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Orange Is The New Black Writers for Prez 2020 [Don’t worry --- no spoilers]

My eyes are puffy, I have a headache and I just threw away my last ball of Kleenex. This is the first time I’ve stopped crying in the last 2 days. No, it’s not because something major has happened, it’s because I’ve just finished the final season of Orange is the New Black (don’t worry --- I won’t spoil it for you). While, I am SUPER sad one of my favourite shows has come to an end after seven amazing seasons, that’s not why I’ve been crying for the past 48 hours.

What really had the tears flowing was how depressingly real this season is. Of course, one of the things we love about OITNB is how close to reality it is. It’s iconic in that it doesn’t always leave us with the happy endings we crave from TV; but rather shows us that the fairy tales we’ve grown up expecting, don’t always come true in real life. The show is harsh, raw, and so real that sometimes it leaves us feeling like our own lives are the TV fairy tales in comparison.

This season was no different.

While we’re used to the show shedding light on what the US prison system is like, and its MUCH-NEEDED reform, this season tackled an even deeper issue --- Immigration. It highlighted the current state of immigration in the US and the realities that illegal aliens face.

This one broke me down -- because as an immigrant in Canada, I can relate. Not to the detention centers and harsh treatment --- honestly, the immigration process to Canada has been such a dream that I sometimes pull out my PR card just to make sure it’s real ----- but, as someone from a country where the only way to get a job is to have connections or have someone die, I can 100% understand the desire to build a better life for yourself and give as many opportunities to your current and future family as you possibly can.

Throughout season 7, we follow the OITNB cast to the Polycon detention centre, run by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and we get to see how much like prison it really is.

In fact, in some ways it’s worse. At least in prison, the women have some basic human rights (though often exploited). In the detention centers, however, detainees are entirely at the mercy of the officers’ discretion. The women are clad in prison jumpsuits despite not being inmates, are denied visitors, have little to no privileges, and in many cases denied their basic human rights.

The system is designed to tear them down. Everything they have is taken from them, no one will listen to them, none of the people in charge are trying to help them. There is even a fee to use the phone (you have to buy a phone card and load it up with minutes that you ALSO have to pay for) and every call is $5 a minute. Even a stamp costs money -- money that they don’t have. The detainees have no way to reach their families, no way to find rescue. They are stuck in a system waiting for them to fail.

Over the course of 13 episodes, we witness immigration raids, where people who claim to be US citizens are denied the opportunity to prove it. We see women denied the chance to attend custody hearings for their children. We see families separated -- some are even detained as a result of trying to visit loved ones that have been captured and locked away. Many detainees are even purposely denied access to the groups and lawyers that want to help them despite having legal rights to seek aid.

Though clearly ill-equipped, with no knowledge of the law (many barely speak English), detainees are forced to represent themselves at immigration hearings and are deported to countries they left more than 20 years before. In some cases, detainees who lived in the US since they were babies, are sent “back” to countries they had essentially never even been to. They are treated worse than the inmates. They are treated as less than human.

The worst part of this season was seeing the court hearings for kids. This one brought me to tears. Unaccompanied TODDLERS are forced to represent themselves in court and are asked to provide a judge with a valid case for why they should be allowed to stay in the US. Many of them couldn’t even understand the questions being asked and provided responses like “Can I go to the bathroom?” to serious legal inquiries.

The ICE officers just smiled happily as these kids (as young as 3 years old) are sentenced to deportation back to a country they never lived in!

Through my tears and angry shouting at the TV, I started to ask myself, “Can this even be real? Can people really act like this? How much of this is ‘just for TV’?” Sure, I had heard the stories, but watching it play out before me, I just couldn’t fathom the idea that people could be so evil. So, I went to Google to investigate and what I found was truly devastating.

Media outlets such as Time, USA Today, and The Atlantic all reported similar stories. Unsanitary conditions, 900 immigrants being crammed into rooms built for 125 people, no access to legal resources, children being forced to appear by themselves before a court. Though the resources themselves are questionable, the fact that so many outlets reported the same things suggests that there has to be some element of truth to what was being depicted.

