Keeping It Real: How 'OITNB' Continues To Make Prison Inmates So Relatable

by Howard Rudnick

Warning: Spoilers are revealed throughout this article.

If you've been living under a rock, that's very unfortunate because you've been missing out on one of the greatest television shows ever made.

"Orange is the New Black (OITNB)" is based on the true story of Piper Kerman, who spent a year in a women's correctional facility for money laundering.

Her novel, along with the help of Jenji Kohan, has brought to the forefront of pop culture a vast array of women who are locked up and facing very real issues.

From black, white, Hispanic and Asian, to gay, straight, bi and transgender, the women who grace the halls of Litchfield Correctional Facility are a complex but eclectic group.

These characters are showcasing what it means to be a woman in today's society.


Sophia, played by the outstanding and bold, Laverne Cox, is a transgender inmate who is serving time at Litchfield as a result of transitioning form male to female via illegal means.

Sophia is the first transgender individual most, if not all, of the women in Litchfield have encountered. Season after season, we have learned more and more about her backstory.

Sophia knew deep in her heart she was always meant to be a woman, but she didn't necessarily have the means to transition. She has a family, one that is both understanding and also still adjusting.

Season three finds Sophia at the forefront of a storyline that intertwines with Gloria, the feisty and fast-talking Latina in charge of the kitchen.

They both have sons who mean the world to them, but it's Sophia's prejudices and ignorance that set her on a course of irreparable circumstances.

Sophia loves her son very much, but it's her need to want to be both her son's mother and father that clouds her judgment.

A confrontation with Gloria gets the rumor mill flowing about Sophia's transition, and whether or not Sophia truly is a woman.

We see Sophia suffer a hate crime at the hands of ignorant and uneducated women, and we see her suffer for her identity by being locked away for her own protection.

Sophia's plight is one that prisons now are having to face, but because it's not common, it takes some time to learn, make adjustments and to become accepting.

The story of Sophia is one that not only brings the spotlight to transgender individuals in mainstream society, but those who have unfortunately found themselves behind bars.

It's allowed for an open dialogue about these issues and to continue to talk, discuss and become educated about said topic.

The Spanish Block's Need to Be A Mother

The women in the Spanish block, led by Gloria, are all struggling to find their comfort levels of being mothers and defining what it means to be one behind bars.

Gloria, the often tough and protective momma bear of her kitchen girls, is struggling with not being there for her son, Benny.

She knows he deserves more in life, but behind bars, she can't do that. Her need to protect him causes her to butt heads with Sophia.

She, of course, is egged on by her friend and other momma bear, Aleida, who knows she has to do whatever it takes to protect her children.

Gloria doesn't lose hope for her son, Benny, and it is because of the actions of Sophia's son that she feels a bit of relief she's done something right, even from behind bars.


Aleida and her daughter, Daya, are struggling over what to do with Daya's baby.

Aleida knows her granddaughter deserves better, but she doesn't always show the kindness or compassion that goes along with those sentiments.

Daya thought Bennett was the love of her life, but he has walked away from her and the baby.

The thought of baby Diaz living with its nieces and nephews and Aleida's boyfriend scares Daya.

Throw in that Aleida is trying to sell Daya's baby, and you have for one terrible, complex situation.

Pornstache's mother, who is willing to take care of a baby, which ends up not even being biologically hers, proves people will always want a second or third chance to do right.

And, while the outcome wasn't in her favor, her intent was well-meaning.

Daya's decision to keep her baby may not have been the best decision, but a mother's love knows no boundaries and no limits.

The concept of being a mother, regardless of your situation, is played out and tugs on the heart strings of viewers of "OITNB."


Brook Soso, who we see trying to find her place at Litchfield this season, has lost a bit of her spunk. She is down, can't find her identity and isn't bonding with Chang, who seems to be the only other Asian in the facility.

She tries to find solace in joining the followers of Norma, but is easily rejected by Leanne because her opinion was not the same.

Soso feels as if she's depressed and in need of a friend, a mentor, or guidance counselor, which sends her in the direction of Healy; instead of trying to help her, he subscribes her medication.

Healy, who is dealing with his own mess of a life, thinks he knows what's best for the inmate, and this sets Soso on a course of downward destruction.

The idea that prescribing meds to a person who is depressed brings forth the topic of when medication should and should not be prescribed.

Healy's willingness to prescribe meds, over actually helping her, shows that just because an individual is "trained" or "educated" on a specific matter, does not mean he or she necessarily knows the correct course of action.

Soso is bullied by Leanne, who goes as far as to cut her hair in the middle of the night, and this wallowing causes her to attempt to take her own life.

Poussey, whose plight is similar this season, finds Soso unconscious and, instead of just leaving her there, chooses to do the right thing and save her.

Soso was just looking to be accepted by her fellow inmates, but because of the various racial barriers and cliques, didn't find her "home" until she was at her lowest point.

The culmination of her journey to seek acceptance and discover her identity is ever-present in the finale with her joining Taystee, Poussey, Crazy Eyes and the rest of the crew.

Their friendship exists outside of racial barriers set up by the prison industrial complex.


Jenji and her team delve a little further into the journey that has brought Pennsatucky to Litchfield, and we learn that in her past life, she has made a lot of mistakes with her body.

Her six abortions, coupled with being raped and using sex as a means to get what she wants, have scarred her emotionally.

Her friendship, and then-sexual relationship with correctional officer Pearson, turns nasty when he rapes her because she's given him the idea that she wants him.

This, in turn, causes her to take drastic action, but it's her indecision to get revenge on her rapist by sodomizing him and, instead, avoiding her van duty by getting one over on him.

It helps show that Pennsatucky is a human being, and that two wrongs don't make a right, no matter how good it may feel.

Redemption, family, motherhood and individuality are all showcased on "Orange is the New Black" this season, and it's these storylines that help weave a very fascinating, heart-wrenching tale that comes to our screens every year.

Kudos, Jenji Kohan, and congrats on another great season.