Nice Kids With A Future (OITNB Season 4 Spoilers)

So, the end of season 4 of Orange is the New Black ended with what the writers have described as their tribute to Black Lives Matter: the senseless, brutal death behind bars of the character Poussey Washington, the most prominent Black affirmed lesbian character on the show. She was in the top tier of characters in terms of the amount of development she’s received through story arcs and interactions with others. At the time of her death, she was one of the few characters in a happy long-term relationship and she was looking towards the future, making contacts and planning her post-prison career.

Others with a more personal stake and more relevant lived experience have already written at length of the problems inherent in her death. For my part, I will only say that I am reminded of Stokely Carmichael’s speech about the purpose of civil rights bills:

I maintain that every civil rights bill in this country was passed for white people, not for black people. For example, I am black. I know that. I also know that while I am black I am a human being, and therefore I have the right to go into any public place. White people didn’t know that. Every time I tried to go into a place they stopped me. So some boys had to write a bill to tell that white man, “He’s a human being; don’t stop him.” That bill was for that white man, not for me. I knew it all the time. I knew it all the time.

I knew that I could vote and that that wasn’t a privilege; it was my right. Every time I tried I was shot, killed or jailed, beaten or economically deprived. So somebody had to write a bill for white people to tell them, “When a black man comes to vote, don’t bother him.” That bill, again, was for white people, not for black people; so that when you talk about open occupancy, I know I can live anyplace I want to live. It is white people across this country who are incapable of allowing me to live where I want to live. You need a civil rights bill, not me. I know I can live where I want to live.”

In other words: who is it that needs to be given a fictional ideal representation of a friendly, non-threatening, non-violent offender, someone highly educated and from a respectable background, who dies a shocking, senseless, and preventable death in front of our eyes in order to understand that Black Lives Matter?

That’s all I’ll say on that subject.

The purpose of this post is to address the character who was made the instrument of her death by the writers: young and naive guard Baxter Bayley. While the majority of the new guards are the military vets introduced this season, he’s a recent high school graduate who has been at a loose end, bouncing from job to job. The previous season, he was openly compared to a puppy dog and given the nickname “Gerber” (as in “Gerber Baby”).

In the same episode where Poussey died, we saw his backstory, which included a run-in with the law: on the night of their high school graduation, he and three friends climbed the Litchfield municipal water tower with beer and pot. They were caught and hauled in and spent an unspecified amount of time (certainly no longer than an overnight stay, and probably far less) before the sheriff and a deputy pull a quick “scared straight” gag on them and let them go.

Bayley, before stepping out of the holding cell, says something like, “Are you sure? Because we had reefer, too!”

The sheriff, incredulous, says, “Is this kid serious?” Bayley’s friend who shared the cell quickly says something like, “No, sir, he’s not.” and moves him along before he can say anything else.

Later on, when the private company that now runs the correctional facility is looking for a slant to give Poussey’s death in the press, we learn that she was arrested for trespass and “possession with intent” of less than half an ounce of marijuana. What was the crime Bayley and his friends were hauled in for on their graduation night? Trespassing. They also had in their possession at the time what was likely a similarly small amount of marijuana. By all rights, the trajectory of Bayley’s life could well have been the same as Poussey’s, except for one thing: when the cop car pulled up the water tower, what he saw was not four criminal, but four Nice Kids With A Future.

The sort of people who like to believe that racism is not racism but just facts loves to point out differing rates of criminal convictions by racial demographics as proof that racial profiling is not racist nor discriminatory but Just Good Sense: if a certain group of people is most likely to be found carrying drugs, then it makes sense to focus your limited time and resources there, right?

Except this confuses cause and effect. If you’re only looking in a certain place for something, that will be the place you most often find it. The effect of the lowered scrutiny placed on white drug offenders is that young white people are actually markedly more likely to offend, because they have less fear of consequences. Add to this the discretionary powers that police have when they even catch someone and the further discretionary powers possessed by judges and prosecutors, and you see how the racial disparity becomes magnified at every step of the way.

