“Cha Cha Slide” OITNB S6 E1 “Who Knows Better Than I”
I hope you have been listening to my podcast Decarceration Nation (episode 27 will be posted on Monday 7/30/2018 and features my discussion with Bianca Tylek (Founder and Director of the Corrections Accountability Project) and Michael Crowley (worked on justice policy in the Office of Management & Budget in both the Obama and Bush White Houses).
Decarceration Nation has recently been featured in a Bustle post by Taylor Maples about prison podcasts and Orange Is the New Black.
Also, you can read my recap of EVERY single episode of Orange is the New Black using this guide.
If you have not watched OITNB Season 6 Episode 1 before *Spoiler Alert*
5 THINGS ABOUT SEASON 6 EPISODE 1 “WHO KNOWS BETTER THAN I”
Reminder: it is going to take a long time for the series to make sense of everything that just made zero sense by the end of Season 5.
5. CORRECTIONAL OFFICER CRUELTY
Many people online have been wondering, if the depiction of the CO’s in Season 6 is accurate? The answer is, given the very specific circumstance…
The three most important lines in “Who Knows Better Than I” (if you want to better understand why the correctional officers are acting crazy) were:
1. Daya’s comment to Piper about why they were really all being kept in Segregation:
“They only brought a few of us in here, we’re the focus group, they are going to focus on blaming us for the riot.”
2. CO Ward’s comment to Daya when she was put in the cage outside:
“if it were up to me you’d never see daytime, see you later guard killer, be back in an hour.”
3. The new CO who used to work with Taystee back in the day who said to Taystee:
“You’re team killed two players on mine. What did you think was going to happen.”
All of the girls who have been placed in Administrative Segregation (aka solitary, aka SHU )are there because they were believed to be the ones most responsible for the riot. Two Correctional Officers died in the riot which means the CO’s are going to be VERY interested in these women.
In reality, they would most likely move them far away (this is exactly what happened most recently in the Lee Correctional Riot in South Carolina).
Daya surrendered herself as directly responsible for one of the CO casualties (Humps) so it makes total sense that the officers would give her a particularly hard time. The reality is that the CO’s would carry out revenge in many much shadier and less overt ways.
They would definitely keep Daya in SHU as long as possible and make her time in SHU miserable (waking her up at all hours and maybe even incentivizing other inmates to attack her in the showers or during her recreation time). Once Daya got out, every inmate would know they would curry favor with the CO’s by giving Daya grief or worse. The officers would give Daya every ticket possible and ride her relentlessly. Her cube would always be the first one tossed. She would be challenged by every CO every day.
It is, however, very unlikely that they would directly abuse her themselves. Abuse leaves a paper trail and they could make her life a living hell without ever hitting her themselves. If they really wanted to physically assault her, they might have an inmate start a fight with her and get shots in as they broke the fight up.
Don’t get me wrong, Daya would be abused, set up, subject to massive emotional and physical duress, and the CO’s might induce the other inmates to do something terrible to her. The rest of the inmates under suspicion in SHU would be treated poorly, but not as brutally as Daya (most likely).
Oh, Taystee would also be in a lot of trouble, she was the lead negotiator for the inmates and would be seen as a ringleader and therefore as responsible for what happened.
In my experience, as much as I generally disliked CO’s, it is unlikely so many of the officers would be brutal or blindly allow other officers to commit abuses (at least not out in the open). Usually, there was a good mix of officers who:
- Wanted to be friends (particularly dangerous)
- Were extremely professional (best)
- Were mildly unprofessional
- Were on the goon squad
- Were corrupt and craven
Anyway, more on the CO’s later. And if you have forgotten, they are not guards because they don’t guard anything.
Oh, in case you were wondering about why Daya was reluctant to take the candy bar, it is an old prison convention that if you take candy from someone, that means you are “with” them…as in with them sexually.
When I was in quarantine (where they prepare you for admission to prison), they even showed us an educational film which included a dramatic reenactment of someone making the mistake of taking candy (very serious).
4. SUZANNE’S WORLD
I loved the opening montage of Suzanne watching “television.”
If you didn’t get it, Suzanne was translating everything she saw from her cell window, through her own extremely unique point of view, into seeing it as if she were watching television and could simply change the channel when something was disturbing to her.
Suzanne has not had her regular schedule of meds or been keeping to her daily routines, for at least a week and throughout it all…there was incredible disruption, brutality, and rapid change surrounding her. Suzanne is trying desperately to make digestible and palatable all of the horrors that she is seeing.
It made total sense that she would process what she couldn’t digest as if she were watching television or talking to her mother.
It would have seemed bizarre to see her lawyer working so hard to get her released from SHU and back into the general population…Except that these were the same instructions he has followed throughout the entire duration of the series. It is unlikely that Suzanne, especially in her current state, would be able to communicate the higher danger level that she will face in a maximum security prison as opposed to the minimum security camp she has lived in for years.
