How much do you remember about the women of Litchfield Penitentiary? It's been a year, so we wouldn't blame you for being a little hazy on the details of Piper And Frienemies' Incarcerated Adventures.
But one of our favorite parts of this show is that it doesn't just portray the complexities of everyday prison life. It gives us a deeper understanding of each character through detailed flashbacks of their lives before they were sent inside. We see what happened to Watson that turned her so bitter, and what really happened with Morello's fiancé that she wouldn't, or couldn't, tell anyone.
With Season 3 of "Orange Is The New Black" going up June 12, we made you this guide to the backstories we've seen so far, listed in order of how much we like each character. Crimes are listed in [brackets] if we suspect that's why an inmate landed at Litchfield but don't have quite enough info.
Poussey Washington: [Marijuana Dealing]
Poussey grew up with a father whose military job sent them traveling all over the world. Finding her niche at a base in Germany, we see Poussey having fun at a high-school party, lightly chastising an American boy for not having learned to speak the language of her German girlfriend. She's young and in love! And smoking a lot of weed.
Later, we flash to her father relaying some serious news: The family is being transferred back to the States. Knowing her girlfriend's father, a German officer, had discovered the girls' relationship -- the real reason for the transfer -- Poussey confronts him tearfully. Her own father intervenes just before she can pull a gun out of her waistband.
Nicky Nichols: [Heroin Abuse]
Nicky's privileged childhood was quickly followed by drug abuse. One flashback shows her lying in a hospital bed, coming to as her mother informs her that she's undergone surgery and blood transfusions for a bacterial infection caused by dirty needles. We learn she'd been raised mainly by a nanny while her mother spent all her time with a "prick" boyfriend in another apartment.
"I want you to do things mothers do. Hold me, give me sips of water, anything," Nicky pleads to her indifferent mother in the hospital. A later flashback shows Nicky, new to prison and miserably detoxing, comforted by Red, who fills her mother's shoes.
Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson: Drug Dealing
Season 2 shows us a lot of Taystee's past -- particularly, how it's tied up with Vee. In her first flashback, we see Taystee under a banner that reads "Black Adoption Festival," trying to butter up potential new parents and cursing other kids who get in her way. (But she knows 50-some digits of Pi!) Sitting dejectedly on a park bench with a sno cone, she's joined by Vee, who gives Taystee her iconic nickname.
Knowing Vee's illicit business, Taystee tries keeping her distance, opting to continue living in a group home. She works a legitimate, if irritating, job at a fast food joint in her teens until getting fired and turning to Vee at last, proving her worth as an accountant. Soon she and RJ, another Vee-sponsored youth, form a brother-sister closeness over family-style dinners. And when RJ is shot and killed by a police officer, Vee acts as a source of comfort. "I protect my babies," she promises Taystee.
Sophia Burset: Credit Fraud
Episode 3 of Season 1 opens on a flashback of Sophia as a firefighter, years before she began presenting as a woman, taking covert snapshots of fire victims' credit card information. She changes in a locker room stall after her shift, revealing hot-pink ladies' undergarments. Later, we see Sophia trying on a sparkly outfit for her wife, Crystal, who very kindly suggests a different, "classier" number while Sophia laments having missed the chance to experiment with clothes as a teenager.
The couple's son, Michael, clearly has a difficult relationship with his father. A flashback shows the painful discomfort Michael feels when he and Sophia run into an old acquaintance at a shoe store -- but not before Michael catches a glimpse of Sophia's wallet, stuffed with credit cards. When the authorities come to arrest her for fraud, we see Michael with the wallet and a look of guilt.
Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren: [Unknown]
Season 1 reveals Crazy Eyes' hilariously bougie, white parents. And in Season 2, we finally get her backstory. Suzanne was adopted by a couple who'd thought they were infertile but ended up having a "miracle" daughter of their own, Grace. When Suzanne can't hold "the miracle" for more than a few seconds in the hospital, she throws a tantrum. A kind nurse, also black, subdues her by styling her hair in the bantu buns Suzanne wears almost constantly from then on.
