August 6, 2013

5 Reasons Why I Can Relate to an Inmate. ~ Emily Maillet

I haven’t watched TV in years.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the television and watched an actual show—it might’ve been the Royal Wedding April 29, 2011, and then I was only half watching due to being at a friend’s house mid a riveting conversation.

Feel free to ask all my loved ones for confirmation on this one: I don’t own a television.

When I was a kid, we didn’t really have a TV either, we had a box with rabbit ears on it and some dial that turned and clicked in order to find channels that came in. Because of that, I became highly addicted to PBS shows like Arthur, which I watched well into my teens despite being berated by my peers.

When I did watch TV, it was such a novelty I found myself instantly addicted, like those children that are deprived of high fructose corn syrup their entire lives and then they find themselves face to face with a twice the shelf life Twinkie: like these poor, hungry children, my own lack of constraint ensued and I went wild.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like what TV did to me as a person. I did not like feeling lazy and grumpy after, or the headache that it gives you staring at a screen for too long. So, I quit cold turkey about four or five years ago and haven’t gone back….until…..Netflix.

Now, in my favor, Netflix is not really TV. It’s better. You get TV without the commercials and without ever having to flip through to find a new show, you can just watch the same show all the way through the entire season. This is a danger to people like me, those who are a breathing, walking relapse waiting to happen.

Two days ago, because I’m home alone and had nothing to do for the whole day yesterday, I found a show called Orange is the New Black. You may have heard of it, starring Taylor Schilling, who is a well-to-do, former Master Cleansing, whole-grain-eating, intelligent, funny, beautiful, entrepreneur and Smith graduate who gets put behind bars because of her involvement in a drug smuggling operation in her past life.

I’ve been riveted and watched, despite them being an hour a piece, no less than eight episodes of this in the past three days!!! I have laughed, cried, and find myself feeling like I can identify with so many of the feelings and emotions that this woman is going through.

I wanted so badly for it to be a true story, even though I knew some of the details were a bit sketchy (one girl was somehow able to wear earrings in prison, which I know they don’t allow) in the show, and this morning: lo, and behold, I found out. It is a true story!

Orange Is the New Black was a book written by Piper Kerman (the character in the show is Piper Chapman).

1. Every sentence is a story.

The show does a great job at making you fall in love with each and every character, even though at first some of them seem detestable, they weave in their personal stories of how they ended up in prison and by the end of an episode, you’re realizing that the inmate that threatens everyone with violence has had a really tough life.

I can relate to this because I have recently come to realize the same thing about my fellow human beings, taking time to understand that each and every person has a past that has formed who they are now gives me a lot more compassion and sympathy, and understanding, for anything erroneous they may do.

It also gives me a chance to offer myself some slack and grace, as I realize the most important thing is doing the best that you can, with the circumstances you are in.

2. Piper Chapman does not mind sticking out like a sore thumb.

When our heroine (no pun intended) first walks into the prison, she realizes she is not like many of the other inmates.

She is well-educated, funny, sarcastic, and a sensitive and emotional being (and Lord, knows, of course I can relate to that!). However, she also comes to accept that she was not this way in her past criminal involvement and therefore has to do her time just like everyone else. Through all of this, and the fact that she knows she is somehow way out of her league, she attempts to fit in and befriend many of her “roommates.”

She is racially profiled and called “Cracker” and treated like the “newbie” who is feeling like a foreigner in her own country. Sometimes, you have to just fake it, even if you’ll never make it.

I remember in high school and college feeling like a weirdo, because I got a really late start on school, didn’t know what an “exam” was or whether or not getting a 29 on one was good or bad, and had lived most of my life under a rock.

At first, I was fresh meat to be picked on and challenged, I was the strange one. But as I worked on flying under the radar by befriending people, it helped me maintain my weirdness and yet not have to constantly worry about defending myself. People often don’t know why, but they end up liking people that are nice to everyone.

In the show, Piper not only stands out when compared to the status quo prisoners, she also stands out in her own circle of friends, as none of them have dark and dastardly pasts or could even conceive of the idea of a dark, dank correctional facility.

3. Like Piper, I have/have had friends in prison.

People get thrown into the slammer for some pretty messed up stuff. This part of the show was relatively painful to watch, as I saw characters struggle with issues of missing their families, withdrawal, the painful and heartbreaking visitation experience, having to be away from the “pettiness” of the “real world,”being harassed and just the overall poor conditions.

That’s when the tears came, when I thought of folks I have known that have had to endure very similar, if not worse trials. It also saddens me that for some folks, they will never be free of the punishment system, as when they are released they often go right back to what they know, only to find themselves in the hands of the judiciaries time and time again.

4. She has a boyfriend named Jason.

Well, actually, in the show her boyfriend’s name is Larry, but his actor name is Jason. But still, it’s close enough.

5. Parts of my own life has felt like a prison sentence.

Being free is a choice. I recently read a book, called Shantaram in which the main character underwent torturous stays in prisons, more than once in his life. He also worked in the slums in India as a doctor, and traveled through the mountains of Afghanistan in the bitter cold. His entire life he longed for freedom, but not truly feeling it as he wandered gyspy-like from refuge to refuge, avoiding the law and being arrested.

Throughout the book, he realizes that no one can truly take away your freedom, even if they take away your physical freedom, your freedom of speech, etc. Freedom exists in the mind, and it is only ourselves that have the power to hold ourselves in true captivity.

I have often stamped the word “victim” across my mind, abused myself, deprived myself of joy and let my brain stew with thoughts of captivity and being locked down. Freedom is about having no limits, it’s about choosing to do your very best at each and every moment, and it’s about making the conscious decision to be grateful no matter what. Freedom is allowing yourself to give up isolation, to stop seeing things only through your own narrow perspective, and to open your mind, eyes and heart to the bigger picture at hand.

There is only now. That is freedom.

Now in the spirit of being free, I’m going to exercise and work out and get some errands done, so I can feel less guilty when I become a slave to my own addiction and watch more of this show later.

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Asst. Editor: Edith Lazenby/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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Emily Maillet