[UPDATE BELOW] No one ever suggested that prison was supposed to be fun, but it should never include "a floor full of feces." Riverhead jail, located in Suffolk County, has in the past been sued by the NYCLU for its deplorable conditions—the terms "mold" and "raw sewage" are invoked repeatedly. But Riverhead is more than just a jail—it also served as the set for the entire second season of the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black.
Netflix's treatment of prison life hardly looks pleasant, but the disparity between the fictionalized version and the reality that prisoners endure is galling nonetheless. Moreover, said NYCLU Director of Communications Jennifer Carnig, in the more than two years since the lawsuit was filed, Riverhead has done nothing to improve prisoners' living situation.
"They have responded in no meaningful way to any of the allegations in the suit," she said. Though the facility hasn't found the time to clean up the black mold coating the showers, it apparently had little difficulty maneuvering around months of film shoots and roving camera crews. As such, the NYCLU has launched a new campaign called #HumanityistheNewBlack, with the goal of highlighting the hellish world inside "real OITNB jail.” Testimonials from former prisoners paint a grim picture of a life very far removed from the flick of any touch-up brush:
33-year-old Jason Porter spent two months in Riverhead on misdemeanor charges. The time he was there, he said, "did something to me."
"Until the day the judge says you didn't commit this crime, you're an animal," he said. He goes on to describe drinking water that runs "a brownish, tannish color" and various types of mold and fungi growing in the showers. And then there's that one time the toilets exploded.
"We were just basically sitting around when the toilets in every cell...just exploded," he said, sending a torrent of sludge shooting into the air, "all over the walls, all over the cells, the ceiling." He described a vile scene of flying feces and urine, combining to create a "brownish green liquid" seven inches deep. The inmates sought refuge on some nearby tables for around 30 hours.
"I don't know if you've ever tried to eat with a floor full of feces in front of you but...I wouldn't try it," he said.
For more information on the #HumanityIsTheNewBlack movement, check out the group's Facebook page or send an email to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Update, 6:13 p.m.: Michael Sharkey, the chief of staff for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office, said he could not comment on ongoing litigation, but said that all of the state's prisons are monitored by the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, and "consistently" meet the required standards. He added that contrary to the NYCLU's assertions, only a portion of one episode of the second season of Orange is the New Black was filmed on the Riverhead premises.