Episode 3 of Orange is the New Black’s first season explores a variety of themes ranging from transgender rights to a broken prison system.
A large portion of the episode focuses on the life of Sophia Burset, a transgender woman who stole credit cards to fund her sex-reassignment. Sophia is disrespected and mocked by many of the other inmates, who don’t consider to her to be a real woman. A lack of understanding of transgender people is also shown in the flashbacks with her firefighter colleagues and the store employee struggling to use proper pronouns This general lack of respect surprisingly
doesn’t stop one of the (presumably) heterosexual male guards from being attracted to her and trying to take advantage of her when the prison decides to give her smaller, generic doses of her hormone medication to cut costs. Sophia’s attempt to convince the prison staff to let her back on her medication by swallowing a bobblehead backfires when the doctor elects to completely take her off her medication, which is morally questionable at best.
Another key issue discussed in the episode revolves around the broken prison system in the United States, which has people who have committed minor crimes such as Piper in the same level of facility as international drug dealers like Alex. In multiple scenes the prison is suggested to be severely underfunded, as necessary
medications are hard for prisoners to come by, the prison management did not replace the freezer in the kitchen until it became inoperable, and the prison can not afford to keep basic exercise facilities for inmates open. It is also implied that the prison lacks proper mental health facilities and has a high proportion of inmates, including Crazy Eyes, suffering from mental health problems. Another issue for the prison is the unofficial segregation down racial lines in the prison and the racism displayed by some prisoners and prison staff.
These themes relate to the larger picture of the show by showing that some inmates have a much more difficult time in prison than others and the severe problem of prison overcrowding that harshly punishes minor offenders of the law and is a burden for the United States.