How Realistic is Orange is the New Black?

Posted: 17th March 2015 by Texas Magnum in About Prisons, Inside

Having never spent time in women’s prison, I cannot say with certainty if Orange is the New Black is accurate or not. However, based on my own experiences of being an inmate in prison, I do have an opinion that it is doing pretty well, as far as prison shows go and depicting things realistically. Yes, there are clearly segregated groups, tensions, fights over stupid things, and there are lots of irrational, mean and actually nutty people in prison, and that includes inmates, guards and those in charge.

One thing they can’t portray in a Netflix TV series is smell. In prison there are lots of smells. A lot of them are pretty bad. You just can’t cram that many folks into one place without there being some odors. Also a pervasive smell of disinfectant lingers everywhere. I would say the reality in prison is it’s a bit less sanitary and not as nice as they have it depicted in Orange is the New Black. Not that they made it “nice” but it’s not as cramped and as tight and as claustrophobic as it really feels in there. And the noise – they don’t come close to portraying the noise. Maybe women are less loud, but mens’ prison is NOISY.

I guess one thing to consider is OITNB is meant to depict a federal penitentiary, and the federal facilities are known to typically be nicer than most state’s facilities, including Texas’ TDCJ system.

On a television show they can’t portray how you slip on a whole different cloak while you are in prison. This cloak has you walk the hallway without a smile on your face, and always with a 6th sense about what is behind you, what is around that next corner. You don’t let your guard down often. You keep that cloak on even while you sleep if you are smart. It’s a cloak that is hard to drop when you first get out.

The one technical aspect of the show that bugged me, and that is very common, is they mixed up the words probation and parole. Folks don’t get out of prison and go on probation. They are on PAROLE. They use this terminology wrong on OITNB.

Probation is what happens prior to prison, when they give you a chance to behave yourself for a certain period of time, to avoid every going to prison. A big portion of those incarcerated were at one time on probation, because the system is set up to make it pretty hard to succeed. You have to pay fines and do community service and keep yourself away from all sorts of trouble. Some people make it through and avoid prison, but a whole lot do not.

Now, parole is what happens when you are released from prison prior to your actual sentence being completed. You are released with the understanding you will do what you should do – work, go to AA or NA, and pay a fee to the parole office – for the duration of your sentence time. Depending on the crime you are sentenced for, the rules and regulations around this can vary. Some folks need to wear an electronic monitor or report in to their parole officer and submit to urine tests for illegal substances on a very frequent basis. Others are pretty much left to their own, as long as they don’t screw up.

But back to Orange is the New Black – it’s pretty well done and an interesting glimpse into prison life. I am looking forward to the next season and I bet a bunch of you are as well. Just do your self a favor, if you have a loved one that is incarcerated, do not take ANY of these shows, even the reality shows of “Behind Bars” and “Locked Up” too seriously or dwell on them – they are just shows made for our viewing entertainment, and I think they might make a person freak out unnecessarily.


  1. Shannon says:

    My friend was in Garza West for almost months.then to Byrd in Huntsville. While in Garza made parole, but has to do his changes class before being released on parole. Them he spent one night in Robertson (abeline), Clements (Amarillo) , and now Dalhart in Dalhart. He’s so far now up in North Texas now. I’ll keep sending jpays etc, but wonder where he will be released?

    • Texas Magnum says:

      Hey Shannon, chances are he will be sent to a release unit. They will let him know prior to release and also you can call the information line and get release information. You will need his TDC number and info. If somebody can’t go get him, then they will give him bus fare. Peace ~ Magnum

  2. Shannon says:

    Thank you. My friend just caught chain today. And it took 43 days. Not sure where he’s at now yet. Going to keep checking Tdcj website so I can find out his info. And use jpay. Me and some friends just put 300 bucks in his commissary Saturday….so does the money transfer to prison? Hopefully ill know more. I followed the nueces county website and used Vinelink. It showed he wasn’t in jail so I know….and I got a text from Vinelink stating it a couple hours later. Said he was moved from nueces county jail to Tdcj. It didn’t say which one…so I hope its ok

    • Texas Magnum says:

      Hey Shannon, Yes it is going to take a couple days for him to show up in the system. Just keep checking. When a person is transferred from one unit to the other in TDC, their commissary money follows them. But, the money you put in his commissary in county in Nueces I am not so sure. I would call the jail on that. If I am remembering right my money in county did not transfer but I’m not real sure and it wasn’t anything close to $300 anyway. By the way, having some money for essentials in TDC is a good thing, for sure. But having too much money is not necessarily a great thing. You don’t want people thinking you’ve got it way easier than they do. You kind of want to keep a low profile. Peace ~ Magnum

  3. Shannon says:

    Hello, my friend finally has gone to court for evading arrest in a motor vehicle…it happened Monday and he got two years. He’s still at county. Anyone have any idea how long he will be in county? When does the two years start?

    • Texas Magnum says:

      Hi Shannon, it can take a little bit to catch chain, which is the expression for getting picked up at county and sent to prison. It will vary quite a bit, but he will probably be in county for a couple weeks or so. Just keep an eye on the county jail records and then when he doesn’t appear you can start to look for him on TDC. Once he is picked up from county and sent to TDC, first he will go to a intake prison and then sent to his home unit. It may take a couple days when he is in between places that he will not show up in in the TDC inmate locator, and that is sometimes very stressful to the family and friends on the outside. You can go to and find him pretty fast too, its a service to send money to an inmate. When an inmate arrives at prison they have nothing and if you can help him out by depositing $10 or $20 he can buy himself his personal hygiene items he needs. You can also send letters in that is like email on your end, but on his end they will print the letter out and deliver it to him. It’s the fastest way to communicate with someone inside. Good luck to you and your friend and peace ~ Magnum