Stop-and-frisk programs like the one in New York City are a pronounced example of this discretionary power at its most naked: when possession itself is not a criminal offense but displaying it in public is, the police stop only those people they wish to criminalize and order them to display any drugs in their possession.

It’s not just drug crimes where this effect is in play. White children (especially middle class and up) left home alone while their parents work are “latchkey kids”; Black and Latino children are CPS cases. Who are “boys will be boys” and “just kids, for Christ’s sake” and who are “thugs” and “suspected gang members”?

Throughout the drama surrounding Poussey’s death, warden Joe Caputo defends the character of both her and the young guard to his corporate masters, but when the chips are down and push comes to shove, he chooses to throw her under the bus to defend the Nice Kid With A Future.

When the subject of white privilege comes up, so often the response from those among us who’ve never contemplated our privilege is, “Nobody ever gave me anything just for being white. I still have to work for things. I still run into trouble. Nobody ever gave me a pass for being white.” I bet Bayley and his friends didn’t feel like they got a pass when they got pulled off the water tower and thrown into the clink.

But if the people who dealt with them had thought they looked like criminals instead of four Nice Kids With A Future, they could have been brought up on charges. They could have been shot, if the man who brought them in had been sufficiently fearful of what four dangerous criminals might do to him if given half a chance.

You never really know when someone’s giving you a pass. You don’t know how often a cop decides not to pull you over, how often a loss prevention worker decides not to stop you and ask you to turn out your pockets, how often a cashier decides not to look closer at your check or credit card or ID, how often a bank clerk decides not to question where the money you’re trying to withdraw or deposit really came from, how often a landlord decides not to distrust you.

In Bayley’s flashback arc, we see him being fired from one of his places of employment (an ice cream stand) for theft of materials; giving out something in the neighborhood of $30 of ice cream a day to girls he finds hot. I’m sure someone reading this would use that as an example of how he doesn’t benefit from white privilege, but the extent of the consequences he faces is being fired and having his last paycheck confiscated to cover the loss.

In other words, he steals a few hundred dollars’ worth of materials from his job and his “punishment” is he has to make restitution and he’s removed from the position that allowed him to do so. He doesn’t face charges. He’s not put into the system. And his reaction is incredulity; his idea of an apology is “I didn’t know there were cameras.” I.e., “I never expected to get caught, much less that there would be consequences.”

Caught red-handed stealing, he’s given a pass.

The (I believe unintended) lesson of Bayley’s flashbacks is he’s in the position where he can unthinkingly suffocate a human being to death because he has been given passes. All of his life, he has been given passes.

Think about how often a (usually young, usually male) white offender who makes the news winds up being given a reduced sentence or no charges because the defense attorney—or the judge, or in some cases, even the prosecutor—makes the argument that the accused had no reason to expect there would be consequences. Think about how often this argument is brought up in academic settings, secondary or post-secondary, when disciplinary actions are considered. And think about how often it flies, as an excuse.

Think about how often the watercooler talk or internet commentary around young white men accused of something comes down to, “This shouldn’t define his life. He’s a good kid. He has his whole future ahead of him.”

To make a long story short, if the intended purpose of this storyline was to show the audience that Black Lives Matter, they should have stuck with showing us Poussey’s life. By making it about her death and then even more so making it about the life of the fresh-faced, friendly young white guy with his whole life (still) ahead of him, they instead told a story about how important it is to protect the Nice Kids With A Future.

In other words, what they’ve taught us thus far is that above and beyond anyone else, White Lives Matter.

Same old, same old.

STATUS: Monday, June 20th

The Daily Report

Last Friday, when I was too fuzzy in the head to engage in story writing, I instead did an experiment in time use, project management, and game design by trying to design a playable if skeletal RPG system in 8 hours. The results in terms of the immediate goal were mixed, but I feel like I did learn some things about time use and motivation.

One of the things I think helped was that I broke the day up into 1 and 2 hour chunks. I used to consciously break my days up into blocks of about two hours. I stopped because when I was having bad days, that structure became more of an albatross, and as bad days piled up in a row, my “fake it till you make it” approach to keeping things up turned it into a farce. But just because something’s not useful all the time doesn’t mean it’s not useful.

