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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Roll Call: Know Your Inmates

From Piper to Poussey, a scorecard on the MVP convicts of Netflix’s hit show

Orange is the New Black

The cast of 'Orange Is the New Black.'

Jill Greenberg/Netflix

Over the past two seasons of Netflix's hit women-in-prison series Orange Is the New Black, showrunner Jenji Kohan and company have introduced viewers to a colorful cast of incarcerated characters: pacifist nuns, nutty psychopaths, oversexed jokesters, lovesick stalkers, methhead holy rollers, transgender hairdressers and, just for variety, one über-privileged drug-smuggling WASP. We've got to meet inmates of all shapes, sizes, subcultures, and sexual preferences — making the show one of the single most diverse and inclusive TV dramas to ever grace the small screen.

But it also means that you're dealing with an ensemble cast that keeps getting larger and larger, and enough intersecting plot lines to put Game of Thrones to shame. Before Netflix drops the next batch of new episodes en toto on June 12th, you may need a refresher on who's who and what’s happening with everybody — so we're providing a quick (re)introduction to the inmates of Litchfield Penitentary. From Piper to Pennsatucky, Crazy Eyes to Big Boo, here's your one-stop OITNB MVP dossier.

Taylor Schilling

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling)

Backstory: WASP poster child Piper rebels against her upright upbringing in the worst way possible: by dating drug smuggler Alex Vause, carrying dirty money across borders, and landing in jail 10 years later because her former lover ratted her out.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Piper never quite finds her tribe in the pokey, either alienating people with her cluelessness (see: being starved out by Red), or choosing to be a loner. Still, by the end of Season Two, she’s at least respected; we're guessing pummeling Pennsatucky to a bloody pulp may have had something to do with that.
Pre-OITNB: Schilling had one season on the short-lived NBC drama Mercy under her belt, along with some minor film roles (including one in that recent, ill-advised adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged ).
Best line: "I am a lone wolf, Brook. And a vicious one. Don't make me rip your throat out with my teeth."

kate mulgrew

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew)

Backstory: Red is a Russian immigrant who helps run her husband's convenience store, and eventually gets involved with the mafia — which, unsurprisingly, lands her in prison. Once she's in the pen, however, she rises to power as head chef, and assembles a crew around her that includes white inmates Nicky, Gina, and Norma.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Red starts off at the top of the food chain — literally. But by the end of Season Two, she's been demoted, lost many of her friends, and has the shit beaten out of her by her old partner in crime/certifiable mama-bear predator Vee.
Pre-OITNB: Before she commanded a commissary, Kate Mulgrew commanded the USS Voyager as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.
Best line: "The second you’re perceived as weak, you already are."

Uzo Aduba

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba)

Backstory: Poor Suzanne: She's the adopted child of two middle-class white parents, and her quirks weren't totally embraced by her parents. It's unclear (for now) what landed her behind bars, but we know that the lady with the wild peepers has a violent streak — she beats up Poussey on Vee's orders, and knocks out Piper at the end of Season One. (Not to mention the whole peeing-on-the-floor-of-Piper's-bunk thing.)
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Though her erratic behavior makes her a bit of an outcast, Crazy Eyes is mostly accepted by the other inmates; when Vee is in charge, Suzanne becomes her Number Two.
Pre-OITNB: An accomplished opera singer ("I do all right," she says), Aduba starred on Broadway in Coram Boy in 2007, and also appeared in the ensemble of Godspell right before getting cast on Orange.
Best line: A tie between "I am not crazy. I am unique," and "I threw my pie for you!"

natasha lyonne

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Nicky Nichols (Natasha Lyonne)

Backstory: A former heroin addict who’s part of Red's crew, Nicky talks a big game: She's acerbic, sleeps around (with both Morello and Alex), and isn't afraid to get tough with people. But she also relies on Red for emotional support, and occasionally comforts other inmates in need. (Granted, her idea of comfort is "There's always hope tomorrow will be taco night," but still.) Not to mention that Nicky is a strong contender for the show's funniest character as well.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: When she's running with Red, Nicky is untouchable; even when she's not, the charmingly flirty, foulmouthed inmate is still treated with respect by everyone from cellblock veterans to newbies.
Pre-OITNB: Though many have heralded the show as Lyonne's comeback, the actress — who gained fame from the American Pie movies and the indie flick Slums of Beverly Hills — has appeared in dozens of movies since her late-Nineties heyday.
Best line: "You're one Cheerio in the bulk box of life."

