WHAT ISSUES DOES “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” MAKE YOU AWARE OF?

I have been told by fans of the show that “Orange is the New Black” has raised public awareness of a lot of issues. Prison is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken so lightly. What issues have you been made aware of? Are they issues that were part of a storyline that got wrapped up neatly by a writer in 45 minutes? At the end of the show did you think that was really insightful? Did you understand that if a federal prison inmate was going through this how hard it would actually be to deal with some of those issues?
Has “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” made you aware of the fact that is based on a book which is about the Federal Prison Camp in Danbury, Ct which is still an open functioning prison?
Has “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” made you aware of harsh federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums? Mandatory minimum means that for certain crimes defendants are given certain sentences no matter the circumstances. Additionally unlike in state prisons there is no parole. I was with women who did over 10 years. Parole means that at some point during an inmate’s sentence there is a look at this person to see if she should be released or should still keep on doing time. In federal prison that kind of consideration is never given to inmates. I was with one woman who had done 13 years and still had time to go. The thing that I didn’t understand is what is it that she didn’t learn in year 7 or 10 or 11 that she will learn in year 15 or 16. Good time in federal prisons is 15% where as in many state prisons good time is as high as 50%. Good time is the amount of time an inmate gets off their sentence for good behavior.
Has “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” made you aware of the number of children in foster care because their mothers are in prison?
Yes there are children in foster care around the country because their mothers are in prison. For those #OINTB fans who say that there are plot lines of mothers transferring to facilities to be closer to their children. Do you understand what foster care is? What is the reality of that situation trying to get closer to her children? In the past three years 2 federal women’s prisons have closed. That’s a loss of over 1300 beds for women in the past three years thus overcrowding federal women’s prisons. If an inmate needed to transfer to be closer to her children or to family it will be harder because of the lack of available beds. Occasionally women with children are given some consideration at the end of the sentences to have additional time in half-way houses (transitional programs).
Does “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” make you aware of the poor healthcare provided to federal inmates?
Federal inmates are given inadequate healthcare. There are inmates who did not have life sentences who died in prison even after being transferred to federal medical prison facilities because they could not be provided with adequate care and are denied compassionate release by their judges. There are occasions when judges give compassionate release and it is denied by the warden. Basic care is often not given properly. At the Federal prison Medical Facility in Devens, MA there is a section for dialysis patients. Once a month, the facility runs out of dialysis supplies and an inmate volunteers to go without dialysis.
Does “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” make you aware of the inadequate education provided to inmates who are required to take mandatory GED classes?
There are mandatory education classes given at Danbury for all inmates who do not have a GED or a high school diploma. There were two classes a pre-GED class and a GED class. The separation was based on how inmates scored on an exam. There were a number of women who were in the pre-GED class took a pre-GED exam repeatedly and failed. In a traditional education setting there is an examination of test scores and results to see how the education program should be changed or what should be done differently. This was never done. The head of the education at FPC Danbury had no formal training in education and was a corrections officer who got a promotion. If you have no experience in education, you don’t know how to identify the weaknesses and the strengths of your students. This is truly a failure of the prison system. Based on my experience having been in education what was needed was a literacy class. A lot of those women didn’t have the literacy skills to understand the material that they were required to read. Imagine sitting in a pre-GED class for two years and never passing. When she’s released and goes to a GED program, she ends up being referred to a literacy program. This is painful after being away for a long period of time, she thinks that she might be a little bit ahead and in step she has to move backwards.

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 2014