Warning: Major Orange Is the New Black Seasons 1 and 2 spoilers ahead.
If we have to pick one thing we love most about Orange Is the New Black, it's those backstories. They always manage to surprise and delight us in ways big and small and have often proven to be the real heart of the series. Here, we count down our 10 favorite stories about the Litchfield inmates' pre-hoosegow lives, including the Season 2 reveal that led to a joyful ride in the season finale.
10. Gloria Mendoza (Selenis Leyva)
Episode: "Low Self Esteem City," Season 2
In prison: Gloria has the prison kitchen humming along as smoothly as Red once did.
Pre-Litchfield: It turns out she has previous experience running her own thing. In her flashback, we find out Gloria owned a bodega. She was also operating a side business, paying money for food stamps. That allowed her to sock away a nice stash of cash, which would have come in handy when she planned to take her kids and run away from her abusive boyfriend. Unfortunately, an unhappy customer witnessed one of her illegal food stamp exchanges and ratted her out, sending Gloria to prison and leaving the kids' Tia Lourdes to raise them. Her backstory also reveals the source of Gloria's belief in spells and potions: Lourdes sold good luck candles and spirit-cleansing sessions in the back of the bodega.
Why we love it: Aside from her kitchen management, we haven't gotten to know a lot about Gloria inside the prison. So this look at why she's inside, and what she had to leave behind (and why), was a welcome bit of insight into her tough exterior.
Lingering questions: That vengeful customer who squealed on Gloria almost certainly found himself on the receiving end of a Lourdes spell, doncha think?
9. Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox)
Episode: "Lesbian Request Denied," Season 1
In prison: She's hairdresser to the stars! OK, to the prisoners (the ones who have cash in their commissary accounts, anyway).
Pre-Litchfield: Sophia was a fireman (played in flashbacks by Cox's real-life twin brother, M. Lamar), with a wife (Crystal) and a son (Michael). Sophia was also beginning to transition to living as a woman, with Crystal's uneasy support. In one scene, Crystal helps her husband find a pretty dress to wear but asks him to keep his penis at the end of his transition. Sophia tells her he can't. He also couldn't afford expensive sexual reassignment surgery, so he found opportunities on the job to steal credit card information. The stolen cards paid for some procedures, but when son Michael alerted authorities to his dad's wallet full of cards, Sophia landed in Litchfield.
Why we love it: There's no question about Sophia's guilt, and no one's excusing her thievery, by any means. But her backstory is a great example of how complicated the inmates' lives are, and of how, sometimes, life on the inside — at this minimum security prison anyway — can be easier to navigate than life on the outside for those left behind.
Lingering questions: Is Sophia's wife still dating the preacher at her church?
8. Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson (Danielle Brooks)
Episode: "Looks Blue, Tastes Red," Season 2
In prison: She's the prison librarian and funny, wise-crackin' BFF of Poussey.
Pre-Litchfield: A young Taystee attended an adoption fair, where she was very eager to bond with a family that would welcome her into its home. Instead, she met Vee, a fast-talkin' drug dealer who preyed on vulnerable kids without families and groomed them to help her run drugs. After trying to make a living working legitimate but low-paying jobs, Taystee saw working for Vee as not only a higher-paying job but a way to form a family unit with Vee and Taystee's friend R.J., who also worked for and lived with Vee. Sadly, R.J. was killed and Taystee was sent to prison for drug dealing, and when she was granted parole, Vee was nowhere to be found and Taystee got herself thrown back into Litchfield.
Why we love it: Given her lonely childhood and how she was so coldly exploited by the mother figure in her life, Taystee's hopefulness, playfulness, and loyalty to friends like Poussey make her an even more impressive and likable woman.
Lingering questions: Now that Taystee knows Vee was using her all those years without her best interests at heart, will it free her to be successful the next time she's granted parole?
7. Yvonne "Vee" Parker (Lorraine Toussaint)
Episode: "40 OZ of Furlough" and "It Was the Change," Season 2
In prison: New Season 2 villain Vee had been in Litchfield years before, when she pretended to be Red's friend, and then violently took over Red's burgeoning contraband business. She had the same plans upon her return to Litchfield.
Pre-Litchfield: Vee used abandoned kids like R.J. and Taystee to do her dirty work as a drug kingpin, until she found out R.J. had, without consulting her, started his own side business. After confronting him, she pretended to be OK with his new independence, and, in a creepy further abuse of her parental relationship with a now-adult R.J., she seduced him, then paid a crooked cop to murder him. Taystee remains unaware of the real story behind R.J.'s death.
Why we love it: Just as there are a lot of inmates whose complicated pasts allow you to empathize with them, there are inmates who are just plain rotten. Hello, Queen Rotten.
Lingering questions: Just one: Is she alive?
6. Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (Uzo Aduba)
Episode: "Hugs Can Be Deceiving," Season 2
In prison: Socially awkward Suzanne's eagerness to be included has alienated her from her fellow inmates at Litchfield, and in a move that's yet another undeserved slap at her heart, Crazy Eyes's desire to make friends and be valued made her a perfect victim for the machinations of psychopath Vee.
