Sam Healy (portrayed by Michael Harney) is a correctional officer and guidance counselor at Litchfield Penitentiary. On the surface, Healy is an agreeable man who just wants the best for the inmates of Litchfield; however, his manipulative and territorial traits soon bubble to the surface.
Season three provides insight into Healy’s childhood, which reveals his overt misogynistic tendencies and his sexist ideations. As a young boy, “Gentleman Sam” is pictured bringing food to his mother who talks to the voices in her head and unexpectedly throws things at him. The home is in a visible state of disarray, as is Sam’s life. With no plausible father figure around, Sam is left under her control and forced to obey her every command for fear of being hurt. While we don’t know many particulars about his mother’s illness, it becomes clear that she has gone through several bouts of battling the voices in her head, as suggested by a flashback where a young Sam Healy visits the church to ask for God’s help in curing his mother. While he believes that he is talking to Jesus, who has miraculously appeared to him, this man reveals himself to be a drunken look-alike who falls and crushes the young boy, leaving him there to struggle until he can get himself free or until the man wakes up. While Sam has not revealed himself to be particularly religious, we can assume that this experience made him resent God and the church, for it was on this very day that he discovered just how alone he truly was.
In season 4, we finally get to the root of Sam’s misogyny. Children at Sam’s school were calling his mother a lesbian (for unknown reasons), and when he asked his father what a “lesbian is,” he called it a “disease.” At this time, his mother had been sent away for electroshock treatments to silence the voices in her head, a treatment which made her seem more “normal,” but it apparently troubled her more than her delusions. Waking up in the middle of the night and making the young Sam eggs (even though he’s allergic to them), she announces to him that she’s going to stop treatment because it doesn’t make her feel well. After making him promise not to tell his father, he tells her that he likes her better with the treatments. Claiming to go outside to shut the sprinklers after this conversation and not returning for a while, Sam walks out into the night to discover that his mother ran away from home.
For years afterward, Sam blamed himself for his mother’s disappearance. It’s suggested that he became a mental health counselor in order to help others be cured of what his own mother was afflicted with (and perhaps even to understand her and her disease better), but he never could really forgive himself.
After an unethical date with one of his patients, he finds a homeless woman sitting on the sidewalk, who he is convinced is his mother. So he invites her to a diner to get her a warm meal and a hot cup of coffee to “catch up” with her, telling her “I’m not angry with you for disappearing.” The woman plays along, wanting to get a free meal out of it, but it’s suggested that even Sam knows that this is not his mother. Even when it becomes apparently clear that she’s not (her real name is Ellen Murphy, and she apparently escaped from an institution) and that she’s used him for food, he tries to have a nice meal with her, growing angry. When she tries to leave (because it’s clear that he’s quite crazy), he yells at her saying that nobody else would help her.
In the first season, Healy seemingly wants to help Piper Chapman because, as a white middle-class woman, she does not “belong” in prison. Although it appears as though he favors Piper and wishes to level with her, it is soon made clear that he does not respond well to individuals, especially women, who go against his will. When the Women’s Advisory Council opens for election, Healy suggests that Piper run. However, when she tells him that she would rather not assume a position of power, he overrides her decision and appoints her to the position anyway, in spite of the fact that she did not run nor did she receive any votes. Knowing the underpinnings of prison politics, it seems as though Healy purposely does this, knowing that his favoritism toward her would not go unnoticed and that the rest of the white women would turn against her and ultimately resent Piper for her connections to the counsellor, which would, in turn, teach Piper not to disregard his desires. The menagerie of miniature animal bobble head figurines on Healy’s desk should have clued Piper into Healy’s psyche: he only surrounds himself with people and things who unconditionally agree with him.