Another flashback six years later shows the sisters getting dropped off at a slumber party for one of Grace's friends. Mrs. Warren passionately defends her attempts to give both daughters equal opportunities when the birthday girl's mother has a problem with Suzanne attending, too. ("Is this because she's black?") But at the party, we hear Grace beg her sister to please not "be weird." Suzanne's mental-health issues are obvious, so it's unclear why her mother pushes her so hard into social situations. Finally, at her high-school graduation, we witness Suzanne's breakdown onstage while she's supposed to be performing a song.
Lorna Morello: Fraud, Stalking and Attempted Murder
In one of the most WTF backstories we've seen so far, we learn that nothing Morello has said about her planned wedding has been remotely true. Not only has she only been on one date with her purported fiancé, Christopher, after bumping into him at the post office, but she'd stalked him. After her countless emails, calls, Facebook messages and threatening notes left on his car, Christopher testifies in court that he'd moved twice to escape her. But she'd found him, going so far as to plant a homemade explosive device under his new girlfriend's car.
Earlier flashbacks illustrate a chaotic Morello home life -- noisy kids run around as a baby propped up against the wall topples over trying to nibble a pack of cigarettes, and the family patriarch sits uselessly in front of the TV. Lorna's sister does much of the housework while Lorna flits off to see a movie ("Twilight," of course) and quickly escapes to her bedroom. We see childish wedding magazine cutouts hanging above a desk, where Lorna calls customer service, claiming a pair of Prada heels never arrived as she admired them in their box. Her sister questions Lorna's ability to afford such nice clothes as the delusional Morello packs for a "weekend away" at the Jersey Shore with "her boyfriend" -- but doesn't press it.
Galina "Red" Reznikov: [Russian Mafia-Related]
Red's flashback shows us the restaurant-slash-grocery she ran with her husband, who wanted to get in with a group of Russian mafia men. On his suggestion, she attempts to befriend their wives by joining their 80s-tastic power walk through the neighborhood, but puts them off with a crass joke. Later, seeing the women on a walk without her, Red confronts them. The ringleader insults her dye job, and Red punches her in the chest, deflating one breast implant. Instead of the $60,000 the woman's husband demanded as repayment, the Reznikovs let the mafia store something in the restaurant freezer.
In another flashback, however, we witness Red's own business savvy. As she waits on her husband and his associates at the restaurant, she makes a suggestion they take seriously. Later, we see the couple's roles reversed -- Red finding her place at the businessmen's table, not off with their wives or fetching refills.
Dayanara & Aleida Diaz: Drug Dealing
The mother-daughter prison duo seem to have always had a tough relationship. Daya, often in charge of her many younger siblings in the family's run-down home, resented Aleida for failing to appreciate her daughter's contributions. Aleida, who let her asshole boyfriend Cesar use the kitchen for his drug business -- when he wasn't taking her on fancy dates -- resented Daya for seducing him.
Gloria Mendoza: EBT Fraud
Gloria ran a convenience store with her sister, specializing in prayer candles and herbal remedies. We see a man come in demanding a refund -- his candle had not helped him get a new job, even though he didn't actually send any applications -- and she caves. As the man browses, Gloria secretly runs a fraudulent government benefits transaction. For a $100 EBT card, she lets someone walk away with a case of beer and $50 cash, charging the government for merchandise she hadn't sold.
In another flashback, we watch her loyal sister defend a battered Gloria as Arturo, her abusive boyfriend, shows up begging forgiveness. (And, we suspect, not for the first time.) She reluctantly takes him back. Some time later, as she's frantically preparing to leave him for good, Gloria is arrested -- turned in by the dissatisfied customer -- but not before Arturo catches a glimpse of her cash spoils. After she's gone, he returns for the cash, but accidentally locks himself in the back room, knocks over a candle and burns to death. Because karma.
