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Why I've Become Obsessed with Orange is the New Black

Updated on October 7, 2015
Jerry Bradshaw profile image

Jerry Bradshaw, an avid music and horror fan, is an English major at the University of Michigan - Flint.

Piper Kerman's exposé on life in a women's correctional facility has spawned one of the most popular and effective television programs on the air in recent years. 'Orange is the New Black' tackles the subjects of sexuality, loyalty, love, friendship, choices, confidence, mental illness, addiction, abuse, the elderly, corruption, violence, medical practices, the transgender community, strength and gender roles - within the walls of a prison. The purpose of this article is to talk about how this show has affected me with its colorful characters, meaningful writing and all-too-real circumstances. My reason? This is not the type of show I would ever usually watch. I had to be talked into trying it out. After being told by many friends and family members that I needed to give it a shot - I finally did. It was a choice I will forever be glad that I made.

Why would a guy like me be interested in a show about a women's prison? I'm a horror fanatic. I seek out shows like Dexter, American Horror Story and others of that ilk. How could this show have anything to offer that would appeal to a viewer like me? The answer is simple. Life choices. We all have them. We all make them - bad or good. We can all relate to the impact our choices make on our own lives as well as the lives of others.

Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)
Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne) and Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)

There is a little bit of all of us inside each of these characters. Even the ones we hope to never emulate. They all have something that reflects a bit about each of us and the society that helped to shape who they became, who they are, and the choices they made. Their stories are based on reality. You need not pull out that suspension of disbelief while watching these women and the circumstances in which they made the choices that resulted in their incarceration. You only need to understand that choices can change a lot for all of us when we make the right or wrong ones.

I never think about what prison would be like since I'm not an inmate. The scary part about it is that it reflects our society like a twisted mirror image. The American criminal justice system is flawed to say the very least. It is ripe with inequality. This show tackles those issues. There are inmates who never deserved the sentence they were handed and others who deserved much more.

Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)
Alex Vause (Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)

We see women being treated as objects, racial discrimination, class discrimination and so many other aspects of our daily lives being reflected from prison walls back onto us living on the outside. Then we get to ask ourselves - is it really that much different out here? The answer is startling. It makes you realize that while we are feeling angry at the unfair treatment of these women - we should be feeling just as much anger at the unfair treatment people receive on a daily basis in general society. Especially women. Especially women of different cultural backgrounds. We, as a society, are not far off from some of the bigoted, hate speaking characters that we witness in 'Orange is the New Black'. Some of these people aren't just the inmates, the correctional officers or their superiors. Some are even the family members who look down on these prisoners without ever having walked in their shoes. This show gives us a chance to do just that. It gives us the chance to walk in someone else's shoes, live someone else's life and most importantly - to understand that person's experience.

There are simple things we take for granted every day that these women are deprived of. As simple as falling in love. If a correctional officer has any kind of intimate relationship that leads to one of a physical nature - they can be sent to prison. Can you imagine having feelings for someone who is not allowed to even touch you while you're doing a 6 year sentence? Maybe that doesn't seem like a long time to wait for true love but, if it happened to you today that would mean you would not be able to act on your feelings until late 2020. Everything is put on hold - unless you risk your freedom for it. If your loved ones visit you - you're allowed one hug before and after the visit. That's it. If you have children, they grow up without you. If you have a baby while incarcerated - it's taken from you. If you need medical attention - it's extremely limited. If you have terminal cancer - you die inside. Let's say one of your parents or even your child dies - you are locked away from them and unable to say goodbye or even attend their funerals most times. Any correspondence is read by prison employees before it reaches your hands. If you have dietary restrictions - too bad. That's your problem. This is daily life for an inmate.

Galina "Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) and Piper (Taylor Schilling)
Galina "Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew) and Piper (Taylor Schilling)

This show gives me a new perspective and a new point of view with every episode. We've all made bad life choices - some without any intention of doing harm. Yet, sometimes we get caught up in situations that dictate our actions. We all ultimately have the ability to choose - but, what if the only choices we have are ones that carry with them consequences that can change our lives forever? Sometimes we have to make hard choices that can either hurt the ones we love or even ourselves. If you catch an episode of 'Orange is the New Black' you'll understand better the types of choices I'm talking about. I don't want to give anything away for those of you who have yet to experience this amazing series. If you haven't - I urge you to do so. It will, at the very minimum, give you new perspective on yourself. Hopefully it will also give you a new perspective on our society and the injustice that runs rampant within its faulty structure.

Within any social structure we crave basic human interaction. We need it. It's a requirement for healthy mental, physical and emotional stability. Sometimes that can be hard for a lot of us to acquire when we're on the outside much less for those who are stuck on the inside. It's like being told you have to live in a certain neighborhood for the rest of your life - even if you feel unwelcome. It would be like living in an alternate reality, because it really and truly is like an alternate reality - yet it is more like our own lives than we may want to admit. These people are more like us than we may want to admit. I realize one could simply say "Well, if they did the crime - they should do the time!" It's far more complex than that. Watch. Take some time out from your schedule and watch 'Orange is the New Black'. Give yourself an opportunity to learn about people you may never have understood before. Give yourself a new opportunity to learn about yourself. There's a lot here to provide you the tools to do so. Just watch. Watch 'Orange is the New Black'. It is one choice you will be glad you made.

Piper Kerman and Taylor Schilling
Piper Kerman and Taylor Schilling


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