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what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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The Piper Problem on “Orange is the New Black”

I just finished the third season of Netflix’s successful series “Orange is the New Black” and to my delight, Lynchfield Federal Penitentiary is just as fucked up a place as season two left it.

NETFLIX Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) works the Ôpanty millÕ in Orange Is the New Black.

NETFLIX
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) works the Ôpanty millÕ in Orange Is the New Black.

“Orange is the New Black” is successful and compelling because it is told from a white, middle class, educated woman’s perspective. Due to her background, the show’s founder Piper Kerman was able to communicate the some of the horrors of America’s prison system to people who would not normally have first or second hand knowledge. This social phenomenon is the same as when Hannibal Burress pointed out a well kept but open Hollywood secret that Bill Cosby is a rapist; people of the same class or group of people are more likely to be listened to when they have more privilege than the group of people who are typically victims within a social phenomenon. In the case of prison, lower income and less well educated persons as well as people of color are statistically more likely to have more of either a first or second hand experience with the American prison system. Kerman spoke for the unspoken, which obviously has its flaws because the perspective is one of solipsism. Though in OINTB’S case, there is at least something to suggest that there is a certain level of self consciousness in it’s own middle classed white lady solipsism. However, this makes Piper’s character even less likable than some of the characters in HBO’s “Oz”. As Vice.com commented rather rashly, some people even would want the character dead.

Piper is white, educated, without ethics, crafty, and aware of the loopholes of both the corporate world and the prison world. She is also somewhat fearless due to her privilege and lack of morals and ethics. She lacks a moral code because she sees no problem in lying in order to gain a more favorable position. She lacks a clear ethical code because of how often she contradicts herself due to her lack of a moral compass, she could not articulate clearly why she committed one deed but not another other than a mean’s to an ends. In the third season, the disgusting nature of private prisons makes its way to Lynchfield. This brings many problems, from incompetent staff, to overcrowding, gruel that no one really deserves to eat, and what is modern corporate slave labor. By contracting out labor for pennies (or one whole dollar, essentially worth pennies in this economy) corporate prisons join with corporations that produce goods in an immoral system that exploits prisoners and keeps the oppressive prison industrial complex so intricate that arguably without it, the cost of goods would soar exponentially high. Of course, this is not solely due to the cost of labor being so outrageous. This is mostly due to outrageous CEO salaries and corporate subsidies provided for by congressional favors. In other words, because of people who think like Piper, the world is truly a shitty place.

In America, it is constitutionally ethical that the minimum number of persons stay in prison for an appropriate sentence based on the harm done to society by his or her actions. It is not ethical to contract out this state mandated responsibility because of the constitutional protections Americans are entitled to receive. Prisoners should use the time they are sentenced to reflect of the negative nature of their lives and what happened to get them involved in the correction system. They should be offered programs and services to rehabilitate them to optimize their purpose in society. Prisoners should not be further degraded by staff or expected to receive an undue amount of physical punishment, and certainly prisoners should not be exploited.

The way that the corporate prison system in OINTB and the mindset of Piper are both of an exploitative orientation toward prisoners. For the corporate fucks, overcrowding bunks and dormitories, giving substandard food, and making a maximum profit margin on human suffering was an appropriate way to organize their time and effort when given the task of caring for American prisoners. For Piper, a whole prison full of underprivileged, under educated, and economically disadvantaged women was a playpen for making money from sexually inclined weirdos. Scheming, she used the panty sewing business the prison industrial complex bestowed upon the Lynchfield women and the natural secretions of the human body to pay pennies on the dollar for the panty wearing lady prisoners and earn herself a pretty profit just like the corporate fucks she was being imprisoned by.

Overall, season three was entertaining and well written, but Piper’s character has truly taken a turn for the worst. It is unclear how season four will karmically bestow retribution on Piper, something she is too dim witted to realize.

