Over the weekend we finished season 2 of “Orange is the New Black“. Now my wife Sarah and I are going through withdrawal, which led to Sarah suggesting a brilliant opportunity for Netflix — a documentary with real life prisoners to tie into the popularity of the show.
(Note: While this is not overtly spoiler-y, there may be some vague references to seasons one and two, so if you wish to remain wholly ignorant of the show, stop reading now.)
Orange is the New Black is based on a memoir of the same name; while the book and show do split early on, in real life Piper Kerman did go to jail for smuggling drug money. Post-prison, she’s devoted much of her fame from the book and show to raising awareness about the prison system and how hard it can be to transition from being incarcerated to back into the world.
The show highlights many of these same issues; in season one a character is released on parole only to return to the prison in violation a few weeks later. She explains that having spent her life in foster care, group homes, and then prison; she simply couldn’t cope with freedom. They also show a woman giving birth in the prison, a story that’s returned to in season two as a heartbreaking subplot. And the words “compassionate release” will always sound sinister now. It’s nearly impossible to watch the show and not see the shades of gray in every prisoner’s story; they aren’t just criminals, they are mothers, sisters, and friends.
So now everyone is buzzing about Orange is the New Black, and weeping they have to wait a year to revisit their favorite slock toting prisoners. Netflix and Piper Kerman could keep the momentum of the show and the buzz by creating a documentary or a series of vignettes about real prisoners. I’m sure Sarah and I aren’t the only people who watched season two and wondered if real prisons were like the low points at Litchfield, or what it’s really like to grow old in the prison system. They could raise awareness for very serious and real issues, plus keep momentum going into season three.