Orange Is The New Black Might Be Unintentionally Conservative

In case it hasn’t crossed your radar, Orange is The New Black is a Netflix prison drama released this past summer that has soared in popularity and received critical acclaim. After watching the entire first season, it occurs to me that the journey of Piper, the main character, is twofold: One, she is blundering towards taking responsibility for her own choices and actions. Two, she is learning fundamentally what it means to truly lose your freedom. Interestingly, as a conservative, I find a lot to like about the show.

Her journey to assuming responsibility begins with the day Piper self-surrenders to serve her time.  At this point, Piper has only accepted that she must be punished, not that she is, in fact, culpable. As her time in Season 1 goes on, she, through the plot device of having to encounter her ex-girlfriend in jail, accepts that she willingly participated in and chose to commit those crimes instead of writing off those actions as the result of being mixed up or  in love. The show similarly shows various characters who, while saddened and frustrated with being in prison, basically accept responsibility for their current sentences.

“The women I met in Danbury helped me to confront the things I had done wrong, as well as the wrong things I had done,” Kerman writes. “The Chicago MCC was a different story… the misery of the women surrounding me rattled me, as did the pointlessness of every day that passed here, and the complete disrespect and indifference with which we were treated.” – The Real Life Kerman on her stay.

Responsibility and acceptance are a common theme for many characters on the show, and Orange Is The New Black does an excellent job driving your interest in getting to know each of these characters.  While this drives viewer empathy, the show still consistently enforces acceptance of guilt as part of each prisoner’s journey.

The saddest example of this may be the prisoner, Tastee, who returns to the same prison after violating her parole.  It’s a reminder to folks that there are people being routinely left behind and developing an institutionalized mindset when they slip through the cracks.  While I’m a firm believer that all fundamental change has to come from the person desiring it, the obstacles presented to parolees when they leave prison often guarantee a return trip.

“At least in here you get dinner,” concludes Taystee. “I know how to play it here. Where to be, and what rules to follow. I got a bed…” On what Orange is the New Black Gets Right

The other subtle message throughout the show is how many women are in jail because of drug related crimes with sentences driven by Mandatory Minimum standards.  Many Republicans are taking up this cause for both fiscal and moral reasons.

That is something Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) understands. “The injustice of mandatory minimums is impossible to ignore when you hear the stories of the victims,” he told the committee at Wednesday’s Hearing. As Paul observed, “There is no justice here. It is wrong and needs to change.” Toward that end, a bill he is sponsoring would allow judges to deviate from mandatory minimums based on the sentencing factors laid out by federal law, which include, along with deterrence and public safety, “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant” as well as “the need for the sentence imposed to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment.” Although Paul said “we’re not repealing mandatory minimums,” this change would effectively transform them from requirements into recommendations. – Rand Paul is Right..

There’s also a distinct theme of self-reliance that’s an adjustment for Piper Chapman. Often the advice of fellow prisoners for Piper is to not appeal to a larger authority figure as it will make things worse. It is up to her to solve the problem herself, as when she unintentionally retains the screwdriver or has a fellow inmate threaten her. Each crisis is solved, not by Piper appealing to an authority or government figure, but finding resolution through her own actions.

Lastly, unlike the book where the writer does not get into as many confrontations, Piper Chapman on the show often finds herself at odds with other prisoners for basically speaking her mind. Examples of this are the two week induced hunger strike because she decides to critique the food, thinking she can fairly assess the weaknesses and issues of her assigned counselor, and believing it was a smart move to go into a lengthy dissertation about secular humanism to a clearly unstable prisoner who, based on Piper’s rejection of her belief system, is willing to take revenge. It still hasn’t sunk in to Piper that she’s not just incarcerated: she’s lost her freedom to express herself without fear of retribution.  Diverse opinions and ideas, along with objections to violations of the rule of law in the case when she is “illegally” sent to the SHU, are not respected in prison and often can be dangerous.  Conservatives have been warning that the left’s desire for acceptance of their beliefs as paramount and their clear willingness to ignore the rule of law is merely force designed to induce conformity and thus suppression.

“Where once it was about the tolerance of individuals and their opinions, it has now been “redeployed to deal with group conflicts”. Once it was about opening the mind to competing beliefs, now it is about one that affirms different groups. Along this slippery path, much of the original importance of tolerance has been distorted or lost. Tolerance has segued into meanings of nonjudgmentalism, recognition, acceptance, even implicitly, affirmation and respect. It has frequently slipped into a vague indifference – “you do what you like” type attitude to the people you live amongst.  What has been lost is JS Mill’s understanding that tolerance is crucial to freedom. That tolerance is about putting up with views and opinions you may deeply disagree with; tolerance does not require abdicating judgement, only the firm belief that it is in the cut and thrust of debate that there is the best chance of truth.” – The Problem with Tolerance

In the world of prison on Orange Is The New Black you get a taste of what it’s like to have to subsume your individual beliefs and rights, and be forced to comply with a perverse sense of tolerance in order to survive.  I’m grateful that it is still from my own couch that I purchased without any government mandate.