Americans love reality TV. There are a few shows that give viewers a glimpse of the “inside” life of prisons but I doubt the majority of Americans watch these shows or would even choose it when given a choice with CSPAN. Who wants to see the gory behind-the-scenes details of our toughest prisons? That’s too real. Instead, viewers prefer the sugar-coated entertainment of shows like Orange is the New Black and don’t realize how real the pain and terror can be inside America’s prisons. However, despite its script and watered-down representation of prison life, fictional Orange is able to give audiences a dose of real life, gritty America.
Our society puts great stock in authenticity these days; from organic foods, to “less is more,” to the glorification of “being yourself” as the perpetual best policy we delude ourselves with thinking we just naturally pursue truth. However, when we enter our little worlds of entertainment and dream, we sometimes allow the fiction to mask the biting reality that surrounds us. We, as Americans, wish we could fix our country’s social problems — inequality, crime, and poverty. Yet, we don’t like studying these issues in order to better understand and fix them. We like to pretend that they don’t exist and allow their softer, fictional representations to rock us to sleep at night. Why? These problems aren’t pretty. In fact, they are ugly, depressing, and, bottom line, they scare us.
Orange is the New Black is “edgy,” it has some funny writing, decent actors, and offers a unique premise compared to the myriad of crime shows and comedies on today. The setting is a women’s prison? Unique. Audiences are allowed to enjoy the warm moments of Orange, but we should never forget their real-life basis, the “reality” behind the fiction. (There really is a Piper who went to prison!)
The premise of the show (women surviving in prison) and the issues that Orange unearths in some of its episodes (acceptance, class and racial inequality) are ideas that we as individuals need to recognize and face head on. The first step is for some of us to admit they exist.
China publicly congratulated “bright idealistic” NSA leaker Edward Snowden for exposing “the bleakest moment yet in the history of the Internet,” and said in the Xinhua editorial that he’s welcome in People’s Republic.
China doesn’t mention that it holds 69 bloggers behind bars, according to the latest Reporters Without Borders statistics.
“The case indicates that through outsourcing and contracting, Big Brother is breaching the fundamental rights of citizens by getting unfettered access to their most personal communications,” says Xinhua.
“As the case unfolds, there are many things to worry about. How do we make sense of the fact that the market and the state colluded in the abuse of private information via what represents the backbone of many modern day infrastructures? How do we rationalize the character of Snowden and his fellow whistleblowers? How do we understand the one-sided cyber attack accusations the U.S. has poured upon China in the past few months? To what degree have foreign users of these Internet services fallen victim to this project?”
The official government mouthpiece called the case “a rare chance to reexamine the integrity of American politicians and the management of American-dominant Internet companies, and it appears that while many of these individuals verbally attack other nations and people in the name of freedom and democracy, they ignore America’s worsening internal situation.”
Very seldom do liberals and conservatives agree on much of anything these days, but there is one area where we should have some common cause. Over at the liberal website Alternet, Bill Berkowitz has written a piece called, “Cruel Country: Debtors Prisons Are Punishing the Poor Across America”:
In the 1990s, Jack [Dawley's] drug and alcohol addictions led to convictions for domestic violence and driving under the influence, resulting in nearly $1,500 in fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court. Jack was also behind on his child support, which led to an out-of-state jail sentence.” After serving three and a half years in Wisconsin, Dawley, now sober for 14 years, is still trying to catch up with the fines he owes, and it has “continue[d] to wreak havoc on his life.”
…The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors’ prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country.
In 2011, Think Progress’ Marie Diamond wrote: “Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It’s a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor’s prisons.”
…This year’s ACLU report….points out that many poor “Ohioans … convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine an affluent defendant may simply pay … and go on with his or her life [find the fine] unaffordable [launching] the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.”
According to the report, Ohio courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties “are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.
…CBS Money Watch’s Alain Sherter recently reported that “Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts, from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions’ Equal Protection Clause.”
Wreaking havoc on ordinary peoples’ lives
Jack Dawley: “You’d go do your ten days, and they’d set you up a court date and give you another 90 days to pay or go back to jail… It was hard for me to obtain work, so I fell back into the cycle of going to jail every three months.”
Paying money to people you owe can’t just be an “optional” thing. The government must be allowed to force people to pay their debts or our entire system of commerce would break down. That being said, it’s immoral, unconstitutional and even counter-productive to put someone in jail for being truly unable to pay his debts. How are you going to earn enough to pay what you owe if you’re in jail?