Orange is the New Black isn't just popular because it's good. The fascination often comes from the knowledge that viewers are one bitter ex's dime drop away from getting in trouble for things they did when they were young, arrogant, and filled with bravado.
In our brains, the prefrontal cortex, which controls impulses and reasoning, develops last, by age 25. It's the part of the brain that is in charge of bringing up negative consequences. And just when we need it to do so most, it's not fully functional.
In my memoir Licking the Spoon, in the chapter "Jack and Coke," I confessed to doing cocaine in my 20s. I did other things that were far more foolhardy than ignoring years of jury duty summonses (guilty of that as well).
Here are some things that some of my now perfectly respectable, middle-class friends copped to doing back in the day. Most of the time, they didn't get caught.
1. "I smuggled marijuana in and out of the U.S. and a small Caribbean country."
2. "My friends and I had real-looking fake sidearms in our glove compartments and we drew them on other irritating -- or innocent -- drivers."
3. "I gave $300 to a guy who said he'd double my money with a large weed purchase. He bought a VW bug instead. That was my food money, so then I stole food from the grocery store where I worked."
4. "When a cop tried to pull me over for speeding, I evaded him. I was with two people on probation, and we were smoking weed."
5. "I stole a credit card while sorting mail during my college work study job, and went on a clothing shopping spree with friends at the mall."
6. "I used to siphon gas from other cars during the height of the oil embargo."
7. "I worked taking ticket money at the county fair, and skimmed money off every night, with a partner in crime.
8. "I helped my foreign friend stay in the country by posing as his employer and forging documents that made him appear employed."
9. "My friends and I drove around on the local elite country club's golf course, and ripped it up when we peeled out!"
10. "My friends and I hitchhiked to Big Sur, traded food for drugs, read Kerouac on the beach and slept in an artichoke patch. No one knew where we were."
These are not things we'd ever do today, in our thirties and forties. What were we thinking, and how have we changed? What did we learn from it, even without getting caught?
I was brought up with lots of religion, but I rejected it all in college. After years of being afraid that I'd be punished by God for misdeeds, my newfound atheism made me feel like I wasn't accountable to anyone or anything. I just had to make sure not to get caught.
At some point, I found my moral compass outside of organized religion. I began to believe in spirituality, just not the kind that's organized and has a following. I also began to believe in karma.
When I became a mother, I wanted to be a good example for my kids. I didn't want other people to suffer because of my actions. I hate feeling guilty. I stopped feeling like I wouldn't get caught. I have a lot to lose, and those kinds of misdeeds just don't feel like they're worth the risk -- at all. And...my brain matured. One of my friends had to bail out her boyfriend from Riker's Island -- and that was a wake-up call. The gas-siphoner read the philosophy of Erich Fromm and realized, "Sometimes, the best thing is to just wait in line with everyone else, love and respect your fellow man."
I'm a lot less judgmental because of my wilder years. Before that, when I was a religious teen, I couldn't relate to most people who did everything from drink, smoke, and have sex out of wedlock to more serious things, and in my mind, I condemned them.
Did you do anything illegal in your late teens and 20s that could have landed you in the slammer with Piper? When was your turning point? 'Fess up in a comment below.
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