Healy is married to Katya, a Ukranian woman who Natalie Figueroa calls his “mail-order bride.” Through a series of glimpses into Healy’s home life, we find that Healy’s relationship with his mother has led him to seek out circumstances, employment opportunities, and living arrangements that replicate his childhood. Not only does he work for an institution that imprisons women for their decisions acted upon due to their supposed “chemical imbalances,” but Healy’s marriage is founded on the principle that women are commodities to be bought and sold (if you recall, Healy met Katya online and married her–with no concern whatsoever for developing a relationship with her or even getting to know her), and in gratitude, women are expected to remain confined within the role of homemaker. While Healy and Katya literally do not speak much of the same language, the two clearly expect different things from their marriage that they are unwilling to talk about. While it seems as though Healy married Katya solely out of the desire to be married to a beautiful woman that he can control, Katya is not entirely innocent either. We learn through a conversation, all in Russian, between Katya and her mother that the only reason why she married Sam was for the green card.
Having been strictly controlled as a child, Healy exercises his control over the incarcerated women to the utmost degree. The biggest threat to him, personally, is women’s fluid sexuality. While he does not explicitly state it, Healy operates as though every same-sex sexual encounter is yet another strike against his strong-handed masculine control over the inmates. Consumed by the prospect of lesbianism, Healy spends much of his time preoccupied with the possibility of inmates’ copulation and other “sexually inappropriate” actions. He becomes particularly agitated when he discovers that Piper, his “own” kind, is guilty of dancing “gay sexually” with Alex Vause, and he subsequently sends her to the SHU for her actions. While his actions fly under the administration’s radar, Natalie Figueroa eventually discovers Healy’s “lesbian witch hunt shit” and tells him that he needs therapy. Despite orders from his superior, Healy carries out his resentment through the season on finale and deliberately show’s his face in the prison yard just as Pennsatucky is about to attempt to murder Piper. Lucky for her, she is able to defend herself and makes it out alive.
Season two brings a “new and improved” Healy, who is learning Russian so that he can attempt to finally connect with his wife. Despite these efforts, however, he and Katya still experience issues. He is quick to anger, especially when he discovers that Katya has made plans on the night that he has designated as “date night” and even more so when she speaks Russian in front of him, which he sees as a personal affront. Much like the inmates, Healy expects Katya to follow the schedule that he sets out, and he launches into authoritarian mode when he learns that Katya desires to leave the premises of the house without his consent. As as result, Katya finds that she hardly has any friends, much like one of the inmates. Moreover, “because [she] live[s] in America now,” Healy believes that Katya should be trying her hardest to assimilate into white middle-class American culture. Ironically, Katya illuminates to her husband that he doesn’t have much of a social life either, which he tries to correct by going to a bar to see Joe Caputo‘s band, Sideboob.
When Healy finally admits to himself that he does need some help, as was suggested by Figueroa in season one, he starts seeing a therapist, which lasts only briefly. When she points out his anger issues, he feels “uncomfortable” and powerless, and he tries to turn the tables on her. He projects his anger issues onto the therapist and subsequently storms out of the office after calling her some choice words. While the therapist’s keen eye for his problems provoked Healy, we can also assume that the fact that a female therapist so easily diagnosed him also contributed to his tantrum. As a method of regaining control, Healy takes the opportunity in his sessions with Pennsatucky to further explore his anger issues and the other concerns brought up during his own therapy session. He once again projects his anger issues onto her (which have vanished altogether since she got her new set of teeth). Healy then decides to begin his Safe Place group counseling session in order to help the women express their own feelings more effectively. Of course, due to Healy’s history and reputation, the women believe that Safe Place is a “snitch group” where women can trade valuable information about other inmates for an erased shot from their record.
While Safe Place is popular for the first two sessions, soon Pennsatucky and Healy are the only attendees. Aggravated by the group’s lack of traction, but pleased by Pennsatucky’s submission, he invites her into his office during Super Storm Wanda to warn her about the “gay agenda” that she might be exposed to while riding out the storm in close quarters with women such as Big Boo. This conversation offers some of the clearest insight that we get into Healy’s psyche, for he explains how he read that women are going to “take over” the world using the gay agenda as the first stepping stone to total anarchy. While Pennsatucky begins to detect the counselor’s deep-seeded hatred for women, she still accepts the pack of Oreos that Healy offers to her that is intended to appease Big Boo and “ward off” any of her lesbian advances. However, when Pennsatucky makes it known that she isn’t all that afraid of Boo, Healy promptly takes back the snacks.