dascha polanco

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco)

Backstory: Shy, manga-obsessed Daya has a complicated relationship with her mother, Aleida. In a nutshell: After Mom goes to jail on drug charges, the younger Diaz sleeps with Aleida's boyfriend, Cesar, and ends up running drugs for him, too — a situation that's made even weirder once they’re in prison together. Oh, and she's pregnant with C.O. John Bennett's baby, but framed former prison guard George Mendez  (better known as "Pornstache") as the father.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Daya already has protection as a member of the Spanish Harlem crew, but her affair with Bennett affords her additional privileges, like fresh vegetables (see "Best line" below).
Pre-OITNB: Aside from a couple of TV cameos, this is Polanco's first big acting gig.
Best line: "Fuck diamonds — I got spinach!"

Taryn Manning

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning)

Backstory: Pennsatucky is in prison for shooting an abortion clinic worker, but she's not the righteous zealot she wants people to think she is — in reality, this former meth addict is just another prisoner with serious rage issues, as evidenced by her violent vendetta against Piper. (But hey, at least that led to her getting new teeth?)
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: For a while, Pennsatucky was the leader of a small group of women who work in the laundry room, but she’s generally disliked by the rest of her fellow inmates. Eventually, her crew turns against her, and she strikes up an odd friendship with Big Boo.
Pre-OITNB: Manning starred in movies like Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile, playing similarly downtrodden characters; she also deejays and performs her own music, sometimes as part of the duo Boomkat.
Best line: "Are you jealous now that I'm kind of pretty and you're not?"

Danielle Brooks

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks)

Backstory: Taystee was an orphan for much of her life, but is "adopted" by villainous drug dealer Vee as an adolescent. She's drafted into her surrogate mother's drug ring, which gives her some semblance of a family (including a brother, RJ) — but it also lands her in prison more than once.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Thanks to her bubbly personality, Taystee mostly gets along with the other women at Litchfield — until Vee ends up in Litchfield and starts manipulating her former ward.
Pre-OITNB: Brooks is one of young 'uns in the cast: She graduated from Juilliard in 2011, and Orange is her first series (she’s done theater and a couple of low-budget movies prior to the show).
Best line: "So I'm sitting there, barbecue sauce on my titties, and I'm like, what the fuck? Again?"

lea delaria

Lea DeLaria in a scene from NetflixÕs ÒOrange is the New BlackÓ Season 2. Photo credit: Jessica Miglio for Netflix

Netflix

Carrie “Big Boo” Black (Lea DeLaria)

Backstory: We actually don't know much about Big Boo at this point — her backstory will apparently be revealed in Season Three — aside from the fact that she's had a few prison wives, she's buds with Red (for a while), and she has an, um, unhealthy relationship with her service dog, Little Boo.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: She starts out as part of Red's crew, but after snitching about the Russian matriarch's greenhouse operation, Boo is cast out — and, inexplicably, finds an ally in Pennsatucky.
Pre-OITNB: DeLaria has made cameos on shows like Friends and Californication, but TV is the least of her talents: In 1993, she was the first openly gay comic to perform on a late-night show (on Arsenio Hall); she's also released several comedy albums, as well as a few well-regarded jazz recordings.
Best line: "This is more depressing than a Tori Amos cover band."

Laverne Cox

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox)

Backstory: Sophia's in the clink because of credit-card fraud, but her story is downright tragic: She's a transgender woman, and was using her ill-gotten funds in order to bankroll the surgeries and medical attention she needed. Her wife is supportive; her son, Michael, is not, and tipped the cops off to her crimes.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Sophia seems to operate outside of the petty drama that consumes many of the prison's other inmates, making nice with Red, Piper, and Pennsatucky alike.
Pre-OITNB: In 2008, Cox was one of 13 contestants on the first season of VH1's I Want to Work For Diddy. Though she didn't win, it led to a gig hosting and producing the makeover show TRANSform ME, with Cox and two other transgender women doling out beauty and life advice to cisgender women.
Best line: "I knew them bitches was lying when they said you left here looking like Omar from The Wire."

yael stone

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)

Backstory: Morello's obsession with West Side Story and wedding magazines conceals a checkered past: after a long history of online scams and stalking a man she went on one single date with, she planted a bomb under his fiancée's car — hence the prison sentence.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Morello aligns herself with the white crew, and enjoys privileges other inmates don't, like driving the prison van for outside doctor appointments, etc.
Pre-OITNB: The Aussie was well-known within Sydney's theater scene, racking up awards and nominations, including one in 2011 for acting opposite Geoffrey Rush in The Diary of a Madman.
Best line: "You don't go Jessica Simpson when you've got Rhianna!"

