Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I am an avid fan of the widely popular Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. I’ve been raving about the show since its first season in 2013, and ever since the conclusion of season two last July, I had been counting the days to the June 12th release of season three. It is not a show that you can just watch one episode at a time- I, along with many others, am a binge watcher. My husband and I watched both seasons one and two in two days. The show is based on its main character, Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling. Chapman (inmates are called my their last names) is sentenced to 15 months in Litchfield Penitentiary, a federal prison in Upstate New York, for a crime (smuggling drug money into another country) she’d committed a decade earlier. It follows Piper’s experience from when she turns herself in to the present. The enthralling part of the show is how it follows several inmates’ lives, explaining what led to the “big house.” Orange is the New Black has plenty of comedy, plenty of drama, and even more OMG moments. In addition, it touches on several Women’s Health Issues that make me curious about the correlation between the show and the lives of real-life female prisoners.  

One of the earliest female health issues came about when inmate Sophia Burset, a transsexual convict, played by Laverne Cox, had to deal with a sudden change the dosage of her hormones due to prison budget cuts. Burset was forced to figure out how to get what she needed to sustain, from trying to persuade older inmates to give her their hormones, to trying to get her wife to smuggle them in during their visits. Eventually, the prison went back to its regular practices, and Burset began to receive again what she needed. If this were to happen in reality, what options would an inmate have?

Inmate Dayanara “Daya” Diaz, played by Dascha Polanco, gets pregnant while incarcerated through a relationship she developed with one of the correctional officers. It’s truly an untraditional love story but sadly, Daya cannot report that she’s pregnant because if anyone finds out, her lover will lose his job and be labeled as a sex offender. While her prison friends and family (her mom is also an inmate) know about the soon coming baby, she is unable to get prenatal care because she cannot admit to the pregnancy.

Inmate Rosa Cisneros, played by Barbara Rosenblat, suffers from cancer. While the type of cancer she has is never stated, Rosa is often transported to chemotherapy visits. Her story line isn’t widely discussed, but often times, inmates complain of mold and other terrible conditions that fester in the prison. It leads you to wonder how she survives in such conditions, when her immune system is so weak.

While Orange is the New Black is a fictional show, it leads me to question the degree to which real-life inmates face similar challenges. As future practitioners of Women’s Health, how can you be leaders of change in the health of incarcerated women?

By Angela Woods