How Realistic is Orange is the New Black?

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.