New book explores prison life, real and onscreen
"Orange is the New Black," the hit Netflix prison comedy-drama, has drawn both praise and criticism for its depiction of women inmates at a fictional federal prison. A new book from a Portland State University professor uses the popular series as a starting point to offer a more realistic and comprehensive look into some of the social, psychological and legal issues facing women behind bars.
"Caged Women: Incarceration, Representation & Media" is an anthology co-edited by Shirley A. Jackson, a professor and chair of PSU College of Liberal Arts and Studies' black studies department, and Laurie Gordy, a dean of academic affairs and sociology professor at Newbury College.
The book brings together more than 20 scholars across different disciplines who take a deep dive into a number of issues, including transgender inmates, racial dynamics, pregnancy and parenting while incarcerated, treatment of women in prison and re-incarcerated and previously incarcerated women. Each chapter references the show as its starting point of analysis.
"The images that you see in 'Orange is the New Black' are, of course, not always reality," Jackson said. "There may be some things that are striking some people as being true to life, but we're trying to flesh out more of those storylines and provide people with the reality."
Jackson hopes the book not only raises awareness about the issues impacting incarcerated women, but also helps provide students considering a career in criminal justice and other researchers with new perspectives that can help effect change.
"There is no rubber stamp as to how people end up behind bars and there is no one singular experience for women behind bars," she said. "Age, race, language, gender and other factors may have an impact on how they end up experiencing the state of incarceration."
Shirley A. Jackson