Healy and Pennsatucky‘s friendship remains on thin ice until he discovers that Pennsatucky skipped out on Safe Place in favor of hanging out with Big Boo, “the worst [lesbian] of them all,” to get a lesbian haircut as a means of officially being initiated into lesbianism. Between the sight of Pennsatucky’s long locks being chopped off and the empty room for Safe Place, Healy cancels the group in a fit of anger.
Since Figueroa’s firing, Healy had been enjoying the relative lack of female opposition–that is until Counselor Berdie Rogers steps onto the scene. Threatened by her enthusiasm and ideas for program improvement and inmate engagement, Healy denies her the opportunity to take on some of his inmates for counseling but instead tell her to “at least take the blacks and the crazies. Moreover, when Berdie expresses her desire to begin a drama club, Healy becomes bitter about his own failed Safe Place venture. However, when Berdie’s program becomes an overnight success, he becomes deeply jealous and finally recognizes that he fails in attempting to relate to women, the inmates and his wife included. This largely stems from the fact that he has not taken the time to know anyone around him.
Healy once again attempts to make things right with his wife, but this time he finds that Red is also facing similar marital troubles. Red proves to be the perfect person to talk to about his issues because she is not only his age, but she is Russian and can provide keen insight into Katya’s experiences, both through translation and projection of her own issues. When Red calls her husband unsavory names, Healy gets mad at her for “trivializing” her husband’s emotions, a clear indication of his own feelings about how Katya treats him. While Healy would like to think that this trivialization is “a Russian thing,” Red encourages him to actually try talking to his wife. Healy has previously asked for Red’s advice in trying to do things for his wife, but this is the first time that he directly involves her in the drama. Ultimately, Healy claims, he wants Katya to be happy.
During the translated conversation, Healy reveals that he wants to go back to the beginning of his relationship with Katya. It is also revealed that Healy largely lied about who he was to her on the Internet. Katya’s list of complaints include his drooling and the fact that he smells like pee. During this conversation, it becomes evident that Red tries to protect Healy, and she thus fails to translate portions of what Katya says to him that she feels would deeply hurt him. After a certain point, Red interjects herself into the conversation and tells Katya that “this is what a good man looks like.” While we know this to not be entirely true, Healy thanks Red for her kindness after the conversation.
Healy might not have had good relationships in his past, but he finds that Red’s actions are a beacon of hope in the otherwise dank and dark cells of his life–his job and his home. This incident paves the way for a blossoming friendship between Red and Healy. He begins showing his gratitude toward her by giving her rose seeds; however, he soon believes that Red is only getting closer to him to manipulate him into letting her work in the kitchen once again. He subsequently begins ignoring her, and Red accuses him of being childish for doing so. While this was likely Red’s angle, Healy makes a peace offering by delivering boxes of fresh corn to the kitchen (which had initially been stolen by Black Cindy), which indubitably saves Red’s famous greenhouse dinner party. The favor does not go unnoticed, for a slice of quiche finds its way onto Healy’s desk that same night.
This occurs right around the time when Berdie Rogers accuses him of his methods being racist and immature and of his inability to take advice from a woman. Her accusations give Healy the ammunition needed to spark his racist, woman-hating rage. Rogers finally approaches him to ask him “what exactly is [his] real issue?” She continues,
“See, I can’t quite pin down whether you’re a misogynist, or a racist, or a winning combination of the two. [. . .] You’re a vengeful little man, aren’t you?”
Needless to say, Healy doesn’t take this lightly. Despite the heavy-handed accusations, Healy continues to believe that he is more than capable of doing his job correctly. Yet, when Brook Soso approaches him about her depression, he merely dismisses her concerns and offers to have a prescription for anti-depressants written up for her. When she asks to switch to the care of Berdie Rogers, however, Healy is further reminded of the other counselor’s accusations and merely suggests to Soso that everything she is suffering is merely “in [her] head,” to which she responds, “You’re really bad at your job, Mr. Healy.”
While Healy is not the direct cause of Berdie Rogers’ suspension, it is safe to say that he would have gone after her and looked to get her fired had she not been suspended due to the penning of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren‘s Time Hump Chronicles. In fact, he did try to persuade Soso to bad mouth Rogers to Joe Caputo, which never came to fruition.