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The Significance of HBO’s “Oz”

Prison fascinates me, as an American I have somewhat of an obligation to be at the least minimally interested. Paradoxically, the worlds largest democracy imprisons the most number of human beings on the planet in jails, prisons, and detention centers for persons who illegally crossed into America. A nation of privilege, Americans are prudent to ensure the correct persons enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As a public policy, I disagree with mandatory disenfranchisement of the prison population. If a person commits a political crime, then it is logical to restrict their participation in the political sphere. Granted, when a person commits a violent crime they are trespassing against society, but as Kantian logic dictates, the law is not the utmost determinant of justice. The law can and is manipulated to target certain populations and limit their power within society. Using the loss of the right to vote as an example, despite the fact that prisoners cannot participate in the voting process, their populations are still weighed when determining political districting. That is, even though they cannot vote, they are still counted when figuring out how many representatives a county gets, how much funding an area receives, and the number of electoral votes a state has, which is particularly significant for states that hold federal prisons because federal prisoners can easily be moved from state to state. If prisoners themselves are disenfranchised, then they should not be counted within the political process. This is a manipulation of the law that distorts the political process.

Previous attempts to watch “Oz” were not successful. I found the entire concept too distressing, and couldn’t get past the first ten minutes. However, now after knowing people who have been to jail or prison or both combined with my personal interest to understand the American prison system, I felt compelled to watch the series in its entirety. This was psychologically somewhat exhausting, and completely shocking. First, as a film and television connoisseur, I was fascinated with how the producers and director of the series decided to tell the tale of the Oswald State Correctional Facility, level four (maximum security). Using Brechtian style techniques, “Oz” is one of the only series I have seen successfully pull off a narrator for the entirety of the series. “Sex and the City” attempted this and failed miserably, and generally television and film stay away from direct character narration because it is difficult to integrate into the work. The narrator in “Oz” is a wheelchair bound murderer and drug dealer named Augustus Hill who was thrown off a roof during the bust that sent him to prison thus causing a spinal injury that disabled him. By using something called “Verfremdungseffekt” (“distancing technique” in German) the audience is removed from the immediate storyline of “Oz” and let into one of the prisoner’s minds with Augustus’ narration. It is partly used to show the absurdity Oz’s world, and partly used to allow the audience to process the dramatic and raw portrayal of life in a maximum security prison. Harrold Perrineau (“Matrix Revolutions”, “Sons of Anarchy”, Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliette”) does a fantastic job of bringing the audience into the mind of a prisoner. Augustus guides us through the alliances that have been made, through the seedy underside of the prison black market system, and gives us a peek into how a world of violence effects people.

“Oz” is also one of the most Buddhist shows I have ever seen. Raised as Buddhist, I see the world as the equivalent of a harsh paradise. My father, also a Buddhist, calls the world a beautiful assault. One of the main question raised in “Oz” is the profound conundrum of finding a reason to live despite the harshest, most ruthless, devastating, degrading, and oppressive conditions a society has to offer. One of the questions of Buddhism is finding peace within the world despite the hardships. Can a person find a way to have peace in prison, the show asks us. Is there a way to reconcile the devastation with the desire to see another day? “Oz” gives the answer that despite devastating conditions, humans are hardwired to survive and continue the struggle, whatever it may be. The show also gives credence to the idea that there are individuals who thrive on suffering, those who enjoy violence for violence’s own sake, and people who are truly twisted and bizarre. To be a human is to witness the outrageous.

Certainly, “Oz” has its downfalls. Some of the storylines are bizarre and ill planned giving the effect that one is watching a soap opera. This is only at its worst though, generally the show avoids that feeling. However, given the high shock of the graphic nature of “Oz”, the show avoids sentimentalism for sensationalism’s sake while having the pitfall of overindulgence.

“Oz” will haunt you and leave you feeling psychologically tried. Witnessing a severe portrayal of depraved humanity is not an easy undertaking. I often wondered who exactly watched the show at the time of its airing from 1997-2001 but I suppose one could wonder why I watched this show in 2015.

A society can be viewed by how it treats its prison population. The purpose of prison should be to segregate those who dysfunctionally participate in society and provide them with either an opportunity to improve themselves as citizens of a country, or to ensure that they cannot participate in society because they are too dangerous. “Oz” asks us to suspend our disbelief that we could like any of these individuals who have trespassed against society and possibly see them for their humanity beyond the scope of the worst of their actions.