Miss Claudette: Murder
A young Claudette came to New York City from Haiti to work off her parents' debt as a maid. She's befriended by the man who brought her, Baptiste, who's apparently made a living recruiting new girls. He promises her new life will be okay. She secretly falls for him, but he marries someone else.
Years later, we see Claudette has taken over the cleaning business. When she discovers bruises all over one of her young workers, she pays a visit to the client responsible, stabbing him to death but leaving his house spotlessly clean.
Rosa Cisneros: Bank Robbery
In a flashback, Rosa is having her own Bonnie and Clyde moment with her husband Marco and two others in a '50s-style sedan. She and Marco kiss once before the robbery, with the idea that after the job, they'll kiss again. (A thieves' good luck charm, or something?) They run inside, pulling a classic put-the-money-in-the-bag stickup as Rosa's hands shake holding her gun -- clearly a novice. A guard shoots as they run back to the car, catching Marco in the back. He slumps over Rosa's lap in the back of the car, dead.
Later, we see Rosa filling Marco's shoes, leading a new man through another robbery. (He won't follow the double-kiss schtick, though -- it's bad luck.) The post-theft adrenaline goes to Rosa's head. She steps out of the car to hold up another bank immediately afterward -- alone, abandoned by her cronies -- and gets caught.
Janae Watson: Theft
Janae is plagued by the sad feeling that she's too competitive for boys to like her. "Quit showing off!" one of them shouts after her during a race on the school playground, hanging back to chase a girl they could "catch." But Janae's running pays off -- in high school, her track coach tells her colleges will be fighting over the right to give her a scholarship. Later, she shows up at a party in a tight dress -- still trying to fit into the guy-girl social scene -- only to be told to leave. She's too good to hang around "thugs." She has potential.
But Janae is arrested after robbing a store with a friend far less concerned about her future. Echoing those playground days, he yells for her to slow down as they sprint from the cops. She does.
Sister Jane Ingalls: Trespassing
Jane got her first taste of protest shortly after joining the convent. In a flashback, we see her being shown around by an older nun, whom Jane asks how long it'll be before she hears the voice of Jesus. The nun can't say. Soon we flash to Jane and two friends getting out of a Volkswagen van, high off the war protest they'd just been to. An event, it turns out, they didn't exactly have permission to attend. "I can't believe it; I fell in with the bad nuns!" Jane laments. But she'd had fun.
In another flashback, we see an older Sister Jane trespassing with some others. She throws fake blood onto a defaced building as someone snaps photos. Later, we see Jane sitting with a pastor. She'd written a book with various passages that suggested she wasn't totally doing the nun thing for the right reasons anymore. The Church, she learns, would no longer support her or pay for her legal fees.
Tricia Miller: Theft
Remember her? The one who overdosed? Tricia's backstory is a sad one -- a life spent mainly on the streets to dodge an unhappy family situation and "rapist stepdad." We see her panhandling with a friend on the sidewalk, and learn that she's been stealing -- but keeps a record of everything so she can pay it back eventually. Later, Tricia bumps into the same friend looking clean and healthy, having found a job and an apartment. Tricia bids a quick goodbye, wanting none of her friend's charity. A scene showing Tricia's attempt to repay one of her debts -- a pair of cheap headphones -- ends with Tricia running from a police officer, having just stolen a necklace.
Cindy Hayes: [Theft]
Working as a hilariously power-hungry TSA agent, we see Cindy paw through luggage, stealing valuables as she sees fit. Later we see her giving a stolen iPad to her "little sister" -- who, we learn, is actually Cindy's daughter -- as a birthday present. As the two drive off for ice cream, Cindy's mother is disappointed, but not surprised, to learn the iPad was stolen. Further proving herself an irresponsible parent, Cindy leaves her daughter parked in the car as she goes to catch up with a friend for ten -- then 20 -- minutes, "tops." That night, her mother confronts her, reminding Cindy why it's important to keep her parentage a secret.