Healy’s home life continues to crumble. When he comes home after a long day at work to find out that Katya went to the Olive Garden for lunch and didn’t bring home his favorite, the Lasagna Classico, he feels overlooked and underappreciated. Eventually, however, Katya hears his concerns, and Healy returns to his office to find that she has brought him Lasagna Classico after all.
While Healy has been facing a good deal of resistance from nearly every woman in Litchfield, Red remains his only beacon of hope for reconciliation with the opposite sex. Hating to take the words of a woman (Soso) to heart, Healy approaches Red to ask her opinion on the matter, and she tells him that she is grateful to him for all that he has done for her, which provides him with enough self-validation for that moment. As the two stand behind the bride and groom at Lorna Morello and Vince Muccio‘s wedding in the visitors room, it becomes clear that Both Healy and Red are ready to move on with their romantic lives.
At the start of season 4, Healy sits down with Judy King to help her figure out appropriate living arrangements, suggesting to her that she probably wouldn’t want to sleep in “the ghetto.” Assuming that she’s racist, he’s surprised when she says, “Well, I have no problem with black people, Mr. Healy. Do you?”. This sends Healy into a downward spiral of trying to justify his racism and make himself not seem like a total asshole, but King can see clearly that he’s a moron.
Healy’s still mourning his loss of Red and his estranged wife, Katya, and he seems to be trying to get back at her for “faking” her feelings. Although it’s never discussed on camera, Red has prevented their romance because she knows that there’s no such thing as a consenting relationship between an inmate and an officer and doesn’t want him to get in trouble. While this appears to be her caring about Healy, he takes it as the ultimate insult.
Looking to further appease King, he sets up a cooking class for her to teach. When he excitedly tells her about the opportunity he has secured for her, she politely declines–for she’s done enough charity–but is surprised when Healy informs her “I’m sorry. This is what MCC has decided is best for you.” Shortly hereafter, Healy learns that King has been assigned to a new counselor, for she says he has “power issues.”
For the first time in the duration of the series, Healy seems to genuinely begin to redeem himself when he saves Lolly Whitehill from being taken down to Psych after stealing trash to build her time machine. Understanding that she suffers from the same illness his mother had, Healy makes it his mission to help Lolly through her troubles. Although Healy has proven himself a rarefied misogynist, it’s clear that he’s looking to help Lolly genuinely, for when she asks how his mother is today, he tells her that she’s fine (even though it’s unclear whether or not she is). This helps to instill hope in Lolly that she will get better.
His relationship with Lolly suggests to viewers that all Healy has ever wanted to do was save women from what he perceived to be the evils of the world–mental illness and lesbianism (which he viewed to be a mental illness that took women away from children and broke up families). Just as Lolly wished she could use her time machine to stop Jimmy Carter (who she sees to be the root of contemporary America’s ills), all Healy has ever been trying to do was to save his mother and those in whom he saw his mother. However, Healy’s harsh generalizations have gotten him into trouble before, and this is no exception. His assumption that everything coming out of Lolly’s mouth is a fantasy prevents him from realizing that she was telling the truth about the body in the garden.
Unfortunately, the realization of this fact is Healy’s breaking point. Ignoring Lolly’s truth, for Healy, is his ultimate failure. Instead of attending the mandatory staff meeting once the body is apprehended, he goes to the water to kill himself but not before calling Katya to apologize to her and to reach out to her. Feeling entirely alone in this world, he nearly ends his life before his phone rings. Thinking it’s Katya, he returns to the shore only to find Litchfield calling him again.
When he returns to Litchfield, he sits, catatonic, in his office until Red bursts in, begging him to let her nap in his office–the one place where she feels Piscatella cannot force her to remain awake. When she realizes that he’s about to fall apart, she demands that he go home, take a shower, and sleep to get himself together, but when he gets up only to sit in a different chair, unable to move, she realizes that he needs a support system.
Season 4 ends with Healy checking himself into the Eastern Psychiatric Institute (but not before turning Lolly in to Piscatella), which suggests that we won’t see much of Healy, at least not until the end of season 5, if at all.