City Paper is not for tourists
My friend Susan K. is a prosperous Virginia business-owner who served four years and change in a Maryland state prison for drug-related robbery charges in her 20s. When I asked her if she’d watched Orange Is the New Black, she said, “Dude, why in the hell would I want to watch a show about the worst four years of my fucking life?”
A few weeks later, she told me that she had watched a few episodes, mainly because she was “tired of reading about some Wellesley graduate on the Internet talking about how goddamned real that show is. As if she would know.”
Last night, we watched the sixth episode of Season 2. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Episode 6: You Also Have a Pizza
Various characters are looking directly into the camera. It becomes clear that they are being asked to pontificate on the nature of love.
WCP: Did you ever get into deep philosophical debates with any of your fellow inmates?
Susan: Not about the meaning of love, that’s for sure. A lot of women had pretty warped ideas on that subject. Tons of them used to be hookers or strippers, so to them, love just meant sex, and sex was just a way to get something.
What would you all normally talk about?
Mostly the guards. It was always safe to talk about the guards. “That bitch C.O. [Corrections Officer], this bitch C.O.,” and so on and so on.
What do you mean by “safe?”
Well, you would think that having a bunch of women locked up with not much to do would be nonstop gossip, right? Like, inmates just talking about each other all the time? But that’s just a good way to get into confrontations with inmates. Like, say you notice something funny about the way an inmate walks, and you say something smartass about it to somebody you know, and then that gets around, and then the next thing you know it’s “I heard you was talking shit,” and then it turns into a thing. And things in prison aren’t like things at, you know, the high school, or the coffee shop, or the fucking spin class or whatever.
So the guards were a safe topic of conversation?
Right, because everybody hated them. Nobody was ever going to correct you for shit talking a guard. And they made it easy because it was their job to be ruthless bitches.
The Latinas are making heart- and penis-shaped cookies in preparation for Valentine’s Day.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in prison.
I’m also going to assume that there were no cookies made in the prison.
Yeah, that’s a stretch. If you wanted a cookie, you had to take your ass to the commissary and buy those shitty rolls of Grandma’s vanilla cookies. They sucked.
Aside from Valentine’s or the Fourth of July and all that, did they do anything for Thanksgiving or Christmas?
Not much. I mean, I think on Thanksgiving everybody got a few slices of dark turkey and canned cranberry sauce. Oddly enough, the most popular holiday in prison was Ramadan.
Were there a lot of Muslim women in prison?
Oh, hell no. I don’t ever remember seeing a Quran the whole time I was there.
So why was Ramadan so popular?
Well, it was just a break in the routine. Women could get up early and go eat all this extra food. They didn’t really give a shit about the religious aspect of it … About two weeks out from Ramadan, all of a sudden all these women would claim to be Muslim just so they could have something new to do. Then when Christmas came, they conveniently forgot the whole thing.
Did the guards have a problem with that?
Oddly enough, when it came to the religious stuff they pretty much left you well enough alone. I mean, they let me use the chapel for Wicca. It was weird. Like, they’ll yell at you all day, and jam a finger up your ass faster than you can say “Jack Robinson,” but when it came to religion, they let a ton of things slide.
What do you honestly think of the show? I know you’ve been poking a lot of holes in it, but are you able to detach yourself a little bit?
Oh, it’s fine. It’s mostly harmless. There are some funny parts. But I guess the problem I have with it is that they are making it seem like prison is this really clever place to be, where things are always cookin’, you know? It’s not. There isn’t snappy banter because that will get your ass kicked. And they don’t do a good job of describing how you’re on edge, constantly. Like, “Are the guards going to fuck with me today? That woman who I accidentally made eye contact with for two seconds, she killed somebody, fuck, please don’t let her think I’m eyeballing her. Will these fucking bitches ever stop with the yelling? Maybe I’ll wake up and this will be a dream. Nope. Still here.” That never stops, you know? And these characters all just seem to be at a particularly shitty summer camp. Or maybe a military school. There are some similarities in how it looks, but it doesn’t feel like prison.
(The black women are in a janitorial closet, where they receive a shipment of tobacco packed in bottles of cleanser. Crazy Eyes fails to see the point.)
