Poussey Washington (portrayed by Samira Wiley) is known for being best friends with Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson and her incredible bravery when going toe-to-toe with Yvonne “Vee” Parker in season two. A fun-loving romantic who loves to read and values deeply intimate personal connections, Poussey encounters a spiritual and emotional crisis the longer she remains behind bars.
We learn in season three that Poussey had a very close relationship with her mother, who had an MA in Art History, as a child. When cleaning up the piñata mess after Litchfield’s Mother’s Day celebration, she notices that the inside of the busted up party toy is lined with the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. This leads her to remember when her mother used to read her these cartoons as a child. It appears as though her mother played a big role in her education, and she might have even been homeschooled. Her mother has since passed away, while Poussey was trapped in jail, being denied furlough to go and see her on her deathbed.
Poussey was an imaginative and sensitive child. At a young age, Poussey reveals that she believed that back to the Future was real, and so she always left the house with a backpack filled with anything and everything she would need if she was suddenly transported through time.
Having been raised in a well-to-do family with money and supportive and nurturing parents, we also witness Poussey as a well-adjusted teenager who is comfortable in her sexuality, despite the fact that their family had moved many times due to her father’s military career. Poussey’s fluency in German suggests that they had been stationed in Germany for a long time. Before being imprisoned, Poussey reveals in season 4 that she was supposed to go to West Point, and at some point she held a job at Dave & Buster’s.
Poussey fell in love with a German girl, whose father was also in the military. She was happy there until her girlfriend’s father walked in on them in the bedroom. As Poussey’s father’s superior, the German general pulls strings and has their family transferred back to the United States to a base in New Jersey.
Poussey does not take this lightly; however, she wishes to appear as if the forced separation is no big deal. Claiming that the girl was just “fun to fuck” and that she didn’t, in fact, love her, she leaves her girlfriend’s bedroom in a state of total emotional shut-down. But Poussey’s emotions eventually get the best of her, and they swell up to the point where she decides to pull a gun on the girl’s father, which is deftly intercepted by her own father.
Dissolving into tears, Poussey remains incapacitated by her father, as the German officer suggests “correctional therapy” for Poussey that will “correct” her “confused predilections.” Rather than succumbing to his superior’s opinions, Poussey’s father defends her and says that she is “just fine.”
It’s suggested that Poussey’s final scenes in season 4 episode 13 are the moments leading up to her arrest (being separated from her friends in the city, going clubbing with drag queens, and being transported by a band of monks via bicycle brigade) as a nonviolent offender charged with possession and intent to sell (even though she possessed not even half an ounce).
Never having really recovered from her separation with her German girlfriend, Poussey understandably becomes attached to Taystee while in prison. Their friendship simply works because they both enjoy reading and share the same sense of humor. They also agree that red and blue are flavor so, contrary to what Vee thinks. While their friendship is open, honest, and intimate, this changes in season two when Vee re-enters prison and Taystee’s life. Genuinely concerned for her friend’s wellbeing, she advises Taystee to stay away from the woman. However, Taystee is weak herself and ignores Poussey’s warnings, causing great tension between the two of them. Poussey soon devolves from being Taystee’s charades partner to just another annoying person that Taystee has to deal with in her rise to power with Vee’s tobacco operation.
The first display of hostility from Vee directed at Poussey is when she debuts the “She-Wee” in the cafeteria. Deeming the idea vile and immature, especially in the cafeteria, Poussey is taken aback. However, Vee does approach Poussey looking for a different business opportunity. After asking Poussey about turning her hooch-making into another lucrative
We learn when Poussey is doing Taystee’s nails that the two of them have run into issues concerning Poussey’s feelings for Taystee. While Taystee has continually reiterated that they will never be more than friends, Poussey still has trouble turning off her feelings for her.
Vee soon senses that Poussey inhibits Taystee’s loyalty to her, and so she interferes with Poussey and Taystee’s friendship. She approaches Taystee about her friendship with Poussey (after witnessing the awkward bunk bed kiss), mentioning how she can tell that Poussey is in love with her. Vee plants the idea in Taystee’s head that “people will talk” about Taystee for going “gay for the stay,” and thus Poussey is robbed, once again, of close friendship. To further secure Taystee’s loyalty, Vee approaches Poussey to say that “Taystee . . . will . . . never love you. She will never love you. Not the way you want.” Despite these harsh words, Poussey refuses to deny her feelings for her friend, and she thus threatens to kill Vee if she gets Taystee into any trouble.
Nicky Nichols, known for loving a straight girl of her own (Lorna Morello), notices Poussey’s emotional turmoil and offers a her words of advice. Nicky compares both of their situations to having “that best friend in high school” who was stolen away by a boyfriend. She suggests that if Poussey doesn’t “play nice” with Vee that she will lose Taystee forever.
And Poussey gets her chance to play nice when Black Cindy takes it upon herself to barter smokes for commissary goods, thus getting her kicked out of the family temporarily. Poussey’s is offered her position, and she accepts. She begins dealing cigarettes from the library, which turns out to be prime real estate. However, once Poussey discovers that Vee has begun bringing weed into Litchfield, her relationships with Taystee and Vee take a turn for the worse. Poussey begins making hooch, not to sell but to get drunk off of, in order to nurse her pain. However, she can only restrain her emotions for a little while until her anger swells up. She confronts Vee in the bathrooms, only to get the s*** kicked out of her by Crazy Eyes, Vee‘s loyal supporter. Reeling and retching on the floor of the showers, it seems as though Poussey has been entirely incapacitated once again (Suzanne later apologizes for cracking on of her ribs in season three). But she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and heads to the warehouse, where she finds Vee’s stash of weed, rips it open, dumps it out onto the floor, and pours bleach all over it in a fit of rage.
