Sister Jane Ingalls (portrayed by Beth Fowler) was a background character in season one, a nun who we knew to have been incarcerated for protesting at a nuclear test site. However, we learn in season two that she was actually arrested for trespassing at the nuclear test site, a decidedly less badass sentence. One of the recurring friendships Sister Ingalls has is with Sophia Burset in seasons one and three. Moreover, she and Sophia were in charge of running the Litchfield Prison Christmas Pageant. Aside from the fact that she can’t watch a Russell Crowe movie straight-on and that she’s masturbated to a “ripped” statue of Jesus, we learn that Sister Ingalls is more human than we tend to perceive nuns as being.
In a flashback, we see Sister Jane as new nun on probation in the convent who is troubled, for Jesus has not yet spoken to her. Duped into “falling in with the bad nuns,” Sister Jane begins living life outside of the convent’s rules. She was arrested fourteen times, seemingly getting a thrill out of it; however, she is eventually accused by the church of performing these seemingly selfless acts for “show,” and she is deemed as an “embarrassment to the church.” This accusation becomes undeniable when Sister Jane had cleverly timed one of her protests with the release of her ghost-written book, Nun Shall Pass: The Sister Ingalls Story. It is because of the church’s suspicion of her self-centeredness–and because she supposedly misrepresented the church in her book, where she claims to have “never heard Christ clearly in my heart”–that the church can no longer pay her legal fees or support her in the sisterhood.
“It’s not about service to God. It’s about you.”
While she claims to have been doing God’s work because all of the proceeds went to charity, Sister Ingalls was still proud of her work. But because her protests seemed to be more political than religious in nature. Sister Ingalls explains that
“they’d reconsider letting me back in the church if I showed contrition in prison, but bad habits die hard.”
Season two had much more in store for Sister Jane: she found her voice (by telling Brook Soso to “please shut the fuck up”) and also by joining the hunger strike. Her blood sugar plummeted, which landed her in the hospital. She has had quite a bit of practice in getting the public’s attention, and in trying to help Soso with the hunger strike, her urge to lead amplifies. Even when her health is in danger, she does not back down.
A band of nuns crowd the prison gates in support of her protest, which fuels Sister Jane’s desire to continue with her strike. When it becomes too dangerous for Sister Jane to continue, however, she and Red make a deal: if Sister Ingalls eats, Red tells Caputo the truth about Vee being the one to slock her.
As an elderly woman in the Prison Industrial Complex, Sister Jane is not one to take a back seat when there is a venture to be exploited. When she discovers that the Kosher meals are far more palatable than the bagged sludge that the kitchen has bee serving, she immediately begins requesting them. Surprisingly for everyone else, however, she is women who are knowledgeable enough about the Jewish faith to pass the rabbi’s test when the administration tries weeding out the “fake” Jews in favor of cutting costs.
Sister Jane continues to be agitated by her state in prison into season three. Despite the fact that she has sought emotional release in Counselor Berdie Rogers‘ drama class, she has a hard time letting things go, especially when Brook Soso is there to talk about all of her privileged experiences from a drama class she took in school and her know-it-all attitude. She is also increasingly aware of the friendships that she forms while in Litchfield; she comments on Sophia’s convenient tendency to find her faith when she is most in need, but unlike last time, Sophia is truly in need of a friend and some consolation. While she backs off on the animosity factor, she soon discovers that Sophia is in fact looking for more once again, and she is especially disheartened when the only consolation that the nun can offer the transgender woman is to tell her to stay strong.
Unfortunately, Sister Jane did not take Sophia’s concerns very seriously, and when she hears out Gloria’s side of the story, she attempts to remain objective. This plan only pans out until she discovers that Sophia has been severely beaten and hauled off to the SHU for her “own protection”; only then does she feel guilty about not speaking up about her friend’s endangerment.
Throughout season 4, Sister Ingalls tries everything in her power to get herself sent to Maximum Security in hopes that she can see Sophia and get word back to Crystal that she is okay. She picks fights with C.O. Coates (calling him a “fucking moron”) and conspicuously carries food out of the cafeteria (not allowed), but she’s not taken seriously. She then tries smoking in the prison yard, but C.O. McCullough just takes the cigarette from her and smokes it herself. Growing more desperate by the hour, she creates a makeshift lighter in the cafeteria, trying to draw attention to herself. Gloria notices and assists by picking a fight and allowing Ingalls to slap her across the face, which works.
Finally in Maximum Security, smuggling in a camera phone in her vagina, she successfully locates Sophia and even communicates with her via paper kite but sneezes the phone out while attempting to shower. Before Caputo can reprimand her, he takes the phone and gets her shot of Sophia for her, which is then delivered to Crystal.
Instead of being charged with conspiring to leak classified information, Caputo lets her off the hook.