Like many of you, I finished the Serial podcast last week. Again, like many of you, I was completely enthralled by all of it – Adnan himself, the case with all of the gaping holes, learning about the legal system, and the fact that many of these now adults, who are my age, can actually go back 15 years ago and talk about what time the last bell of the day rang in high school, because I certainly can’t, and just to clarify, I never did drugs. The one thing that sticks out to me most is the way prison is portrayed by Adnan, Koenig, and the Serial podcast itself.
This isn’t the first time I started thinking about prison and the way the media portrays it. Earlier this year when I binged watched the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black, which is based on a true story, it was nothing like the scary images I have in my head. Fear was by no way instilled in me after watching a show based on one woman’s experience in prison, which is a far cry from how I once saw it portrayed in movies and TV – isolated, dirty, crime-ridden, aggressive, and every other scary word you can imagine.
Is it a life I’d want to live? Absolutely not. Is it a place where dreams are made? Hell no. But in a lot of ways, it’s like the outside world – there are jobs, boards and committees, television + movies, and life long relationships. It is these relationships and sense of community that is being portrayed now more than ever in the media that really seems to, in a sense, take the edge off of prison life.
In a few of the Serial episodes, Koenig touches upon Adnan’s role in prison. It is said that Adnan is well-respected, and even got elected onto a committee. His job as a cook allowed for him and his pals to eat well, meaning, he didn’t have to chow down on “prison” food like bologna sandwiches. How about that time he got his hands on a cell phone? Yes, it’s not allowed, and he was reprimanded for it, but he was able to get as far as calling T-mobile to figure out how to get it working. While I’m on the topic of telephone calls, how about all the phone calls made to Koenig? Yes, there are many times he had to suddenly hang up, or time ran out, but he had the ability to call right back. Even the fact that he was allowed to talk about his case with someone who was going to broadcast it, just doesn’t seem very “prisonly.” Much of his life in prison, the way it is being portrayed at least, is nothing what I ever pictured prison to be, especially for someone serving a life sentence for murder.
There was a particular quote from Adnan during one of his phone calls with Koenig. I can’t really remember much of the context, but he compared something in his life to Ocean’s 11. “Wait a minute?!” I said to myself in my best Sarah Koenig voice. “Ocean’s 11 came out after Adnan was sentenced.” Yes, I’m fully aware that it is a remake, but I can’t imagine he was referencing the original, but I couldn’t get past the fact that in prison you can be entertained by hit films.
Back to Orange is the New Black. I mention that this is show is based on a true story, but I’m aware that a lot of it is fiction, and does not actually follow the real Piper’s experience. In watching the show, it was hard to not compare myself to Piper: A female of the same age, in a serious relationship, who comes from an upper middle class family in the ‘burbs, who seems to have it all together (#humblebrag). When the show reveals her past, that’s where the comparisons end, but watching her navigate prison is exactly how I would picture myself doing so. Sure, she had a hard time in the beginning, getting starved out, and becoming Crazy Eye’s dandelion, just to name a few roadblocks, but again, she had a job, there were recreational activities, and a social community she eventually found a place in which she fit. Again, is this a place I would want to end up? No, but the sense of community that the show portrays give viewers a bit of comfort.
While these are only two examples from the past year that really show a change in the way that media portrays prison, I can’t imagine this is the last we will see of it, especially with Bravo stars Apollo Nida currently incarcerated, and Teresa Giudice going away in just a few weeks.