Joseph Salvatore Caputo (portrayed by Nick Sandow), also known as “Beer Can,” is one of the prison administrators who is in direct contact with superiors, namely Natalie Figueroa in seasons one and two and Danny Pearson in season three, who always try to make his life a living hell.
We learn in season three that Caputo has always been the unsung hero, the man who always put himself on the line in favor of doing the “right thing” and “being a decent human being,” to quote his coach. In a flashback, we see a high school-aged Joe who has volunteered to wrestle Kendall Barnes, another boy his age with Down Syndrome. While he believed that he was doing Barnes a favor in letting him think he is really wrestling, Barnes takes Joe down in one swift motion.
In Caputo’s mid-twenties, he belonged to the Jeff Spurber Band, a band that he started with his friends. When the band finally gained some national recognition, they were invited to be the opening act for Glass Tiger’s ten-month tour, a real Canadian rock band. Amidst this exciting prospect of their band taking off and gaining further recognition, Caputo’s girlfriend of the time, Lisa, shows up to tell him that she is pregnant — with his friend Hank (who is also in the band)’s baby. Because of his deep love for Lisa, he immediately gives up the tour and vows to marry her and help her raise the child as his own. It is this promise that drives him to take the job as an entry-level security guard at Litchfield for the benefits and a piss-poor salary of $20,000 a year.
Not long after the birth of Lisa and Hank’s child and the major success of the band, Caputo comes home after work one day to discover that Lisa is leaving him to be with Hank, whom she has always loved. While she appreciates what he has done for her, Lisa ultimately chooses Hank because “he has ambition.” Joe is infuriated that he gave up everything for her, but she reminds him that nobody asked him to do what he did. He ruined his future with the band on his own accord.
These fundamental values from his childhood translate into his adult life through what he deals with in his position at Litchfield Penitentiary. In the first season, Figueroa continually suspected him of being after her job and gave him a hard time when she had to step in and take care of issues that he seemingly could not handle on his own. Disenchanted with his job, Caputo spent the majority of season one masturbating in his office.
Once Caputo feels pressure from above, he redirects that pressure toward his employees. In season two when the administration was questioning how strict his prison guards were with maintaining order in the prison, he came down harder on the prison guards, especially newbie C.O. Susan Fischer. In efforts to impress her, he invites her to come see in his current band called Sideboob, which backfires, for she invites C.O.s Scott O’Neill and Wanda Bell and Joel Luschek, her date. While he once made it his “mission” to teach her how to be an effective correctional officer and falsely praise her for her wit in order to spark a romance, he ended up firing her when she began to take liberties in talking back to him when she felt her voice was not being heard.
In season two, Figueroa became an even bigger issue when she refused to approve any requests for prison-maintenance work. After being scolded for going behind her back with outside contractors, Caputo allows further transgression to take place in Litchfield by allowing Piper Chapman to begin The Big House Bugle, which was also an attempt to make amends and ally with the prisoners. He felt this newspaper would show “[his] side of things.” Luckily, when Figueroa is at her most unbearable, he catches Piper rifling through her office for incriminating invoices and makes a deal with her to help take the intolerable assistant warden down in exchange for a cancelled transfer out of Litchfield.
After tricking Figueroa into exchanging sexual favors for his discretion in releasing the incriminating paperwork to the warden, Caputo must prove his competency if he wants to be considered for promotion into her spot. He begins by ending the hunger strike and restoring order to Litchfield; however, the prison isn’t quiet for long when C.O. John Bennett drops a baby-shaped bomb onto him and incidentally not long after Caputo calls him one of the “good guys” he can trust. In favor of keeping the prison drama tightly under wraps, he threatens to lock up Daya if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut. At the start of season three, he continues to crack down on Bennett to remind him not to do anything that could track unwanted attention no matter who is watching; however, this is not even the worst of his issues.
Once he learns that Litchfield is about to be shut down, he is disheartened by the task ahead. He begins searching fora new job when he thinks to blackmail Figueroa about her gay husband’s affair in exchange for her help as to how to save his inmates and prison guards’ jobs seeing as it is her embezzling for her husband’s campaign that nearly has the prison shut down. In a strange twist of fate, he and his late boss begin having an affair as she helps him to hook a private prison corporation to bail them out and buy the prison.
The MCC might have saved Litchfield from closing, but the corporation has slashed senior staff members’ hours and revoked their health benefits. They attempt to unionize, and they believe that Caputo will be on their side, which he initially is. He takes on a greater responsibility once Pearson starts getting in the way of his own ability to take care of his staff and steps up to be one of the union heads and promises to restore their old hours and get their benefits back. He begins giving the guards tips on how to avoid being disbanded and how to manipulate the corporate world to bend to their wills.
