and she is ultimately grateful.
At the start of season 4, Daya resents her mother, as expected, for costing her daughter, Amaria, a life in the suburbs with tutors, “wooden toys,” and a comfortable life with George “Pornstache” Mendez‘s mother, Delia Mendez Powell. Pessimistic about Cesar’s ability to rescue her daughter from foster care, Daya is hesitant to allow her mother back into her life until they both learn that Cesar has been sentenced to nearly a decade in prison for conspiracy and two counts of assault, forcing all of Daya’s siblings and her newborn daughter into foster care, for the two are in the same boat.
Although her relationship with her mother has never been the greatest, she cries when Aleida is released from prison, feeling like her time served “didn’t count” because her mother had been with her, so she’s looking at the rest of her sentence as a time to reinvent her experience. She feels as though she’s spent a lot of time around older women and mother figures (like her mother and Gloria Mendoza), and now she willingly falls in with Maria Ruiz‘s crowd, convinced that she won’t get caught up in their illegal business.
It is this very friendship, however, that causes her to be standing in the exact spot where C.O. Humphrey‘s gun lands in the middle of the prison riot. When she picks it up, she aims it at both Humphrey and C.O. McCullough, claiming “Ya’ll C.O.s are pieces of shit.”
Although we don’t know how Daya will decide, it seems as though she’s going to exhibit her anger not only toward the prison guards who have treated the entire prison population like dirt but also toward John Bennett, her former fiancee.