We all know Piper’s story was true: she carried a suitcase of drug money in her days of adventure, but ends up behind bars for it ten years later. What we may not realize is how realistic Piper’s story is. Turns out, one in every five federal and state prison inmates is incarcerated for drug related crime. If that doesn’t have you feeling skirmish, compare it to this stat: only 3% of rapists will ever spend a day in prison.
Between delving into each woman’s back story and following the addictive lesbian love drama, it’s difficult to turn away from the 13-episode first season of Netflix’s new original series. At the end of it, though, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the series was fabricated and dramatized. Viewers have been accusing the show of being racist, sexist, and even homophobic for its representations of minorities. I wondered how true these claims could be, so I did some digging.
For starters, it’s good to note that the number of women incarcerated has gone up by 800% in the past three decades (for comparison, male incarceration went up 400%). Why is this? Has the women’s right’s movement led to more violent and aggressive women, or have more women been carrying suitcases of heroin money for their drug cartel girlfriends?
Strangely enough, the latter turns out to be true. The show does a good job of showing why these women end up in prison, as two thirds of women in prison are there for non-violent, drug related crimes. Piper, Alex, Nicky, Tricia, Daya and her mother are all examples of characters in for drug-related crimes. What Nicky laughingly refers to as “supply and demand” within the prison landscape stands the test of the stats; Netflix wasn’t exaggerating on the number of characters with time for drug related crime.
The only main issue with this depiction is the race of those convicted of drug-related crimes. In reality, five times as many whites use drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are ten times more likely to spend prison time for their usage.
The racial divide within OITNB’s prison landscape is definitely used for comedic and dramatic purposes, but is based off a harsh reality. “Whites,” “Blacks,” “Hispanics,” and “Others” do have a divide in prison, and outside to. Piper was shocked by the blatant racism of her fellow inmates when she first came to prison. This isn’t because Piper grew up in a world void of racism, but in a world where she didn’t have to see it. On a college campus, we don’t see the racially charged world of poverty and mistreatment. Everyone seems equal because, financially, we usually are. Even if you’re paying for your own tuition, it’s typically because your parents are still putting food in your mouth during the summer season. Piper had never seen the world in it’s true, unjust light before, the world that Tastee came from, where it’s actually safer to remain in prison than to try and live on minimum wage (think of the recent McDonald’s scandal) while sleeping on the floor in your second cousin’s house.
However, there is one character whose situation is certainly romanticized in the show. Sophia, a transgender woman, was fortunate enough to be correctly identified as a woman when sent to prison. However, unless a transgender inmate has had bottom surgery, they can be mis-gendered despite however long they’ve been living as their chosen sex – often times leading to sexual violence.
As for the show’s infamous fem-slashing, reality typically lives up to the stereotype. Lesbian relationships are likely to form in prison between “gays” and “gate gays.” A “gay” would be Nicky, who identifies as a lesbian, while a “gate gay” would be Lornam who identifies as straight but is with Nicky while incarcerated).
Even further, Piper’s sexual fluidity captures a scientifically realistic representation of female sexuality. Many studies over the past few years have shown that female sexuality is typically more fluid and interchangeable than male sexuality, and is not set in stone during puberty.
The show does a better job of representing a broad cast of female characters and the realistic stats of U.S. women’s prisons.