It’s Not Funny: Prison as a Joke
April 15, 2013 Leave a comment
As I watched a recent episode of The Mindy Project, I was shocked by the portrayal of people who are incarcerated. As a student who travels to prison once a week, I know what it is like to go inside, and I have interacted with “prisoners” on a more personal level.
The episode showed Mindy visiting a women’s prison in order to demonstrate her ability to care for people other than herself to a minister she was crushing on. This, in fact, is quite ironic given the depiction of the people in the prison. The TV show ends up illustrating the people who are incarcerated as nothing more than a group of animals to laugh at.
While there were many blatant inaccuracies in the physicality and logistics of what happens at the prison, i.e. there is no way one could ever bring their purse, let alone mace into a prison facility, the part that upset me the most was the way that the humanity was taken out of the women in the prison.
Before even entering the prison, we are asked to laugh at jokes about getting shanked while volunteering there and the fact that the prisons are filled with “mostly dead-eyed creeps and savages.”
Once inside of The Mindy Project’s fictionalized prison, the women who are incarcerated are dehumanized both by their interactions with characters and their own actions.
The doctors try to arrange the ladies in three lines, one for each doctor. Presented with a choice of line, all of the women go to the line that the more attractive male doctor is serving. In this way, they are portrayed as incapable of making a choice that is not based on sex. As this occurs, one character yells at the women, “Ladies, and I use that term loosely, I want three equal lines, here, here, and here. Come on!”
First of all, this implies that the women do not understand the simple idea of how to form lines, second his yelling at human beings in this way is treating them as less than human.
The people in the prisons are not “savages,” they are human beings.
Here is the reality of the situation; the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world, at a rate of 750 per 100,000 adults and children*. Unless the United States has nine times as many people who are dangerous enough to be in prison than Germany, whose rate of incarceration is 83 per 100,000* , it is reasonable to conclude that we are putting people who don’t deserve to be in prison in prison, or putting people in prison for much longer than necessary.
What is happening in this episode is not okay. The people in prisons are just are people. These are not jokes; they are demonstrations of the dehumanization of groups of people in our society. For this reason, I ask you not to laugh.
*The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander