Like most other college students I have an unapologetic obsession for Netflix. If I have free time you’ll most likely find me swaddled in a cocoon of blankets, inhaling handfuls of Swedish Fish, and sobbing over literally every episode of Parenthood (my new fav show). However, over the past week there’s been only one show on my mind: Orange is the New Black. After reading the announcement made by Netflix that OTNB is locked in for THREE. MORE. SEASONS. I pretty much screamed for a solid minute, jumped out of my Netflix blanket cocoon and thanked the television gods for birthing such a majestic, female-driven, gut-wrenchingly beautiful show.
I friggin’ love what this show has done to create feminist discourse about women’s prisons. And when I think about it, OTNB can actually take most of the credit for putting this conversation on the table in the first place. Too often our culture perceives the prison system as a justified punishment for lawbreakers when in reality, the system is kiiindof ridden with flaws. And while OTNB does a great job at pointing out some of these flaws (i.e. lack of necessary commissary goods, sexual assault, use of solitary confinement as a punishment) there are still plenty of issues that still need to be addressed. So instead of “patiently” waiting for my favorite Netflix show to grind out these issues, I’ve decided to do some research for myself and share with you drumroll: lucilleontheball’s Top Four Effed Up Problems Facing Female Prisoners. Lets do this:
- Living conditions found in jails and prisons are, in general, total crap (to say the absolute least)
While viewers may not consider the setting of OTNB a “luxery” prison experience, many individuals currently incarcerated would probably disagree. Take, for example, the Baltimore City Detention Center. A study reviewing the cases of over three dozen inmates incarcerated here uncovered a slew of harsh living and health conditions: moldy showers, excessively hot/humid air, “uncleanable” mattresses, and an overall lack of timely medications, assessments, and even supplies as fundamental as wheelchairs. Wheelchairs. While researchers of this study would like to assume that this is only the case for the Baltimore City Detention Center, they would unfortunately be wrong.
- 22 states still have protocols that allow prison administrators to shackle pregnant inmates WHILE GIVING BIRTH.
Degrading, dehumanizing, a complete breach of basic human rights. But it still happens.
- Feminine products like pads and tampons are often kept just out of reach from inmates in order to establish a power dynamic between the inmates and the administrators.
That’s right, according to this article sanitary products like pads and tampons are more of a commodity for women in prison instead of, I dunno, a basic health necessity. While female inmates are able to purchase more of these products from the commissary, most women simply can’t afford to. And asking a male guard for a tampon (which is typically the case) is simply degrading. Keeping these products just out of reach emphasizes to these women that the prison system is essentially in total control of their health, cleanliness, and self-esteem. It’s also yet another way that the patriarchy shames female menstruation.
- Prisons are now our nations largest mental health providers- but patients aren’t getting what they need.
In fact problems are really only getting worse- 62% of women in prisons suffer from mental health issues and the majority of them are not getting the help they need. Instead they are thrown into a seemingly unending cycle in which their mental health is neither acknowledged nor taken care of.
While the list of flaws built into our nation’s prison system could go on (and on, and on, and on) it’s important to understand our role in all of this. Before OTNB basically revolutionized our view of women’s prisons, the general idea was that if an individual, be it male or female, was sent to prison that was simply “what they deserved”. However, after watching Netflix put a face and story to these prisoners it became clear, to me at least, that this was almost never the case. No one deserves to be treated as sub-human. We’ve got to stop thinking of incarceration as a justified punishment and instead view it from a human rights perspective.