Pop: Orange Is the New Black Mother Figure

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Orange Is The New Black" by Piper Kerman. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Pop in Orange Is the New Black? What is her role in the book and her relationship to Piper?

Pop in Orange Is the New Black is a fellow inmate of Piper’s at Danbury Prison. Pop acts as a mother figure to many women in the prison, including Piper.

Read more about Pop in Orange Is the New Black.

Receiving Emotional Support From Pop in Orange Is the New Black

For the first few days at Danbury, Piper lived in “the Rooms.” These were dormitories where new inmates lived until they could be assigned permanent housing. Also in the Rooms were inmates who were pregnant, chronically ill, or otherwise unable to live in the general population. 

Each day, Piper learned something new and strange about prison—and about the women with whom she was serving time. One inmate, she learned, was a nun. This woman had been locked up for organizing anti-war protests at Department of Defense facilities. Piper’s clique of predominantly Italian-American, Catholic inmates were outraged that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would actually incarcerate a member of the clergy.

Despite making friends, Piper was still new to prison life, blinded by her privilege, and capable of putting her foot in her mouth. One day at mealtime during her first week at Danbury, Piper made a wisecrack about how the inmates should organize a hunger strike to protest the bad food. Pop in Orange is the New Black, a Russian-American inmate who sat high atop the prison social pyramid (and who also ran the kitchen whose food Piper was insulting), dressed Piper down. Pop in OITNB told Piper never to make jokes about that, because another inmate might tell a CO that she was trying to incite a riot, which could land Piper in the SHU. It was a lesson to Piper—watch what you say, and watch who you’re talking to.

Under Pop’s Wing

There was no shortage of piety and faith-based activity at Danbury, though Piper had her doubts about how much of it was motivated by sincere spiritual conviction. Every denomination was represented in the prison, and they all had their own designated time for religious services. Although fairly secular herself (she was a blue-blood Yankee Episcopalian), Piper was tolerant of everyone’s expressions of faith. There was only one group that managed to irritate her—the Evangelical Christians. Piper found these women to be loud, judgemental, pushy, and holier-than-thou. They were constantly parading through the dorms, loudly declaring what they were going to pray for, while castigating everyone else as damned, unrepentant sinners.

But Piper did manage to find some level of comfort from religious holidays. When Easter came up in March, it was the first holiday she knew she would miss with her family because of her incarceration. But Pop in Orange in the New Black and her kitchen crew prepared a wonderful Easter meal that managed to give Piper a small taste of home. They served up baked chicken, cabbage, dumplings, and deviled eggs. Pop in Orange Is the New Black had connections that gave her access to contraband that no one else in the prison could dream of getting. Although Piper chose not to bunk with her, Pop in Orange Is the New Black became like a mother to Piper, guiding her through the trials and tribulations of prison with a unique mixture of compassion and tough love. She was exactly the kind of guardian figure someone like Piper needed in Danbury. Although Pop in OITNB had a tough exterior and came from a completely different background than Piper—she was a Russian gangster’s wife who had spent years on the run from the FBI before finally being apprehended—she had a genuine warmth and compassion and made it her business to look out for the “girls” in her crew. And that now very much included Piper. Pop in OITNB was one of the many people who helped Piper manage her time in prison.

Pop: Orange Is the New Black Mother Figure

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  • The real, more nuanced story behind the hit TV show
  • How upper-class Piper Kerman landed in prison on drug charges
  • The key lessons Kerman learned about society and herself

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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