Tag Archives: Prison

Yoke Fellows

I recently joined my eighty-nine year-old grandfather at an event known as “yoke fellows.” This is a program at a minimum security prison where the general public may freely interact with inmates.

I was glad to go with my grandfather, since he already knew many of the prisoners, and I had  little enough to talk about  without being a complete stranger. My grandfather was a hit. He is an active participant in a program where people take prisoners out for brief periods. They may have a meal with them, or bring them to a church service, or even include them in a games night.

Even though I personally was not able to contribute much to the conversation, I was very glad to have gone. My work and my choice of social activities limit my exposure to only a very limited selection of the general population, so it was good for me to get outside my bubble. Since I was a stranger, the inmates didn’t tell me all their most interesting stories right away. Instead, let me share some of the stories my grandpa told me.

One inmate is someone that I may very well have been able to meet before he ended up in prison. He spent all of his time at work building his business. At one point, one of his business deals got him on the wrong side of the law and he ended up locked away. However, at the prison his wife and children visited him on a regular basis. As my grandfather related, this man said that prison improved his life by helping him to connect with his family. This was an entertaining and heartwarming story.

A more intense story, one time Grandpa brought a 45-year-old inmate to his house and sat down to supper. The inmate was blown away. My grandparents could not figure out why he would be so amazed by a simple supper until he confided that he had never before experienced the quintessential “family supper” where a group of people who cared about each other sat at a table and shared a meal.

People may visit once without approval. If I want to go back again, I will need to attend a training session to get a “blue card.” If I do come back, it will be to share this experience with my other privileged friends.

American Values Review: Orange is the New Black

There are many Christian values media reviews out there – these are often targeted at Christian parents and discuss how they can keep their children occupied without endangering their faith.  This week I’d like to introduce a concept I’ve been considering for a little while: reviews of movies and other media that, like Christian values reviews, discuss media as a source of entertainment while respecting its power to do much more than simply entertain. The only difference is I will move beyond Christian values to American values. These are the values that have defined the United States for much of its lifetime. They are the values enforced by Martin Luther King Junior, by Rosa Parks and Bayard Rustin. American values are the ones pressed forward by the labor movement when it was at its peak, and by the civil, women’s and gay rights movements, the last of which is experiencing a peak today. They draw heavily from Christ’s teachings as laid out in the New Testament and are stronger for it. American values respect the rights and freedoms of all people, and seek to expand these freedoms, especially to the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses whose freedoms are most likely to be restricted. These are the values that made America “the land of opportunity,” in the last century, and they are the values that will see us through this one. Just like many Christians feel it’s important to enjoy media that supports their values, I want to encourage Americans to enjoy the media that supports their values. So I hope to use the American Values Review to point out these values when they appear in media and decry the lazy, greedy, or actively hateful writers and directors whose works rely on outdated concepts that run contrary to the American way. I will start with a positive example: Orange is the New Black.

If you’re addicted to HBO and wonder if you can get the same kind of content without the price tag, look no further than Orange is the New Black. Jenji Kohan takes the true story of a privileged white woman’s time in prison and turns it into a Netflix drama with all the intrigue, complexity, and yes, sex, that one could expect of any HBO offering. The dialogue is witty enough to be intellectually stimulating and delivered well enough not to feel scripted, and the plots will make you argue with your friends or your partner about who can be trusted, who’s giving bad advice, and what, really, is the right thing to do in the many terrible situations  in which inmates, guards, and executives of Litchfield Correctional Facility find themselves.

Kohan’s work provides more than just thrills, however. Its contributions to feminism, gay rights, and transgender rights are obvious from the first few episodes, but Kohen’s work offers still more for fans of human rights. Despite taking place in a correctional facility with plenty of murderers cramped in close quarters with each other, Orange is the New Black is relatively low on outright violence compared with conventional Hollywood fare. The dichotomy of good and evil gains no purchase in Litchfield Correctional facility. Conflicts take a variety of forms, often fading into subtlety only to rear their heads again later on and then end in wary forgiveness. Characters seem to start out trustworthy, become villainous, and then realize they’re the villain and try to reform themselves. It seems like every recurring character eventually gets to be humanized, and that’s a strength. Orange is the New Black, at its core, is about human beings, and it’s entertaining enough to get people to look closely at human beings that, as the inmates of Litchfield frequently note themselves, have all too often been ignored.

I give Orange is the New Black an A for entertainment value and an A+ for American values.