Can viewers of “Orange Is the New Black” be turned into prison reform activists? The Washington Post says that is the idea behind #HumanityIsTheNewBlack, a social media campaign launched this week by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, which hope to harness interest and buzz in the Netflix hit to call attention to conditions at the real-life jail where parts of the show were filmed. Viewers of the drama about life in a women's prison know about the lack of bathroom privacy, the inedible food and cramped conditions that Piper Chapman and her fellow inmates have to deal with. At Suffolk County, N.Y.’s Riverhead jail, lawyers and inmates say reality is much harsher.
The civil liberties group is asking fans of the show to help “fix the Orange is the new Black jail” by writing to Steve Bellone, Suffolk County Executive. Parts of the show's second season, which started Friday, were filmed at the Riverhead jail. Among the complaints in a lawsuit: Toilets that inmates refer to as “ping pong toilets,” because when they are flushed they overflow into another cell, mold covered showers, and brown undrinkable water. “If you saw what we have seen and heard happening in this jail, you might think that it is Hollywood pushing it but in fact that's the reality,” said Corey Stoughton, an attorney working on the case. “These are not conditions that we think any human beign should be held in.”