When Orange is the New Black (OITNB) first came to Netflix, I was unimpressed and didn’t bother to watch it. I’m not one to jump on the television bandwagon and, so far, wasn’t wowed by what I saw on the sound bites I caught.

Then a friend urged me to watch it. It was hilarious with some real life lessons to think about. So, being me, I binged on season 1 and found that I did like it. Like so many others, I got caught up with the story and empathized with these poor women who found themselves in a bad place. Like so many others, I glossed over the fact that they were criminals found guilty in a court of law. These were noble and valiant women trying to do their best to live their lives in through the prison system.

Then December 18th happened.

See, on December 18th, back in 1986 (that’s the date burned into my brain. Though, I admit I may be off a year on the date) a young girl named Charlotte Hazel Bass was found dead in a house fire. She never woke up and was overcome by the smoke in her sleep. She never had a chance. She was 18 years old. The fire was arson and the murder has never been caught.

Char (as she was known to me) was a friend. She was tough but kind. There was a core of steel in her that I admired but she was always sensitive to the needs and emotions of those around her. She was intelligent and beautiful.

December 18th is a day I’ll always remember.

Before I go further, I’d like to explain for those who’ve been living under a rock what OITNB is. See, one day, a woman named Piper Kerman went to jail. I’m not sure for what because I don’t remember the actual charge. I’m not sure if it was glossed over in the book or if my memory fails me at the moment. Likely a bit of both.

Anyways, this lovely young woman did a bad thing. So she went to prison like all the other women who did bad things. This white, middle class, straight laced woman was shocked to find herself in a bad place with other women who did bad things. When she came out of the bad place she decided to write a book about her experiences in the bad place. She also wrote about all the noble women trying to live their lives in the bad place with some respect and dignity.

Can you see where I start to have a problem here?

I remembered Char and how I’d never get to see her again. Piper got to return to her family. Char’s family split up. Piper got to return to her fiancé. Char will never have a fiancé. Piper got to have a great career as an advocate for prisoners. Char will never have a career. Piper will get to have kids. Char never will.

I saw Piper standing up for prisoner’s rights and, at first, stood with her. How awful things were in prison

(Char will never get to see the new Star Wars)

and how hard it was for prisoners to keep connected with their families.

(Char has a younger sister she never got to meet)

I felt bad for them. Criminals were humans, too. They deserved some dignity and respect.

(How much dignity is there in the ground?)

So I asked Piper some questions on Twitter. She never answered me. Instead, David Menschel took it upon himself to answer me. Why I never understood. I wanted to hear what Piper had to say. I wasn’t angry or confrontational, just confused. Didn’t my friend matter?

The issue of life without the possibility of parole came up and I asked what about the victims. Didn’t they matter? In one of many responses I got where he adamantly opposed the idea of life without parole, he had this to say;

Note: I think society listens to victims too much. I reject idea they should have more voice than others about crime policy.

I’m sorry? My friend got life without parole but it’s too much to ask that the person who did it to her should get the same? Her family, ripped apart by her death and given no justice, is heard too much? What about other victims? That addict who is doing life, whether he cleans up or not, doesn’t get a say? That abuse victim who will always live with her scars has too much of a voice?

In our law system, the victims have ALWAYS had the opportunity to give voice to the damage that the crime did to them. There is a reason that the victim’s words have the weight they do. The criminal is not going to willingly stand up and take responsibility for their actions. They never do no matter how many times they do it. So, there has to be a voice that can speak out and talk about the long term effects of their crime.

So that’s my problem with OITNB. There’s a lot of fun and exciting women but you rarely hear about the impact of their crimes on the victims. Read Piper’s book. There’s a small part where she talks about having some clue about the impact of what she did. Otherwise, there’s nothing. Not once does any of the characters in either the book or the show take responsibility for what they’ve done. Not once is there even an apology.

That means it’s up to Char and her family to take responsibility for the crime. It’s on their shoulders to carry the impact of what’s been done to them. Char is not unique. There are many, many others who will never see justice for what’s been done to them. Yet, Piper argues to remove life without parole.

Instead, they’d rather see Char’s family do life without parole. Yeah. Seems fair to me.

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