I think trying to make even every good day into a marathon session like that would lead to burnout pretty quickly, but on the other hand, Friday wasn’t otherwise a good day. So I think the 8 hour marathon approach is more something to keep in my quiver of trick arrows for when I need it.

Financial Situation

Mostly unchanged, with the positive note that my WorldCon travel is now very close to being funded. How cool would it be to finish it out today?

On the negative side, my bank has been reeeeallly slooooooooooow to process any of the recent credits from GoFundMe. They do this any time my balance is low, I think hoping that any debit transactions come through that they can ram through to hit with a $35 fee. When the balance was higher (i.e., before I paid for the WorldCon memberships), deposits were posting the same day GFM says they go through. With the balance low, they’re now backed up several days, almost a week. This is the kind of stuff that makes me nervous. Anyone who wants to help assuage my anxiety can leave a tip either through PayPal or my new SquareCash page, which doesn’t quite go directly to my bank account (same kind of processing delay), but is more direct than PayPal.

The State of the Me

Well, coming off a weekend that I spent mostly being sick and tired, I have to say that I am feeling exceptionally well today.

Plans For Today

Well, I had two days last week (Thursday and Friday) where I had planned to be writing and then wasn’t up to it. I also have a chapter of Tales of MU that I’d meant to have drafted last week, which is due for publishing for tomorrow and for Patron preview today. So this is going to be a writing day. I’m going to be following some of the example of discipline and time use that I did back on Friday by dividing the day up into distinct blocks.

Dang, apparently I am sick.

So, I did that 8 hour game experiment in part because I was too headachy and congested to engage the story brain. Over the course of the day I felt really energized and inspired, and I figured that meant I was on the upswing.

Nope. Just super into what I was doing. As soon as I stopped: headachy, dizzy, sore, and tired. Opened up my mouth to speak and it was a creaky whisper. I think part of that was disuse, as I barely said a word to anyone all day (and nothing for the last 6 hours), but while my voice did improve a bit with warming up, it is definitely a bit torn up from post-nasal drip.

Good thing I still have some of my con supplies (crystallized ginger and cepacol lozenges). Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow, as it’s supposed to be D&D day.

8 Hour Game Hours 7 & 8: Not quite the home stretch.

Okay. So. I very broadly hit the goal of creating a rules lite, diceless game system that could technically be played, but I’m going to give the final results a kind of mixed rating? The equipment system is not there, there are references to special abilities but no framework for such, there’s no elements of narrative control that I was hoping to include. What I have is less an elegant foundation on which an end user could build whatever they wanted and more a stripped-down chassis which a skilled mechanic with the right tools who is willing to get their hands dirty could use to build something, with a little effort.

Still! It’s something. And I think the timed/deadline approach had a positive impact on my design process and keeping me focused. So, I’m going to extend it. In a previous update I was talking about extending the system through a series of similar focused work days. I’m going to give the base system itself a little more time, though. Specifically, I want to see what I can come up with in 24 hours. Not all at once! I have too much going on for that. I doubt I could find two more 8 hour work days in the next few weeks.

But a few half-days, here and there? Totally doable. So I’m going to log the time I spend working on it and see what I can come up with in 24 hours total. This 8 hour session gave me a more realistic idea of what I can do in 8 hours, so I think a (distributed) 24 hour design schedule is totally doable.

Here’s the final updated link for now. Again, this is with no polishing, minimal editing for order or clarity, and not at all the preferred newbie friendly, strictly-defining finished version. Future updates will still be tagged “NDO” but not “8 hour game design”, because, not 8 hours.

8 Hour Game Hours 5 & 6: Skills and Such

Okay, so, my attempt to update my progress on the hour has turned into every other hour. Skills took me longer than I expected, in part because I indulged in my love of specificity and in part because I had to stop and consider some sub-systems for performance skills (I loathe the idea of a general all purpose entertainer skills) and for knowledge skills that are culturally bounded. I’m pleased with what I came up with for both cases, although as with the entire document as a whole, the presentation will probably need to be unified and cleaned up.

