JEFFERSON, Tasha “Taystee”

Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (portrayed by Danielle Brooks) is an inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary who was incarcerated for a drug-related crime. Known for her joyful personality, she undergoes several transformations during her sentence. She works in the library in seasons one and three and the janitorial team in season two.

Season two reveals that Taystee was a foster child whose boisterous personality and self-confidence made her undesirable to her potential adoptive parents. Pictured at an adoption fair in a park in New York City, Taystee attempts to win over the adults in attendance by singing Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”; however, when another girl attempts to get the attention of a particular couple, she nastily tries to shoo them away and brags to the couple that she knows the entire periodic table. The woman organizing the event, having overheard Tasha, suggests that she take a break. Resolved that this day is just not a good day, she sits down on a park bench to enjoy a blue snow cone. Yvonne “Vee” Parker sits beside her.

Vee comments that the child’s blue-stained face looks “vile,” to which Tasha responds that it “looks blue, tastes like red.” Vee immediately corrects her that “blue and red are colors, darlin’. They’re not flavors.” Tasha brushes off the comment and says that it’s tasty, and “I like me somethin’ tasty,” which prompts Vee to give her the nickname “Taystee girl.”

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Vee begins to fill the young and impressionable girl’s head with the idea that she is too old to be “cute,” and the parents would rather adopt a younger girl that’s more well-kept, less eager, and less black. Although Taystee tells Vee that she’s nasty, Vee claims that she’s only telling her the truth. When RJ approaches her to pay up, Taystee realizes that she is a dealer. Now that the conversation has opened, Vee mentions that she was impressed with Taystee’s proficiency in science. But Taystee knows better, even at this age, than to go along with her, but Vee suggests that she should start thinking about “creating [her] own forever family” because she could die waiting for someone to adopt her.

It is not until much later that Taystee begs Vee to take her in; when the woman resists, Taystee proves her math prowess, which makes her an excellent candidate for hera operation. For Taystee, a chance at “getting in trouble” is far better than the rough foster homes she has endured. Once immersed in drug-peddling, she gets excited about helping Vee trademark their brand of “stuff.” Even though Taystee claims that her involvement with Vee and her job at the burger joint are not “forever” careers, Vee corrects her: bexcuse she’s from “the hood,” a career “is not an option.”

We first meet Taystee in prison in season one when Piper Chapman enters the salon in search of shea butter to concoct the pain relieving cream she uses to appease Red. When Piper admits that she has nothing to trade, Taystee puts forward a proposition: she will give her the shea butter she needs in exchange for a lock of her blonde hair, which is later attached as an extension to Taystee’s thick head of curly hair.

Taystee is one of the candidates who runs for a position in the Women’s Advisory Council (WAC), and she wins by promising to bring fried chicken into the cafeteria. While we know that her promises do not come to fruition, as the WAC merely exists to create the appearance of democracy, we do know that she is appeased by the donuts that Counselor Healy serves at their “meetings.”

There is a darker side to Taystee, however. She attends the Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings in Litchfield for alcoholism, which is suggested in season three. While this has never been made a prominent topic of conversation in the series, we learn that Taystee was woken up to the fact that she needed help when she woke up with “barbecue sauce all over [her] titties, and [she] was like, ‘Oh, no. Again?'”

Taystee is not in prison for long when she makes an appeal for early release; when her proposal is surprisingly accepted, she is released back out into the world around Thanksgiving, where she goes looking for Vee for a place to stay, for everyone she knows is either “poor, in jail, or gone.” When she fails to find Vee, she goes to her foster sibling’s aunt’s place, which is hardly more than a hole in the wall. Being forced to spend her nights sleeping on the floor and the remainder of her time making minimum wage at Pizza Hut, for she still owes Litchfield $900, Taystee violates her parole in order to be brought back to Litchfield because “at least in prison you get dinner.”

When her best friend, Poussey Washington, approaches her about her irresponsibility in getting thrown back into jail–a chance that hardly any of them  ever get. But Taystee explains that she has been in institutions her whole life and fears that she is not fit for life “on the outside.” When Poussey tells her that she is incredibly smart and has learned the system in the library well enough to get a comparable job on the outside, Taystee, disheartened, says that “you need real school” to get a job, not just experience.

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In season two, Taystee excitedly participates in Litchfield’s job fair, where she believes that, if she performs well enough, she will be set up with a job interview  with a company so that she can get a real job when she gets out. However, despite the fact that she is a finalist in the first round concerned with professional interview attire and the winner of the interview round, she is informed that she will not be getting what was promised to her.

Poussey‘s “She-Wee” invention once again reminds Taystee that she is not as educated as she would like to be. When it is revealed that the female anatomy is far more complex than she ever knew, Taystee starts wondering what else she is unaware of, given the fact that she was not well-acquainted with her own anatomy. Her rumination highlights the lack of opportunities that she has as both a child of the system and as an inmate. Although she has access to quite a few books, she does not have the freedom or access to as much information as she would like.

In season two, Taystee steps into the spotlight as her “foster mother” (and reason for being incarcerated in the first place), Vee, enters Litchfield. However, her involvement with Vee drives a wedge between her and her best friend, Poussey, who continually warns Taystee against getting involved with her again. Taystee instead pushes back against Poussey and continues to associate herself with the woman that is responsible for lifting the Ghetto to power in Litchfield.

