Scarlet is the New White


(This post contains spoilers about the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Be aware!)

I’ve recently been rewatching the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. I haven’t read the book, but I do love the show. It is funny and heartbreaking and gritty and basically all of the things that I find appealing about television.

The first time I watched the show, I didn’t really identify personally with any of the characters. They were fascinating and I had my favorites, but other than wondering why they chose to model Nicky’s hair on my own, I didn’t see a lot of myself in the cast. I just enjoyed the story-telling and the ability of the writers to draw me into the lives and experiences of those with whom I had little in common.

But things are a bit different this go around. My life has changed somewhat dramatically from where it was when I watched it the first time. While I still don’t identify with any of the characters directly, I have noticed that I find more in common than I did before.

They are all bad guys.

The story is set in a prison. The women imprisoned there all have some kind of criminal past. Drug dealing, human trafficking, theft, embezzlement, these women have earned their time in jail. Even the kind-hearted Yoga Jones is guilty of the murder of a child.

The correctional officers and prison staff aren’t good either. We see corruption, homophobia, hostility, aggression, and a host of other negative behaviors and attitudes. They are the people who are supposed to be caring for the prisoners, but instead we see see abuse in these relationships.

Even those on the outside display negative characteristics. No matter who we turn to, we see villains. The show is comprised of people who make one hurtful decision after another.

But why I love this show, why it resonates with me so strongly, is that no one is strictly bad. Through the 13 episodes of the first season, we see some of the worst behavior imaginable. But we also see compassion shown when an inmate kills herself. We see small acts of kindness when there is no way for someone to repay that kindness. We see fear and vulnerability and love and bravery.

The show offers us a glimpse of humanity. Dirty, ugly, beautiful, messy humanity.

It can be so easy for us to cast one another strictly as heroes and villains. There’s a certain comfort in that, knowing that this person is bad and that person is good. The world makes sense when we can see the bad guys in their orange jumpsuits.

But life isn’t so cut and dried. We made bad choices. We hurt one another. We wound, we destroy.

I personally have lived this. I’ve done some incredibly hurtful things, actions that I’m not proud of. Choices that have put me firmly in the arena of the bad guy. And that is not a great place to be. There is a certain level of despondency that happens when you’re the bad guy. Even when you know that you’re clearly in the wrong, it hurts in ways that I never expected to admit it.

But my story, just like the story of the characters in OITNB, just like your story, is not strictly one of villainy and bad choices. It’s about redemption. It’s about forgiveness and love and joy. It’s about owning our bad decisions, but also about owning our right decisions as well. 

I don’t ever want to ignore the areas where I have fallen short. I don’t want to gloss over them or pretend that they didn’t happen. But I also don’t want to make my entire life about my wrong choices. I want to accept that there is darkness in me, yes, but there is also light. There is ugliness, but there is beauty.

There is scarlet, but there can be, and there is, white. 

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.”

~Isaiah 1:18

9 thoughts on “Scarlet is the New White

  1. In one of my favorite scriptures Jesus is called “good teacher” and he responds…

    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.
    Mark 10:17-19 (NIV)

    I think he was trying to free us to be what we are, neither good nor bad, but human. I think the hope is that we become more and more humane. The funny thing is that humanity comes more through brokenness and grace received than all our striving to be good could ever produce.

    Thank you for sharing this. You are in no way alone. I am so very human aside you.

  2. I love what Kim said. “Humanity comes more through brokenness.” I cannot agree more. We all make bad choices at some point and have to live with those choices. We also learn more about ourselves through our decisions. We find our strenghths as well as our weaknessess. Most of all, we find our human side, and most often than not, it helps us to relate with one another in positive ways in the end.

  3. I worked as a nurse in a state prison for over six years. I went into the job thinking that I could have a positive and caring influence on the inmates I treated. The corrections officers constantly berated me, saying I couldn’t call the inmates my “patients”. They were prisoners, pure and simple. I found my soul getting very dirty by the end of my time there. In the end, I was one of the most rude and uncaring about those inmates. I regret it to this day, four years later.

    During the last four years, I have come to realize that every person has a personal story, and that those stories ought to be voiced. You are right–it is not a cut and dried “villain” vs “good guy” with people. I watched OITNB, too, but with different eyes. Eyes that filled me with regret. I hurt people while I worked there, and I can never make it right again.

    Thank you for reminding us that every soul is valuable in the eyes of God. Bad choices do indeed bring pain, but the aftermath of healing can change our own souls into something better. I only wish I hadn’t learned this by being a bad guy myself.

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