Movie Monday – Orange is the New Black and why I relate to it on a personal level

I had been hearing buzz about Orange is the New Black lately but I hadn’t really listened until Don watched a handful of episodes and told me he thought I’d like it. So I had to check it out, was immediately hooked, and then we binge watched the rest of Season 1 together. I, LOVE it. I’m jonesing for Netflix to release Season 2. Interestingly, as I wrote this, I learned the series is based on a BOOK! Gosh, I’m so behind the times. Another title added to my ‘to read’ list on GoodReads.

If you’re not familiar with the series, it is about a middle-class, seemingly straight-laced, 30-something woman whose youthfully misguided criminal past catches up with her and lands her in federal prison for 15 months. If that’s not enough of a story pitch to peak your interest, it’s also based on true events! (Which I didn’t know until now.) I’m sure the series is embellished for the sake of making something that entertains. True stories always are. The series hooked me because I can relate to it on a personal level.

*SPOILER ALERT* I don’t come right out with spoilers but certain events can be inferred from descriptions below so if you’ve not seen the series and don’t want to know details yet, you might skip the rest of this post. 

Piper Chapman and her boyfriend Larry decide to get engaged, even after he finds out about her past and that she will be going to prison. The two foolishly (IMO) think that they will be able to weather the separation of 15 months with regular visits and phone calls. They quickly learn that their worlds no longer include one another. Larry must carry on with normal life and is pressed by his parent’s displeasure in his choice of partner; Piper becomes consumed by the drama, politics, and social structure of the prison, including steering clear of inmates who wish her harm. Their lives become divided by the day and their breakup seems inevitable.

Why does it seem inevitable to me? Because I found myself in a similar situation as a teenager. I was dating someone for some time before I learned that he had done something at a younger age, that had seemed at the time like a harmless stunt, but, in the end, it was not. It was years later that he was still in the process of being prosecuted, negotiated a plea, and was sentenced to serve time in juvenile detention. Like Larry in OITNB, I learned this long after I had developed strong feelings and I felt sure I could wait for him. So many years have gone by that I don’t remember how long we were together before I learned about his mistake, I don’t remember how long his sentence was, or how long I managed to hang in there with him. What I DO remember is the pressure I felt from friends and family that I was being foolish, that he wasn’t good for me given the circumstances, and I remember the visits at the detention center, the awkwardness, the distance that grew as our lives continued, disconnected. In the end, I broke under the pressure and left him. Granted, my experience was not quite the same as OITNB. He went to juvenile detention, not federal prison. But at our age that was still a pretty big deal.  I like to believe that my young age and inexperience contributed to my weakness of character, my lack of conviction. Because when I think back on the experience, it makes me feel like a terrible person. I feel badly to this day for abandoning someone who was, at the time, so important to me. This, makes OITNB so much more tangible to me.

Don’s response to OITNB has been quite different. He enjoys the back stories of each inmate, learning what makes each of them tick, why they are serving time, and how they have learned to make some semblance of life out of their time in prison. (I enjoy all these aspects too; it’s really what makes the series I think.) Don has also expressed wonder and disgust at Larry and Piper’s inability to remain true to one another. I understand his feelings. But I also understand Larry’s perspective too. I look forward to seeing how the story plays out in Season 2, and reading the book to get the real story behind it all too.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.
~ Ernest Hemingway 

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