New York Times and Netflix Reveal Disturbing Truths about Women's Prison

“When you incarcerate a woman, you incarcerate her whole family" -Rusti Miller-Hill

Lining up with the second season of "Orange is the New Black," The New York Times and Netflix have published a provocative and poignant multimedia piece, “Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work” to draw attention to the often-overlooked issues around women's prisons. Click through the gallery to read the women's stories.

According to the Pew, one in 28 children is the child of an incarcerated parent. The collage of animations, video, and text argues the different considerations needed for female prisons as compared to those for men, with child welfare as one of the main concerns.   

The feature opens with a chilling statistic: “Over the past three decades, the number of women serving time in American prisons has increased more than eightfold.” Unfortunately, the increasing number of prisoners has not been met with new facilities or improved infrastructure. As a result, many women are moved to prisons far away from their families. For women who have been their child’s primary caregivers, that separation is both devastating and detrimental to their children’s lives. 

“When you incarcerate a woman, you incarcerate her whole family. Everybody does the time, whether you realize it or not,” Rusti Miller-Hill says. She spent two-and-a-half years in prison for drug possession. “I didn’t fight for my kids, and when I began to realize what my rights were as an incarcerated parent, it was too late. My children were being adopted and I haven’t seen them since. It’s been over 20 years,” she told The Times.  

“Women Inmates” brings together an array of perspectives on incarceration, including several mothers who spent years apart from their children. Some speak on the value of beauty in a prison environment where monotony rules, while others remember the friends they made behind bars. Each woman tells her personal story, too: how she ended up in prison and, if she got out, how she re-entered life as a free woman. The New York Times and Netflix gather a variety of voices to create a multi-dimensional story that is in turns sad, angry, and hopeful. By the end, everyone involved argues for change. 

Image Source: The New York Times



“The Pomona police killed my brother in 1997 and I felt like I should be able to do what I wanted to do because they took my brother from me.” Joyyatta McClenton says. The mother is now now serving 10 years for burglary, theft, and forgery.

Originally from a suburban town, Patty W worked at a series of companies including Lehman Brothers before she fell into substance abuse. She says the crime escalated “little by little,” and eventually she served eight years for charges including theft by deception, forgery and credit card fraud.  “I had a Hermes scarf, a Tahari coat, dress, and a pair of high heels. And that is not really conducive to shackles. I can remember trying to keep up with everybody because they were all ahead of me and they were moving at a certain pace, and I was the only one with heels on.”

“The first visit was the worst visit. Trying to explain to my daughter why she can’t stay,” Ayana Thomas says. After serving three years for fraud, Thomas lived in a shelter with her daughter and son when she got out of prison. Her house had been foreclosed on. 

Piper Kerman served one year for drug sales. She then wrote Orange is the New Black, the memoir on which the TV series is based. On the prison guards, she says: “They really make sure you understand that you have lost control of your life, and that they now have control over your life.”

“The reality is that you are a prisoner, and you wear green. You have no rights, and no voice, and you are just another number.” Rusti Miller-Hill served two and a half years for drug possession.

lma Ortiz-Donovan served five and a half years for drug sales. She speaks to the sense of community in women’s prisons: “A lot of the time the younger girls will call the older women mom, or aunt. I had one girl Renee, and she was like “This is my aunt.” I was like, “Okay!” I don’t have kids so it kinda felt good.”