Over the last few weeks, here at The Champagne Series, we have been discussing what it means to be your best self and the way your actions affect others, and watching OITNB this week made me realize just how important this sentiment is.

As I watched, I wondered about the ICE agents, the judges, the people in charge -- how can they go to work everyday and treat another person that way? How can they go home knowing that they forced toddlers to fight for their right to stay in the only country they’ve ever known? How can a person be so cruel and dismiss their own inhumane actions as “ following the law”?

The thing is, this isn’t new -- we see it in the media and in comments online everyday. People really think treating someone as though they are garbage is okay! Even Morello, someone who was seemingly kind and good-hearted, and who up until this season was one of my favourite characters, showed her true colours with her anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant views.

Her justification that “they should’ve have come in the first place” echoes much of what we ourselves hear in society. One of the things that was truly poignant is how real this character’s personality conflict is. Morello is representative of someone in our own families, one of our friends, someone we know. She represents the people we have grown up with and have grown to love. She is the embodiment of some of the people we describe as “one of the kindest, good-hearted people we’ve ever met;’ and yet, that kind, good heart is able to look at a system that is so cruel and broken and say, “Well these people shouldn’t have come here. They deserve this.”

The sad truth about this season of OITNB is how painfully real it is. It shows how broken this world is and calls into question whether or not the system of justice that is put in place actually works. Laws were made to protect, and yet today, it seems like they are being used to destroy; to break people down; to stifle any real positive growth.

I get it, they broke the law; they tried to cheat -- to circumvent the system in place and for that they can’t be rewarded; but, what we lack is humanity. All too often we see hate towards illegal aliens for trying to build a better life. People bash them; say hateful things like “Go back where you came from,” resent them and despise them. They wish the worst upon immigrants (both legal and illegal) and say “laws are in place for a reason -- follow the law and apply like everyone else!” But, what people fail to realize is, unfortunately the system just isn’t working.

Currently (according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website) processing time for a U.S. citizen filing for a child over the age of 21 ranges from 75 - 111 months, and as long as 126 months if filing for a brother or sister. So, imagine someone with no family in the U.S?

Many of these immigrants come from violence-torn places; many are running from socio-economic oppression or religious persecution, and yet the system isn’t functioning in their favour. Instead, they abandon their families, friends, and life in search of something better only to face assault, violence and death on the journey to some form of salvation. The worst part is, even if they manage to make it to what they believe is the “land of opportunity,” the system in place destroys them. Many of the people they seek to integrate with shun them. Ultimately, they find no protection and eventually, their dreams are shattered. They are separated from their families and rounded up like cattle to be sent back to the lives they fought tooth and nail to escape.

I applaud OITNB for continuing to shed light on the dangers of capitalism and the need for prison reform; but, for also using this season as a visual means to humanize illegal immigration.

The reality is these people aren’t violent; they haven’t hurt anyone. They are just trying to build a better life for themselves and for their families. Yes, they broke the law; but, there is no reason to treat them like animals (often worse than animals) and worse, take pleasure in it. There is no reason to hate them, violate them, and abuse them. OITNB brings the hardships they face to light in an effort to expose the realities of the state of immigration in the US and spark change. Change to the policies; change to the law-makers and ultimately change to the mindset surrounding immigration.

This season calls into question our own morality; our own humanity and asks us why?

Why is what is being done, considered okay? Why are we not doing more to change it?

OITNB’s final season leaves us with the resounding question: “How can we do better?” and ultimately, that better starts with us. It starts with us being accountable and being kind. It starts with us thinking about how the things we do and say affects others; and how our actions, or lack thereof, can make an impact. I know that one person alone can’t change an entire system; but, if we start to view people as people and treat them as such, then hopefully one day we will get to a place where policies change, systems are reformed and purposeful mistreatment is abolished.

OITNB? We are so sad to see you go; but, we salute you and everything these last 7 seasons have brought us! Writers and actors, keep fighting the good fight and we are looking forward to all that you bring us next!

If you’ve finished the season, comment below and let us know what you thought!


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