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Corporate American Prison Culture

I know a lot about prison culture. This is from academic study, intellectual thought of that study, and personally knowing people who have been to prison. I also know a person who was for a short time a prison guard. Some of the most intelligent people I know have not achieved graduation from high school and instead spent their time focusing on immediate survival because the most dire of circumstances were occurring in their lives. They are beautiful human beings who have been forced through a series of situations, both beyond their control and within the scope of their control should they have made wiser choices at the time, to embrace the view of the world that we contain both the capability for doing bad deeds for reasonable reasons, such as feeding one’s own child and providing for their family in ways that they would not be able to achieve by the legally presented choices that are available to them. For some this had to do with race, but always it had to do with economic status. The intersecionality of race, socioeconomic status, and gender made each person’s experience unique in regards to how they interacted within what could be called, “the underworld”.

My time in the underworld was extremely colorful. I met some of the most influential people in my life, individuals who contributed greatly to my formation. All of these individuals committed illegal acts. Many of these individual’s familes knew that they committed crimes in order to make a living and accepted the money in order to live. I take a Kantian view of the law: the law is not inherently moral or ethical just because it is the law. Some of these individuals were my lovers, others were just my friends.

Currently, after devouring “The Jinx”, I tuned into “Oz” on Hbo.go (thank the Buddha for whoever came up with the idea of putting all of HBO’s programming online).  Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Harper’s and to my delight, Harper’s Index (an assortment of statistics that reveals a theme about domestic public policy or economic’s or sociological facts) focused it’s first on the American prison system, an institution I personally devote a lot of time to studying both academically and recreationally. Through my journey of “Oz”, I have found myself profoundly questioning the corporate American prison system. While reading Harper’s statistics, I found myself morally obligated to share my feelings and opinions publicly. For example,

  • Minimum number of times in 2014 that Rikers Island correction officers broke the bones of an inmate: 98
  • Days of solitary confinement a South Carolina prisoner was assigned in 2012 for threatening a prison employee: 41
  • Years of solitary confinement he was assigned in 2013 for posting on Facebook: 37

Read those last two statistics again. From this specific example, we can see that this inmate was being made an example of in the second statistic. In the first, we see what is viewed as a routine occurrence within prison due to the culture of violence. What can be derived from these statistics? That prisoner’s having access to the first amendment beyond the scope of the walls of the prison is more dangerous than a threat of violence to one of the prison’s employee’s.

This should be disturbing to any American who supports the first amendment because the discrepancy is between days and years. What is so horrible that a prisoner could tell us beyond inane ramblings of an inmate.

This this or this.

I am unsure what America is attempting to accomplish with the endorsement of a demeaning and violent prison culture given we are the number one nation for locking people in cages. I do believe that we need prisons, yet morally I feel obligated that a society should ensure the minimum number of human beings are confined by chains. Serious crimes that are directly related to harming other human beings are crimes that should be applicable for confinement away from society for a period of time, and these crimes are both directly violent and non-violent yet harmful. I do not believe that there should be a tremendous amount of comfort in prison, there should be bare conditions however they should be humane. If not for the prisoners, I am concerned about the mental health of prison employees working in such dire conditions.

The more disturbing phenomenon in the combination of corporate and prison culture in America is obviously the private prison system. Like Blackwater and other mercenary armies, private prisons are the antithesis to a democratic society due to the lack of government oversight and the inherently disturbing nature of making money off of the suffering of other human beings. In fact, this could be psychologically compared to antisocial personality disorder, known in laymen’s terms as psychopathy. American corporatism at it’s most depraved has already been compared to having antisocial personality disorder, especially given the Supreme Court decision that endorses the legal principle that corporations are persons.

If corporations are persons, and there are private prisons that are owned by corporations, then that means some of these prisons function as dysfunctionally as the violent offenders they house. This is clearly an ethical and moral threat to democratic ideals.