Although Miss Rosa Cisernos (portrayed by Barbara Rosenblat) emerged in the series as the insignificant dying ovarian cancer patient/inmate in season one, season two took us by surprise. She has been in Litchfield Penitentiary since just before Joe Caputo began working as a prison guard, and she seemingly ran Litchfield. Despite what we originally knew (“Nobody fucks with cancer”), we didn’t know how much fight Miss Rosa had left in her.
Miss Rosa begins telling her story: “Weddings were bad luck for me. All my husbands died.” She explains that she wouldn’t marry a third for, “once you know you’ve got a curse on you, you can work around it.” Of all the prisoners, Miss Rosa’s is the most glum, for it is almost certain (for a time) that she will die in prison. She was imprisoned for bank robbery, which incidentally was when her first two husbands died (on the job). Her robberies are so infamous that she tells the kid she spends chemo with that he can Google her if he wants to.
Her first heist was in 1982. The Young Miss Rosa’s (portrayed by Stephanie Andujar) fiance, Marco, gave her an empty gun for show. Once she discovered that it was empty, Rosa got mad at Marco. Marco died of a gunshot wound.
In Rosa’s second heist (that we see, anyway), she is the mastermind. She has carefully planned out each detail of the robbery and is totally in charge. We see that kissing before the robbery (and kissing after) is what brings such bad luck. We learn that Miss Rosa dates every man that she has ever robbed with. In the third heist, her fiancee refused to go and rob (especially without careful planning), which becomes the heist that lands her in jail. Miss Rosa stole more than $50,000.
While going for chemo, she connects with a young boy who is there for the same reason. She tells him a joke:
“So, the doctor says to the patient, I got bad news and some more bad news. The bad news is you got cancer. ‘And the more bad news?’ You also got Alzheimer’s disease. So the patient thinks for a minute, and then she says, ‘Well, at least I don’t have cancer.'”
In their time, Miss Rosa teaches him to observe and even devises a heist of the drunken nurse’s wallet while in treatment, earning $63, $20 of which the kid gets. In a scary few moments, Miss Rosa believes that Yusef, the boy, is dying of cancer just as she is; rather than cursing him, we learn that Yusef is in remission.
Miss Rosa reveals that she always pictured herself going out in a blaze of glory, and she is terrified of dying in jail — the “slipping into nothing.”
Vee tries to make alliances with her in offering her a copy of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Miss Rosa denies it, saying: “I’ve got enough depressing shit in my life. I don’t need it in my books, too.”
We learn that there is nothing better in the world than the smell of cash to Miss Rosa.
While Vee has gone missing and Litchfield is in lock down, Morello tells Miss Rosa to put the pedal to the metal and get out of there, for she only has three to six weeks to live and there is nothing more that the doctors can do for her, especially since the prison will not pay for the necessary surgery to keep her alive. Morello leaves the van and Miss Rosa makes a run for it, running over Yvonne “Vee” Parker just as she was trying to hitch a ride out of the woods. Miss Rosa escapes to the tune of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” and visibly regains her spirit, as we see her in her younger form, driving away in a “blaze of glory.”
At the start of season three, Red is supposed to move into Miss Rosa’s bunk; however, she refuses to destroy the shrine that has been constructed in her memory. While it is a nice gesture, Red suggests, “Wanna build a shrine to Rosa? Build it somewhere she had joy. Not on this miserable bed where she lay dying of cancer. That woman went out like a champ.”