My favorite scene in the entire episode was the one where Suzanne was being evaluated by the psychiatrist and starts imagining everyone around her is doing the “Cha Cha Slide.”
No matter what is going on, Suzanne always tries to finds her way to making lemonade out of lemons. I hope she can somehow turn the general population experience in Max into something pleasant (I really hate it when they are cruel to Suzanne).
A quick side note here:
I am having a really hard time with Frieda attempting suicide. I know her entire secret world was discovered and destroyed (when everything went up in smoke at the end of the riot), but nothing about Frieda has ever suggested that she was the suicidal type prior to this season (remember she famously dealt with her ex-husband by, well, removing a part).
3. BEWARE BADISON
I met people like Badison in prison, total sociopaths who enjoy and even feed off the violence and chaos of prison. One of the guys on the basketball team I coached in prison was, like Badison, both charismatic and volatile in just this way.
She might seem a little hyper-real but there are many people in prison you don’t want to get on the wrong side of.
It took literally ten seconds of listening to Piper whining about Alex for Badison to decide to injure her badly enough to send her to medical.
Red is also just a bit full of sh*t here.
Badison is right, when you have serious time, getting new charges don’t really matter too much to you She enjoys causing trouble, likes hurting people, and could give two damns about Red’s family. And, to be fair, Red and her gang are great people but not particularly “fighting” tough…at least not in the fighting tough sense. We do love them, and Red is crafty, but if you remember back to Season 2, she is not exactly a great fighter in the trenches.
I feel like Red is really trying to convince herself, as much as she is trying to convince Badison, that she is ready to step up to this new — and very real — challenge.
And, on top of that, she has only ONE real fighter in her crew and that fighter just attempted to commit suicide. I am sure, in the end, it will all work out okay (because it’s television), but Red hasn’t even gotten to Gen Pop yet and already she has made a powerful enemy (and remember, in Suzanne’s dream, Red was a clown).
Badison has also left a marker with Piper When Piper returns, people will expect her to either step up to Badison or be considered weak.
2. FANTASY INMATE
Episode one introduced us to an entire roster of new CO’s:
- G. Hellman
- D. Garza
- T. Ward (Taystee’s friend)
- J. Alvarez
- V. Copeland (seems to be in charge)
Apparently, these CO’s (or at least the ones in SHU) play a game called “Fantasy Inmate” in which they draft inmates and are assigned points based upon the activities that those inmates that they “own” engage in.
Probably would never happen for a LOT of reasons but the first and probably most important reason is that CO’s are just as terrified of pissing off the inmates as inmates are of terrifying the CO’s. They are not terrified of individual inmates necessarily, but they don’t want to unify inmates against them (as a general rule).
How different is this game from audience members having reasons for why they adopt one or another inmate as their favorite cast member? How different is this game, or how we watch Orange Is the New Black, from how Suzanne processes what is going on all around her at the beginning of this episode?
And I think that gets to an important point, once you make someone into an “other” it becomes harder and harder to treat them as a human being worthy of respect and dignity. This game is an example of how, in prison, the relationship between correctional officers and prisoners is inherently unhealthy and dangerous.
One of the reasons, many years ago, to cover Orange Is the New Black was that it generally treated its inmates like human beings. Every inmate “had a story” worth telling and who weren’t reduced constantly to caricatures or who weren’t allowed to be more than their worst moments.
I am a little concerned that some of the depictions of violence in episode one are getting very close to crossing the line from subjectivity into exploitation (where they are more for the titillation of the audience than they are about serving the narrative).
In particular, the shower scene where CO’s Hellman and Garza force the girls, while handcuffed, to “make out” seemed a bit over the line.
Are CO’s sexually inappropriate and sexually abusive in prison? Of course, they are.
But it seemed a bit cartoonish, especially immediately following Gloria and Maria’s “run-fighting” during Recreation time.
I hope that I am wrong about this one, but I won’t lie, I found myself feeling several times throughout “Who Knows Better Than I” whether some of the depictions of violence during this episode seemed more gratuitous than necessary.
Okay, that is it for week one!
On the whole, I thought it was immediately obvious that they were taking this season much more seriously than they seemed to take Season 5.
UNLOCKING THE GATES
New recaps come out once a week (usually on Sunday mornings). You can catch up on the first 65 episode recaps by reading this guide to Orange, Black, or Bleak.
I am a member of a Criminal Justice Reform organization called Nation Outside(The Voice of the Formerly Incarcerated) but I am not speaking for Nation Outside in any official capacity.
If you are interested in criminal justice reform or are formerly incarcerated yourself, please consider joining the fight (if you are a Michigan resident — you can sign up by clicking on the hyperlink above).
Originally published at onpiratesatellite.com.