Since Taystee has refused to talk to Poussey after the “scenes” she was making, Poussey has nothing left to lose, and thus unleashes a full-throttled rebellion against Vee and her girls. It is only during the super storm when Poussey and Taystee finally confront each other while moving books in the library up to higher shelves. The two nearly come to blows when they dissolve into a puddle of tears and clutch each other for dear life. After making up, they slowly begin sitting together at lunch again and patching up their friendship.
Despite the fact that she regains her best friend in season two, Poussey continues to struggle with depression in season three. While turning to hooch might have soothed her in season two, Poussey becomes increasingly dependent upon it, and she continues to steal scraps from the kitchen to create an endless supply for herself. Poussey soon discovers that her hooch has gone missing, and she assumes that animals have discovered her stash. She comically uses her She-Wee to pee around the area in the prison yard where she has buried her hooch to ward off animals. She even traps an animal in her laundry bag, believing that it is the culprit. But when Taystee reveals that she hid her stash, she becomes upset about her best friend’s deceit. Poussey explains that the alcohol gives her the strength to deal with life. She doesn’t want to go to Alcoholics Anonymous because she feels that people don’t take it seriously, and she claims that she doesn’t need an audience to listen to her problems. What she needs is love.
In search of help, she turns to spirituality by way of Gloria‘s Santeria rituals. However, when she carefully carries out the steps that Gloria instructs her to on an egg and returns it to Gloria in the kitchen to rid her of her “bad juju,” she is mortified to find that Gloria plans on cooking the egg for breakfast due to the women’s changed eating habits and a shortage of food that the women will actually eat. Poussey is about to lose faith in the ritual when Norma Romano takes the egg (behind Gloria’s back) and cracks it for Poussey so that she could feel confident that her bad luck would not be passed onto someone else.
Sensing that Norma has more to offer her than does Gloria’s Santeria, Poussey seeks her help in reconnecting with her mother. Much to her surprise, the cartoon she finds inside of the piñata is the same exact one that she remembers reading with her mother in her flashback. Seeing this as a sign from a higher power, Poussey’s faith in Norma is sustained, but her heart still aches.
Suzanne‘s Time Hump Chronicles seem to meet Poussey’s emotional needs for a short time. She savors every word and preoccupies herself with the fictional characters and outlandish plot between the pseudo-publication of each of Suzanne’s chapters. She becomes so enraptured in this fiction that Suzanne has to tell her to stop harassing her about the next chapter. When questioned about her obsession with it, she admits to her using the book as a crutch. Poussey says,
“Love is just sex without the moneyshot.”
Poussey continues to feel useless and lonely until Norma gathers a following and forms a group. Here, she finds a sense of belonging, if only for a little while. It seems as though Poussey ditches her tribe for Norma’s clan, but she doesn’t care what the other women say because she can gather a sense of calm in Norma’s silence that her own prison family cannot afford. Although Norma‘s group grows increasingly hostile toward Brook Soso despite their mantra of acceptance and love, Poussey continues to stick with the group until Soso decides to leave it.
Poussey’s exit from the group moves her to turn once again to her hooch, which is not an ideal outcome. However, had she not turned back to hooch, she never would have found Brook Soso overdosing in the library during the movie. Poussey runs to Taystee for help in reviving her.
Once Brook is rehabilitated, Poussey approaches Norma’s group, accusing them for letting Leanne Taylor turn it into a hateful cult. She lets them know how profoundly Brook suffered as a direct result of their hatred, hypocrisy, and idolatry.
Feeling empowered and important after having stood up to Norma’s group, Poussey begins to feel just a bit better. She feels even lighter as she floats in the big fresh-water lake, which paves the way for she and Brook to establish a deeper emotional connection.
Season 4 marks both the beginning and the end of Poussey’s relationship with Soso. Though it’s clear from the start that Soso doesn’t know how to define her sexuality, Poussey is just happy to be with her and learn more about her. This uncharted territory only poses a problem, however, when they start having intimacy issues rooted in Soso’s supposed pansexuality. But Poussey reassures her that she only wants Soso to be intimate with her in a way that feels comfortable. After nearly being broken up with, Poussey tells her that she loves her.
When Judy King steps onto the seen, Poussey is beyond star-struck, especially when it appears as though she was temporarily assigned as her bunk mate. Hardly able to speak, King is gone before she can say a single word, but this is only the first of several interactions with her pop culture hero. The second time she sees King in the prison yard, she stutters, spurts, and flails, leading King to believe that she’s a “little retarded girl.” In attempts to get Poussey the meeting she wants with King, Soso sets up a lunch with her; however, when Poussey discovers that Soso told King that her mother was a crack whore and that she grew up in poverty (basically profiling her), she takes deep offense and walks out of her once-in-a-lifetime luncheon.
Realizing that Soso knows nothing about her but was willing to profile her and her experience, she spends some time away from her by participating in King’s cooking class in the cafeteria. After a while, she comes around and forgives Soso as they begin to plan their life together. However, she realizes that it’ll be difficult to pay for an apartment without a job, so she asks King’s opinion on whether or not she’d be good at a job in the food industry. Delightedly, King promises to hook her up with a job upon her release.
Looking forward to the future, she brushes aside Soso’s excitement regarding the impending peaceful protest, saying that she doesn’t care about what happens on the inside because she knows no real change ever comes to pass; however, when all of the inmates band together and stand atop the cafeteria tables and benches, she smiles across the cafeteria one last time as an apology to Soso.