I just want to take a minute to unpack that trope, because it’s commonly understood but not commonly discussed. This agent is literally using threat of a particular facility, where it is common knowledge among inmates and, apparently, law enforcement that everyone is raped (or otherwise terrorized) upon arrival, to get information from a former agent who is already sentenced. In other words, the aggressor is aware that this particular facility has this issue, and is using this fact in an investigation.
Putting aside, for the moment, things like the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, and also the complex system that decides things like what level of security a particular inmate merits, this trope is common because we all act like people do or don’t “belong” at these facilities—in other words, that the people create the environs, and thus some people are not appropriate for that environment. But it is my professional experience and understanding that actually, things work the other way round—the environs create the people, and repeated exposure to trauma makes people behave in more traumatizing ways. If a facility has a reputation for being utterly unsafe, whose fault is that, ultimately? Statistically speaking, the inmates are generally the same demographics in each jurisdiction; the thing that is different is the policy set and enforced by the facility itself.
This trope comes from an unspoken collective understanding that white, wealthy people never “belong” at these facilities, and that poor people and people of color do—it’s no coincidence that the former agent in this show is a wealthy white male. The trope comes from an understanding that some people are on the same side as law enforcement, despite being convicted of a crime, and some people are inherently on the other side, and usually the uniting or dividing line is related to some form of privilege which the system and individual defendants do or do not share. The trope also comes from an understanding that people who go to state prison are all little better than animals; that anyone who lands in that system must “belong” there and that no one who belongs there is worth much—not even worth an assurance that crimes will be noticed or prosecuted if they are victimized while in state custody. It’s a racist, classist trope designed to keep you from looking at the fact that the system is aware of itself and *intentionally looking the other way*; it’s designed to keep you from noticing that the system benefits from this structure.
This trope is important to discuss, even though it is being used in fiction, because it reflects real-life understanding of prisons and who populates them. The show is just a funhouse mirror for actual prison policy—if prison rape weren’t something “everybody knows” happens in real life, the show wouldn’t have the fertile ground for the trope. It’s playing on viewer assumptions, and that means it needs to be discussed even though the trope itself was used in fiction. It’s not “just a show,” and we need to be talking about it more.