Orange is the new black

The women behind the hit Netflix show speak on their time in prison

By on January 31, 2018

Richie Petrosino | The Quinnipiac Chronicle
Students and faculty across various disciplines of study gathered in the North Haven campus auditorium at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 26 for a discussion on the state of health care for incarcerated women within the United States.

The event was sponsored by Quinnipiac University’s School of Health Sciences, School of Law, School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and College of Arts and Sciences.

Amber Kelly, assistant professor of social work at the school of Health Sciences, hosted the panel and began with the introduction of the University’s guest speakers: Beatrice Codianni, Carol Soto, and Jaclyn Lucibello. These three individuals all spent time within U.S. penitentiaries.

Kelly, the assistant professor who facilitated the event, thought it was important to have an event discussing the often ignored voices of Incarcerated women and the difficulties they must overcome to receive the proper health services.

“It’s important to hear from women who have been incarcerated,” Kelly stated. “Especially for all health professional students as they move into their careers.”

While the names Codianni or Soto may not sound familiar, their fictional, television counterparts: Esposito and Yoga Jones may be more recognizable from the series based off Piper Kerman’s book: Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.

Codianni and Soto both served prison sentences with Kerman. While they lauded Kerman’s success saying the book brought many health care issues to light, the three women stressed how the reality of the television show does not always represent the hardships of incarcerated women.

“Orange is the New Black (the TV show) does not represent prison,” Lucibello said. “It brings to light certain issues but is not an accurate representation.”

Each of these women were given thirty minutes to separately discuss how their lack of access to sufficient health care impacted their well-being while incarcerated.

Codianni spent 15 years within the prison system, much of that time being housed at Danbury Federal Prison, which is a 50-minute drive from Quinnipiac.

She started the discussion with a polite, yet serious request, “Do not call us inmates,” Codianni said. “We are people.”

She elaborated on one of these women’s stories.

“One woman had an oxygen tank, which she needed to breath,” Codianni continued. “Yet officials chastised her for using too much oxygen. She died soon after.”

Beyond physical health care treatments, Codianni stressed the importance of proper mental health care solutions as well.

“Mental health is a serious issue among women in prison,” Codianni stated. “Most are victims of sexual abuse. You have to talk about mental health.”

Codianni went on to talk about how many correctional officers (C.O.’s) invasive procedures were detrimental to a women’s mental health, and even impacted her own traumatic memories.

“The officer’s make you stand up and put your hands up. They touch everything,” Codianni said. “Every time I would be violated by officers, I was re-traumatized by when I was abused.”

Soto served alongside Cordianni at Danbury Federal Prison from 2004-2005.

Soto began her segment with a personal story from her time while at Danbury Federal Prison.

“I was put in a large room with another woman,” Soto said. “Who just came back from getting her biggest chemotherapy treatment. She gave me this card and said ‘please, if I get a fever, call the number on this card immediately.’”

Soto recalls what happened that night. “She started to shake, she was so cold,” she said. “I put blankets on her, and I gave the card to the C.O. He refused to call the number.”

“I can’t do anything, it’s too late. You deal with it,’” Soto said the C.O. told her. “That’s what prison is like,” Soto continued. “We (the women) run everything. The guards just oversee everything. I wound up taking care of this woman for the rest of the night. She went from hot to cold, to hot to cold. But, she survived.”

Lucibello was incarcerated for three years at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic.

“York Correctional is like any other prison, in terms of healthcare,” Lucibello reported. “If you do get medication, it’s usually not even the medicine you were prescribed. You’re not allowed to get proper medication because it’s too much money,” Lucibello continued.

Lucibello also expanded upon the realities of sexual abuse in the prison system at York.

“I cannot tell you how many times C.O.’s asked if my breasts were real or fake,” Lucibello said. “And I can’t report it to the Lieutenant, because it’s a boy’s club.”

“If there’s just one rumor of (insubordination),” Lucibello said. “You’re in the SHU,” which Lucibello described as an abbreviation for solitary confinement.

Soto concluded by stating her belief in the abolition of women’s prisons, “I work for the abolition of women’s prison. We need to find ways to heal our societies, not just with medicines but with all treatments.”

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