With Orange Is The New Black's Season 5 return comes the continuation of the riot at Litchfield. The new season will take place over the course of three days, indicating that a resolution is in the future. But what happens to inmates after a prison riot? Real life could inform the fate of the Orange is the New Black characters. SPOILERS ahead for Season 5.
For the inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary, the riot is a chance to create change. Every inmate has an agenda, whether it is to stay out of trouble (Alex and Piper, naturally), to get justice for Poussey (Taystee), or to gain some leverage over the situation (basically everyone else). The riot has created a shift in power and demands begin to form, complicating the already fragile relationships between the inmates and the prison administration.
Litchfield's riot, while not as bloody, resembles another prison riot in American consciousness. In 1971, fed up with their living conditions, Attica inmates rioted for four days.
And, unfortunately, excessive force can be used in prisons, as illustrated in the Whitley vs Albers case. In the case of Attica, this force killed many of the inmates who started the riot, along with correctional officers. In an interview with PBS Newshour, Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water which focuses on the prison uprising, said, "And yet, suddenly, in the middle of the negotiations, the state decides to retake this prison with enormous force. Nearly 600 heavily-armed law enforcement personnel enter the prison, and it’s a massacre."
However, Attica still managed to make changes, according to The New York Times' writers Michael Winerip, Tom Robbins, and Michael Schwirtz who wrote, “While the retaking of Attica was the bloodiest event in a decade of civic upheaval, it spurred landmark prison reform efforts. In negotiations, Russell G. Oswald, the state corrections commissioner, agreed to 28 of the inmates’ demands meant to expand their rights and improve prison conditions.”
The future of Litchfield remains unseen, but OITNB is known for finding inspiration in real life. The aftermath of a prison riot changes according to location, the severity of the riot, and how the riot began. For example, the Washington State Legislature states that time is added to an individual's sentence.
On the other hand, Chung Kao, who claims to be an inmate from San Quentin State Prison (there is indeed someone there with that name) shared his alleged experience on Quora (San Quentin experienced a riot in 2015). He wrote, "Indeed, riots seldom get resolved without the prison administration's moving people around to alleviate tension." While the aftermath of the Litchfield prison riot hasn't happened yet, OITNB viewers know that serious infractions can get inmates sent away to maximum security or any infraction can send an inmate to SHU. It could be possible that certain Litchfield inmates could be moved, especially Daya who is responsible for shooting C.O. Humphreys.
OITNB addresses the public memory of Attica in Season 5 when Gloria makes sure that on the list of inmate demands, everyone involved will receive amnesty. Gloria is also the one who begs Sophia to try and save C.O. Humphrey after Daya shoots him, explaining that the situation could worsen if he dies. If a guard were to die, amnesty would be more difficult to obtain. In Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece on the history of Attica uprising, he wrote, "One of the guards who had been injured in the original takeover died of his wounds; and the radical lawyer William Kunstler, one of the observers, let the prisoners know that this had happened, which persuaded them, probably wrongly, that any amnesty offer wouldn’t be honored."
The Litchfield prison riot taps into survival mode for many of the inmates and they all attempt to seize an opportunity. The inmates have succeeded in taking over the prison for a few days, but they will eventually lose their hold, between keeping the peace among each other and Desi Piscatella trying to find a way into the prison.
Orange Is The New Black has been very successful in walking the line between comedy and drama, but it always remains truthful to its subject matter. Whatever the outcome for the Litchfield prison riot will be, it is safe to say that the inmates will be dealing with the aftermath for a long time.