Caputo later gets himself into more hot water with the MCC’s new computer system, which allows inmate Angie Rice to go free, despite the fact that she has years of time left on her sentence. When he calls for reinforcements to rectify the issue, Pearson threatens his job, which compels Caputo to threaten him by going to his father to expose his incompetency. Joe is eventually convinced to go and find Rice himself to protect both of their jobs.
While Caputo stands by his guards and inmates, he is flustered by the ruckus that Sophia Burset has caused following her dispute with Gloria Mendoza, but offers Burset surveillance protection, which she scoffs at. When she is ultimately sent to the SHU for her own protection, he and Pearson go to his father to ask for her case to be reconsidered. After a father-son spat at the business meeting, Pearson quits his job, which leaves the position wide open for Caputo to run at, even though this will be a conflict of interest with his position as union head.
In season 4, Caputo is faced with the seemingly impossible task of getting guards down to Litchfield in time to replace the ones that just walked off mid-strike, and this task becomes infinitely more important when he learns that the women are on the other side of the fence enjoying the lake. Once they are all corralled inside of the cafeteria, he finds it difficult to account for all of his existing inmates as well as the ones that are standing around, waiting to be processed into the facility.
Despite the rocky start to Litchfield’s first expansion as an official private prison, he and Linda “from Purchasing” Ferguson go out to celebrate their success; however, this feeling of triumph soon wanes into grief and remorse when he sees C.O. Wade Donaldson busing tables. As he pays the bill, he asks a waiter to hand a $20 bill to him as if to alleviate his guilt, an act for which Linda judges him because she assumes he and every guard who walked off is a “jerk” who abandoned him in a time of need. But when Donaldson runs after him in the parking lot to return his pity payment, Joe feels the need to perform in front of Linda, saying that he feels “sorry” for him and that he needs to take the money because he “needs” it.
For a while, Joe continues to become more acquainted with the MCC’s policies; however, he finds the job demanding and difficult, especially when Crystal Burset begins harassing him at his home and demanding to know Sophia Burset‘s whereabouts. This does not deter him, though, from continuing to care about the well-being and rehabilitation of the women in Litchfield. He proposes life skills classes to the MCC, including liberal arts, math, and science classes that, he reports, are proven to reduce recidivism rates (the likelihood of prisoners returning to prison after their release). Though Linda encourages him to pitch these classes, she warns him that the MCC will change them to reflect their corporate mindsets. When the proposal returns approved, Joe discovers that all of the “core classes” have been removed and replaced with construction classes, including Basic Carpentry, Plumbing, Concrete 101, and Foundation Pouring, which Joe points out is a “chain gang.” Realizing that he’s provided the means for Litchfield to pass off slave labor for “education,” Caputo begins to realize just how evil the MCC is.
While intending to punish Sister Jane for sneaking a camera phone into Maximum Security, he takes matters into his own hands and takes her picture for her, getting it into Danny Pearson’s hands, who then informs Crystal Burset and secures Sophia’s release.
Feeling some sense of accomplishment and justice, he goes after C.O. Humphrey once he’s tipped off to the fact that the guard goaded inmates on to fight; however, he discovers that he’s virtually lost control over the workings of the prison now that Piscatella is threatening to remove his guards if he suspends Humphrey. Seeing as Piscatella had once taken the worry of the prisoners’ well-being off of his mind while he dealt with the MCC, he feels compelled to take down the new Captain of the Guards in order to re-secure Litchfield’s well-being.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Caputo visits Natalie Figueroa to apologize for giving her such a hard time, saying that he never realized how difficult her job was.
“They broke you, too, huh?”
However, in this time, further chaos breaks out in the prison, and Poussey Washington dies while he’s off “talking” to the former Warden of Litchfield, who has just informed him that even more inmates are en route to Litchfield. Returning to a nearly-rioting prison on lock-down, Joe finds it difficult when he learns that he’s not allowed to call the cops until the MCC can come up with a story that makes it seem as though their corporation is not at fault. After nearly an entire day, they come up with a statement for a press conference that Joe is expected to read and only calls Poussey’s father just moments before the press conference to alert him of the news.
Instead of announcing the death, he instead claims that Bayley will not be fired because he’s the “victim” of improper training. Having seen himself in Bayley, it’s difficult for him to punish him for only wanting to do the women good.
Given his choice of words, it’s safe to say that the women of Litchfield, especially Poussey’s friends, are going to go after Caputo, regardless of his intentions.