Vee detects the tensions in Taystee and Poussey’s friendship and further drives a wedge between them when she discovers Poussey’s complicated romantic feelings for Taystee–which never have been required, despite several conversations on the subject. Manipulating Taystee to fear being labeled “gay for the stay” if anyone were to find out about the kiss she and Poussey shared in the dorms, while also suggesting to Taystee that Poussey is “not [her] real friend” but “only [her] friend in here,” Vee eventually succeeds in pushing Poussey out of the group and securing Taystee’s loyalty once again.

Poussey keeps her distance until she learns that Taystee has begun peddling heroin, which is when she approaches her again about associating with Vee; however, Taystee becomes irate and finally cuts off all contact with her. Despite their disagreement, Taystee continues to stick up for Poussey when Vee bad mouths her, which  Vee does not take to likely.

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It is not until the hurricane that Poussey and Taystee make up, although they almost fought each other instead. From here on, Poussey and Taystee sit together at lunch and avoid Vee’s group (or at least what’s left of it). Although it took Taystee “damn near 15 years” to realize that Vee was bad news, she eventually breaks away from Vee for goodbecase she realizes that she’s given Vee “too much time.”

In season three, Taystee and Poussey work on repairing their friendship. Taystee becomes more protective of her friend, warning Poussey not to get involved with Norma‘s “voodoo” or the “evil forces [because] [she’ll] [. . .] be out like Cedric Digory.” Having almost lost Poussey as a friend last season, however, she doesn’t press the issue too much when Poussey continues to spend more time with the group.

Taystee also begins working on repairing her self. Declaring that she is “done with Mamas and with stand-ins for Mamas,” Taystee begins to mature and look out more for herself and those she cares about. As a result, others perceive her as being the Den Mother for the Ghetto, which begins officially when she restrains Suzanne at their table in the cafeteria, ultimately preventing her from facing any punishment for her Vee-related outburst. Taystee does not begin to grieve about the end of this chapter of her life until Suzanne admits missing her. They mourn together for their mutual losses in the dormitories.

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Things begin to return to normal when Litchfield is suspected of having a bed bug outbreak. When the library is inspected for bed bugs, Taystee challenges them on their suggestion that the black specks in the spines of the book are muffin crumbs. In effort to prove to them that she is a muffin expert, she unfortunately tastes what turns out to be an unwelcome do visitor. As a result, she is moved to the maintenance department–but not before she and Poussey hold a book funeral as they are forced to burn all of their books.

Taystee soon notices that Poussey is sleeping and drinking all day, and she begins worrying even more about her friend. She takes Poussey’s hooch that she has been brewing in the prison yard in order to prevent her friend from destroying her life; however, she is not exactly sure ho else to try to soothe Poussey’s pain. She offers her own help to Poussey, but she resists, saying that she needs more than friendship–she needs romantic love to keep her looking forward to the life that awaits her.

She officially defines herself as the head of the Ghetto when Black Cindy steals the corn that Red had grown for her dinner parties. When Red discovers they enjoying dozens of ears of corn in the prison yard, the women rattle off some unrelated guilt-card about the way in which white people have treated blacks. Taystee quickly jumps to save face, telling them to “stop using slavery to justify foolishness.” She diffuses the brewing storm between Red, Watson, and Black Cindy by apologizing to Red and offering Poussey‘s hooch for Red’s dinner party as well as the women’s help to clean up and wash dishes during the party. Red gratefully accepts.

The last disaster Taystee is expected to fix is when Poussey discovers Brook Soso, unconscious and mid-overdose in the library during movie night. She helps in moving Soso to the bathrooms, where she develops a plan to revive her and nurse her back to health without the correctional staff noticing.

Taystee

In season 4, Taystee is hired as Caputo‘s office assistant, which she thinks is because she won at job fair (but it isn’t). In a private conversation with C.O. Piscatella, Caputo reveals that he chose her because “she’s the only semi-intelligent one that I’m only semi-attracted to.” Regardless of the circumstances that led to her employment, Taystee feels wonderful assisting the Warden, while her friends are sweating their butts off performing hard labor for no pay.

This position is cushy and has its perks, from being able to call up the public library and ask them to Google information (such as if Beyonce and Jay-Z are getting a divorce) to getting her very own wrist watch (which is destroyed by a C.O. who gets annoyed at her for asking too many questions about the prison lock-down). When she does manage to get into Caputo’s computer, she begins searching for her friends, but Poussey Washington only brings up unsavory searches and Red brings up the color red. It is in this search, however, that she discovers just how much money they can make for snapping a picture of Judy King.

Taystee approaches Suzanne and Cindy about this opportunity, but they have no way of taking or distributing the picture until Alison Abdullah offers her contraband cellphone in exchange for Cindy’s tampons. After a few failed attempts, they finally snag a picture when King agrees to kiss Cindy in the prison yard unexpectedly.

Life seems to be going well until the peaceful protest goes wrong, and C.O. Bayley accidentally crushes Poussey to death. Breaking down instantly into uncontrollable tears, Taystee is inconsolable. Outraged that she has to remind Caputo to call her father before announcing her death, she wonders if Caputo will do right by her and her friend. Her anger and sadness escalates to rage, however, when she overhears in Caputo’s office that he didn’t even say her name on air and that there was no justice, for Bayley is not being fired.

For season 5, Taystee will indubitably head the prison riots and bring forth the prison revolution. We just hope that she makes it out of this season alive.

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