I have two hours left in the day. I suspect that to reach my goal of having a completely playable, self-contained if simple game, I’m going to have to make the equipment system more bare-bones and abstract than I would like; i.e., define weapons and armor in terms of general classes, and pretty much leave everything else up to improvisation. This is partly because of time constraints, but partly because I’m trying to make a base system that is universal and agnostic to setting, which means either having an incredibly large and detailed equipment sytem with everything from stone knives to phaser rifles (not going to happen in one afternoon) or leaving the equipment system skeletal, to be filled in for particular settings.

With that in mind, I’m going to proceed and try to wrap this up in the allotted time as planned, but I’m setting further goals for myself: take time to develop this bare-bones system into something more fleshed out for particular genres/settings, using a similar approach to this. I’m going to start by expanding my 8 hour game design into 24 hours  (not concurrently! Rather, three working days) to turn it into a high fantasy adventure game, with appropriate equipment system, magic system, etc.

Updated link.

8 Hour Game Hour 3 & 4: Getting into character creation.

Hour 3

I’ve now covered defining the basic attributes. Nothing really revolutionary here. It didn’t take me an hour to come up with the text I added… I spent quite a bit of time sketching out schemes for how the more advanced pieces will fit together, so I can lay the groundwork here.

I expect the 4th and 5th hour to also go to character creation, as I have to define secondary attributes derived from the basic ones (won’t take too long) and skills (which likely will). When that’s finished, with three hours left, I’ll start working on both more detailed examples of conflict resolution and combat (which will kind of go hand in hand), and then see how much time I have left for fleshing out other parts.

Updated link.

Hour 4

…okay, apparently I was so hyperfocused on this that I didn’t remember to hit publish before I flipped back to my word processor windows. Well, up above is what happened in hour 3. Hour 4 has gone about how I expected it to. I finished secondary attributes and am 1/3rd of the way through a basic, bare-bones, settings-agnostic skill list.

As I fill out skills, I’m starting to think about complexities like how does something like a perception check function in a diceless system based on resource management? For you to know you have to spend any resources to try to detect an ambush, you have to be told there’s something to detect.

Possible solution: assume that alertness, rather than action, is an ongoing state of being. If you spend X resources in a day on general alertness, that stands for all Awareness operations where you’re not actively searching/scrutinizing. You could up your alertness at any time (subject to normal maximums), but not get points back by decreasing it.

This would allow it to function similar to passive perception in recent editions of D&D, in that it would allow the game runner to compare values without alerting you what’s going on. It would also keep the risk/reward model intact, because if you decide to spend more resources for alertness early on, you don’t have them, but if you wait until you think you’re in a dangerous situation to spend them, it might be too late.

I’ll probably have an updated document at the start of Hour 5.

8 Hour Game Hour 2: Conflict Resolution & Character Architecture

In the second hour—the first hour of real development—I sketched out a basic conflict resolution system for NoDice Odyssey (pronounced “Nodyssey Odyssey”) that substitutes resource management for dice while still maintaining an element of risk/reward calculation. Inherent in this system are some basic assumptions about character architecture and design, which will be my next step.

As I hit major milestones such as this, I’ll be posting links to a snapshot of the document. Note that it’s understandably rough and doesn’t have all the normal definition of terms and introduction of concepts I would put in an RPG doc to keep it accessible.

Link here.

Going into hour 3 as I come back from a brief lunch break, I’m focusing on character creation, which will involve fleshing out those six basic attributes and defining the generally available skills. When that’s done, the game will be technically playable as a very light, setting-and-genre-agnostic system, albeit one that can’t handle special capabilities (magic, superpowers, psionics, etc.) or equipment.

My 8 Hour Game Design

Okay, this is kind of random (but what do I do that isn’t?), but I’m in a creative mood and my story brain is not engaging today. When this happens, I tend to default to game design. I’ve got multiple game design projects floating around between my back burners, but in the interest of bringing something to fruition I’m setting myself a challenge and giving this new experiment a limited scope.

I’m going to design and then release a playable RPG system over the course of an 8 hour workday (with a half hour break for lunch).

This includes the hour that just passed, by the way, because I’ve had ideas jangling around in my head since I woke up. Seriously, when I’m stressed and feel like my life is out of control, my brain wants to design systems for simulating and controlling worlds.