Piper Chapman: Conspiracy
The basics: Little blonde Piper was just a freewheeling post-grad trotting around the globe with her international-drug-cartel-employed girlfriend, Alex Vause, when she flew a little too close to the fire. Ten years later, she's in prison because someone (*cough, ALEX, cough*) named her as an accomplice. Her relationship with Alex burned fast and bright, but started to fizzle as Alex got more and more involved in the drug biz, leaving Piper to fend for herself in luxury hotels like "a pathetic housewife." It ended when Alex asked for too much of Piper's help -- after flying a suitcase full of money across international borders, Piper swore off risky behavior. She left the day Alex learned her mother had died.
In flashbacks over Seasons 1 and 2, we learn little details about Piper's life. Piper met Alex at a bar. Piper and fiancé Larry did a juice cleanse together. Piper was once attacked by Alex's live-in girlfriend, who exacted further revenge by lighting a bag of (human?) shit aflame on her front porch. Piper met Larry because he was housesitting for her BFF Polly -- whose home Piper waltzed into after getting a dog bite -- and helped patch up her bloody leg. Piper once introduced Alex to Polly and watched as the two did not get along. Piper thought she might have been pregnant one time. Piper was never a risk-taker in her early years, and in true WASP style was taught to keep feelings to herself, even if her dad was having an affair.
Alex Vause: Heroin Trafficking
Mean girls used to torment Alex by calling her "pigsty" and making fun of her off-brand shoes after school. But Alex's mom was a no-nonsense woman who worked several jobs trying to make ends meet, and raised her daughter to revere her absentee father, a supposed rock god. When Alex is older, she finds her dad, an immediate and unsurprising disappointment, in a dirty apartment surrounded by groupies. He points out Alex's "serious rack" and the fact that it'd be very wrong for him to sleep with his daughter. When she goes to the bathroom to cry, Alex runs into her father's dealer. And her career in the drug biz is born.
Tiffany "Pennsatucky" Doggett: [Attempted] Murder
In a flashback, we see her lying in filthy bed with a boyfriend. She's pregnant, and wants to get an abortion, again. He tries to point out the benefits of having a kid -- the baby food that comes in WIC packages can make a mean casserole! But Pennsatucky ends up at the clinic, waking up groggily from her operation when a nurse makes a quip about her patient's record. "We should give you a punch card, get the sixth one free," she deadpans. Pennsatucky returns with a gun, and we hear a shot -- presumably meant for the sassy nurse who "disrespected" her.
Later, we learn that the pro-life community was so pleased with her actions, they arranged a good lawyer for her case and a stipend for her family. The moment she walks into the courtroom to a round of applause is the moment, we presume, Pennsatucky began her overzealous devotion to Christianity.
Yvonne "Vee" Parker: Drug Dealing
Ugh, Vee. Most of her history we see shared with Taystee, the surrogate daughter she lied to, and Red, a friend she backstabbed. We know early in Season 2 that she once commanded a drug ring of vulnerable children and teens, manipulating them by offering some stability in their lives.
Actually, if she weren't funding her lifestyle with morally reprehensible activity, Vee's outward persona wouldn't be so different from a nice suburban mom. She cooks butternut squash soup for Taystee and R.J., one of her longtime worker bees, and scolds them for bringing home junk food. She comforts Taystee when R.J. is killed -- a tragedy, we learn in a later flashback, that she orchestrated. Because underneath the niceties, Vee is the villain of Season 2 we didn't really need. After discovering R.J. going into business for himself, Vee seduces him (ew) and sends him out for an errand. He bumps into a crooked cop who tosses him a gun as a setup, and is shot despite his pleas.
But Vee isn't new to Litchfield when she shows up in Season 2. We learn that she'd been inside at least twice before -- and was used to running things. She'd befriended Red when both women enter the prison at the same time, showing Red the ropes and suggesting she use her Neptune produce connection to smuggle contraband into the prison kitchen. But soon after Red takes the advice, Vee strong-arms her way into Red's budding business. When she tries to protest, Vee's cronies leave her bloodied on the floor of the kitchen.
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