There is just this absurd lack of supervision in this prison. Not just here, but everywhere. It seems like these women are always alone, in the kitchen, in the showers, in the chapel, absolutely everywhere. And sure, let’s just let the criminals open up the boxes of cleanser with nobody around. No possible way these chicks could find extracurricular uses for cleanser, right? Poison, finding a way to get high off it, nothing like that at all.
Were there mentally ill women in prison, like the Crazy Eyes character?
Yeah, but they got sandbagged and sent to the crazy wing pretty quickly. Like, all the quality television stuff that this chick is doing, like, pissing on the floor and yelling “NO!” at the voices in her head and hitting herself? A guard would have noticed that, or a prisoner would have told the guards about it. I mean, you mostly weren’t supposed to say shit to the guards, but you got a pass when you were reporting crazy. If they wanted to be realistic about the Crazy Eyes character, they would have taken her right after she pissed on the floor, and then she would have been gone for a couple episodes, and then she would have come back completely zonked. Just doing the zombie shuffle through her day.
Were there a lot of zombie girls?
There were a few. Some would go back and forth between pilled out and actively crazy. It’s a pattern, you know? Have an episode, get taken to the crazy wing, come back, be a zombie, start to hide your pills instead of taking them, get crazier, have an episode, lather, rinse, repeat.
Red is receiving contraband through a tunnel that goes through the bottom of the greenhouse.
When you were in Jessup or Patuxent, where there ever any escape attempts?
Oh, God no. Yeah, that’s total fiction. Doors don’t just open. Hell, we were kept inside for almost six months out of the year. You were never out of sight of the guards. And aside from that, there would occasionally be shooting practice right outside, so you could hear it. Just “pop pop pop pop pop.” Just a little reminder, you know? One time the shooting was going on and this just prototype bitch of a guard said “Uh-huh! We ain’t running after none of you motherfuckers. Better believe that shit!”
(Yoga Jones is leading a yoga class while Big Boo ogles and gropes the participants. Red comes in and delivers contraband items to everyone.)
Somebody would have beaten the shit out of the diesel chick [Big Boo] by now. A few somebodies. They would have cornered her and they would have jumped on her and they would have beaten her, and they would have all got confinement, but they would have done it anyway. You don’t just put your hands on everybody like she does.
Was there a yoga class?
I did yoga. But there wasn’t a class. That’s what I don’t get here, is all the organized activities. They got yoga, they got [Narcotics Anonymous], they got chicks back there making dick-shaped cookies for everybody. They didn’t allow us to organize or run anything. Ever. “Gosh, Ms. Vindictive Bitch of a C.O., I have this great idea for a class for all the girls to take! We can do it in the common room on Tuesdays and Thursdays!” That’s a fantasy. But here it is, no guards at yoga, Diesel just rubbing her spirit dick on everybody, and Star Trek just marches in and makes it rain with the contraband. It’s like this place is a community center in Annandale and not a freaking prison.
So, no newsletter either?
No. Why would they let prisoners do that? And, honestly, what the hell would be in that newsletter? Week one: “The Food Still Sucks.” “Ramadan is Coming Soon.” “The Gray-Haired C.O. Was a Bitch. Again.” Week two: “The Food Still Sucks.” “Everybody Said They Were Muslim for Ramadan.” “The Grey Haired C.O. was a Bitch. Again.” They could just put out the same shit, week after week.
This has nothing to do with the show, but what was the first thing you ate when you got out?
Oh, man. Well, I didn’t get out out, but part of the deal at Patuxent is that once you get towards the end of your sentence and it’s clear that you aren’t planning on fucking up, they start giving you day releases, and weekend releases and stuff. They want to get you used to being around people again. At first they are supervised and they only last for a few hours, but then they eventually give you a day release. They let me out really early in the morning, and the first place I went was just this greasy spoon diner. Holy shit, dude. Scrambled eggs, hash browns, and a big ass cup of coffee. I mean, it was like a place with a counter and stools that spin and they only just prohibited smoking in that place so it smelled like an ashtray, but it might as well have been a five-star restaurant to me. The food was awesome and everybody seemed completely relaxed, and they were doing what they wanted to do. I was in a diner but it felt like I was in a damn nudist colony or something. Best meal ever. And it only cost five bucks.