known to the other inmates as the prison hairdresser, and she
frequently gives advice to her clients. Sophia’s role is a crucial one,
not solely because Laverne Cox is a transgender woman in real life
but also because Sophia is incarcerated in a women’s prison after
having previously identified as male. Facing discrimination,
potential lack of friendships, and an eternal struggle to “fit in,”
Sophia encapsulates a broad representation of what it means to be
a transwoman. As one might imagine, the hardships associated
with a trans-identity pose all sorts of controversy as to how
imprisonment is managed and how other convicts may feel about
Sophia being part of their cohort.
To put this into context, Sophia undergoes a harsh
confrontation with fellow inmates during the third season of the
series when they attack her simply for being trans, despite her
previous acceptance at Litchfield. The inmates enter Sophia’s salon
uninvited and harass her about what’s “between [her] legs” and
later ask to see. Sophia is then assaulted, a hate crime that should
have resulted in harsh punishment for the bigoted perpetrators.
Instead, Sophia is sent to the Security Housing Unit (SHU)
allegedly “for her own protection,” and since the orders come from
Management and Correction Corporation (MCC), Joe Caputo
(Nick Sandow) can do nothing about it. Sophia remains in the SHU
for several episodes, which include some short scenes of her in
utter isolation. The series portrays Sophia’s situation as the fault of
the administration, which deems her worthy of the SHU because
she is transgender. Meanwhile, Orange is the New Black displays
other members of Litchfield as finding Sophia’s position in the
SHU ridiculous with some expressing frustration that Sophia is
held in the SHU so long without just cause. All this considered,
Sophia’s storyline reveals several important points about bigotry,
injustice, and sexual and racial discrimination within the judicial
system.
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