I do have a lot of material lying around for other games, both in digital and neural forms, so to make this challenge a little more honest I’m going to do something I haven’t done before: diceless. This will be double fun because I haven’t played or read a lot of diceless games, either.

Working title for the project is “NoDice Odyssey”. It’s pronounced “Nodyssey Odyssey”. I will post updates on or about the hour all day.

STATUS: Friday, June 17th

The Daily Report

Last night I couldn’t sleep and vented some of my anxieties around money. This morning I felt much better for having done so, more emotionally secure though just as financially insecure as I was last night.

With some of the pressure released, I took a few moments to do some quick calculations. Now, how much money I’m making this month is a bit up in the air until the end of the month, but by my best estimation, at 40 hours/week, I’m going to finish June just north of $5 an hour.

That’s not a living wage. It’s not minimum wage. But you know what? It’s better than I thought. It’s not as well-off as I’ve ever been, but it’s a start.

One of the next thoughts that occurred to me is that I’ve made more money than this in the past, and at the point where I did, I had set a goal to reach that particular point and then hit it. And after that I floundered, because I didn’t have a goal beyond the nebulous “make more money?”, and that was a lot harder to focus on.

I talked yesterday in this space about how writing is a creative endeavor, which means there’s a psychological component to it. I suppose the same is true of every pursuit, to varying degrees, but I know from experience it’s easier to keep punching numbers into a database when you don’t have a higher purpose than it is for me to keep writing and creating without one.

So I’m setting my sights on a goal. I’m at or just above $5 an hour. The next goal is $10 an hour, at which point I’ll be able to contribute regularly to household expenses. But that’s an intermediate step. My actual goal right now, the prize on which my eyes are fixed, will be $15, the living wage. I see absolutely no reason why a writer with my talents, my experience, and my ability to draw people in and compel them couldn’t make a living wage at it, in this day and age, with these tools available.

After that? Well, I know lots of numbers above $15. But one thing at a time, right?

Financial Outlook

Still skating by, still a little consumed at thoughts of how thin the ice is. If enough people sign up for my online writing class (just announced dates and times, and opened sign-ups to non-patrons), that’ll do a lot to shore things up.

The State of the Me

I felt terrible all day yesterday. Achy, sore, tired. I probably would have been non-functional without the new A/C, but as it was, I wasn’t able to set in and write.

Today I feel better throughout most of my body, but I have what I’m sure is a sinus headache and a post-nasal drip. I think I’d rate my condition and physical feelings better overall, though? We’ll see how it goes.

Plans For Today

Going to be writing.


On my Patreon page, I’m offering a perk for patrons at the $25 level: a two hour online writing class focused on a different lesson each month. This month the theme is Writing The Rest Of A Story When You Only Know Part Of It. 

Going on from the beginning is often easy enough, but what do you do when you have the end of a story, or the middle? What happens when you’ve got a single cool scene but you don’t know what goes around it? How do you write something you haven’t mapped out? How can you write about a person or world or phenomenon you don’t know about?

At this point, no one has signed up for the $25 level, so I am offering the class slots for sale here. The class will take place on Friday, June 24th, at 4:00 PM Eastern, with another session on Saturday, June 25th at noon for those who can’t make it. Participants may join either or both sessions; unless everybody there on Friday is there on Saturday, you can expect Saturday to mainly be a repeat, but if you have the time and think you’d benefit from repetition, there you go. The class will be held using Google Hangouts (text only); a Google/Gmail account is necessary to participate, but those are free. You can make one specifically for the class if you want.

Sign Up Form

I’m using a PayPal button for this, because that gives me inventory control and space in the class is extremely limited.

Once you have purchased your slot, forward your payment confirmation to blueauthor (at) alexandraerin (dot) com. In this message, please include the email address we should use for contacting you in Hangouts, if it’s not the one you’re emailing from, and which class(es) you expect to attend.

All purchases are final. If events eventuate that you cannot attend either session at all, I’ll try to make a space for you in next month’s. Similarly, I reserve the right to reschedule either session if it turns out I couldn’t be there; it would be a boring class without me.