laura prepon

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Alex Vause (Laura Prepon)

Backstory: Piper's ex was introduced to the wonderful world of drug smuggling by her dad's dealer, and eventually brought her then-girlfriend into the mix. She also ratted out her former love in order to get a shorter sentence; when we last left her, she was planning to skip town, but ended up back in Litchfield…because Piper ratted her out.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Alex has her friends — Nicky and Piper, at least at first — but she's not entrenched in any one crew. She does, however, cross Pennsatucky and end up stuck in a dryer, albeit briefly.
Pre-OITNB: After her run on That '70s Show ended in 2006, the erstwhile Donna Pinciotti had bit parts on How I Met Your Mother, Castle, and Medium, as well as a starring role on the short-lived series October Road and Are You There, Chelsea?
Best line: "Rule number one: Don't ever fall in love with a straight girl."

Samira Wiley

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley)

Backstory: Before prison, Poussey got her heart broken: She was living on a military base in Germany, but her family was transferred back to the U.S. after her girlfriend's father discovers them in bed together. The reason for Poussey's imprisonment is unclear, but thankfully it's not because she shot her estranged lover's dad — she almost did, but her father stopped her.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Poussey spends most of her time hanging out with her bestie Taystee and their fellow African-American inmates — that is, until Vee rolls in and turns everyone except Poussey to the dark side.
Pre-OITNB: Like much of the cast, Wiley got her big break on Orange; prior to being cast, she'd had only a few bit parts in movies and on TV shows.
Best line: "My name is Poussey. Accent a droite, bitch."

selena leyva

Jill Greenberg for Netflix

Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva)

Backstory: It’s hard not to sympathize with Mendoza: On the outside, she owned a bodega, running a food stamp scam on the side, and also suffered through an abusive relationship. After her boyfriend hits one of her kids, she decides to leave — but gets turned in and thrown in the slammer instead. (The boyfriend got his, though, when he tries to steal Mendoza’s cash from her store and it mysteriously burns down…with him inside.)
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: As the de facto leader of the "Spanish Harlem" crew, Mendoza has plenty of power — so much so that when Red is taken off kitchen duty, Mendoza becomes Head Chef.
Pre-OITNB: Earlier in her career, Leyva was on the other side of the law: She played Detective Mariluz Rivera on Law & Order, along with roles in Blue Bloods and The Following.
Best line: "Prison is gluten. Don't commit the crime if you can't fucking have flour."

Adrienne C. Moore

Netflix

Cindy “Black Cindy” Hayes (Adrienne C. Moore)

Backstory: Black Cindy is the TSA agent from hell: During her brief time working for the government agency, she harrasses travelers and steals from their luggage. She also has a history with drugs (possibly the reason for her imprisonment), and has an adolescent daughter who is being raised by Cindy's mother.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Cindy is a go-with-the-flow sort of gal, but mostly hangs out with Taystee, Poussey, and the other black inmates. When Vee takes charge, Cindy rolls with it, but becomes a bit of a jerk — offering cigarettes in exchange for a clean bunk — in the process.
Pre-OITNB: If you recognize Moore, it's likely from her appearance on an episode of 30 Rock as Shanice, the marriage bureau worker who helps Liz Lemon on her wedding day.
Best line: "If grateful paid the bills, we'd all be Bill Gates."

Emma Myles

Emma Myles in a scene from NetflixÕs ÒOrange is the New BlackÓ Season 2. Photo credit: Jessica Miglio for Netflix.

Netflix

Leanne Taylor (Emma Myles)

Backstory: The mousey, seemingly shy inmate hangs out with Pennsatucky and her crew, works in the laundry room, and occasionally gets drugs from Pornstache in exchange for sexual favors. We don't know why she's locked up thus far; fingers crossed we find out this season.
Place in Litchfield's hierarchy: Thanks to her relationship with Pennsatucky, Leanne isn't exactly well-liked within the prison. But when Tucky becomes too big for her britches after getting new teeth, she's there to call the holy roller out on her bullshit.
Pre-OITNB: Myles' resume was also rather short before Orange: Her most notable roles were cameos in Law & Order: SVU and How to Make It in America.
Best line: "You're not the Wizard of Oz — you're the Wizard of God!"

In This Article: Netflix, Orange Is the New Black

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