Pre-Litchfield: And you thought you couldn't find Crazy Eyes, any more endearing than you already did. But the flashback to her childhood proved otherwise, as we met the eager, socially awkward kiddo who dressed herself like a fairy (complete with wings) to go to the hospital and meet the new baby sister her adopted mom had just given birth to. "Hello, Grace. I'm your best friend, and your big sister," the so-adorable-it-hurts Suzanne told her infant sibling. Despite her bond with her sister and the unconditional support of her mother, Suzanne continued to have trouble connecting with people outside her family… or rather, they continued to have trouble accepting her.
Why we love it: Because, as we suspected, this most endearing of all the Litchfield-ians was just as delightful as a child as she is (most of the time) inside the joint.
Lingering questions: Why is Crazy Eyes in prison?
5. Galina "Red" Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew)
Episode: "Tit Punch" and "Moscow Mule," Season 1
In prison: She ran the kitchen – and a thriving smuggling operation out of it – until Caputo busted her on the smuggling biz and replaced her with Gloria.
Pre-Litchfield: Red and her husband ran a successful restaurant and bakery in Queens, but Mr. Red (Dimitri) encouraged his wife to make nice with a group of women who were the wives of very powerful Russian men in their neighborhood. And Red tried, joining the women's power-walking group in an effort to bond. But the mean girls were determined not to let Red sit with them, er, walk with them, and when they cast her out of the group, she confronted them about their rudeness and — hence the literal episode title — punched one of them in the chest, ruining a very expensive boob job. Mr. Boob Job demanded Red and her hubs compensate him for the ruined surgery, which led to Red allowing Mr. Boob Job's associates to store mysterious packages in her freezer. Later, with her new connections to the Russian mob, Red offered some business advice that turned out to be profitable for her criminal associates, and she, instead of her husband, grew closer to them.
Why we love it: Because we've learned Red is one sharp, tough cookie, and one fierce mama, inside and outside the prison.
Lingering questions: We don't yet know what specifically led to Red's imprisonment, but it's been hinted that she continued working with her mob buddies once inside Litchfield, as the Neptune Produce deliveries she received while running the kitchen were the source of the contraband goodies she sold to her fellow inmates. Also, Piper told her the family business is still going strong, but it's really all boarded up… what happened?
4. Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley)
Episode: "You Also Have a Pizza," Season 2
In prison: They're BFFs, but we learned in Season 2 that Poussey had also developed romantic feelings for Taystee, but they're not reciprocated.
Pre-Litchfield: We already knew Poussey was sent to the slammer for selling pot, but this Valentine's Day-themed episode revealed her bigger heartbreak. While her military family was stationed in Germany, Poussey fell in love with a fellow military brat. When her girlfriend's father, a higher-ranking officer than Poussey's dad, caught the two girls in bed, he had the Washingtons reassigned back to the States. A crushed Poussey was so angry at being forced to leave her love that she approached her girlfriend's dad with a gun and was about to pull it out and shoot him… until her father stepped in and stealthily grabbed the weapon from her just in the nick of time.
Why we love it: Poussey had previously kept her feelings, all of them, under wraps, and this backstory revealed why: She's had her heart broken more than once.
Lingering questions: Her father did not seem to share her girlfriend's father's feelings about her sexuality. But was he as supportive when she got locked up for dealing weed?
3. Claudette Pelage (Michelle Hurst)
Episode: "Imaginary Enemies," Season 1
In prison: After her bid for an early release was rejected at the end of Season 1, she assaulted a guard and was transferred from Litchfield to another facility.
Pre-Litchfield: Young Claudette was forced to work as a housekeeper, to pay off debt owed by her parents to the lady she would live with and work for. Years later, Claudette ran the service in which young girls were sent out as housekeepers, and her handsome friend Baptiste, who delivered her to the service when she was younger, was still in her life. He popped in with his new wife, who mentioned Claudette couldn't have children of her own. She was very protective of her girls, too, which led to her Litchfield stint: When she found out one of the girls was being abused by her client, Claudette went to the job site and killed the man. Flash back to the present, and prison counselor Healy informs Miss Claudette her case is being reopened and she may have a chance at early release. She turns down the opportunity… until she receives an unexpected letter from her old buddy Baptiste. He is about to return to the area, without his wife, who died. Suddenly, Claudette is willing to take a chance on that early release.
Why we love it: After being sold into child labor, it's understandable why the stern Miss Claudette would insist on maintaining control of her surroundings, especially in a place as chaotic as prison. And despite her formal, reserved manner, her childhood also explained why she would be protective — fiercely, violently, even — of the young girls in her care.
Lingering questions: Will Miss Claudette ever get her happy ending with Baptiste? And will the wonderful Michelle Hurst, who is recovering from life-threatening injuries she sustained in a car accident late last year, rejoin OITNB for Season 3? Here's hoping yes to both.
2. Rosa Cisneros (Barbara Rosenblat)
Episode: "Appropriately Sized Pots" and "We Have Manners. We're Polite," Season 2
In prison: Rosa had shared tales of her wild younger years with a fellow cancer patient, an impressionable teenager who joined with Rosa to steal from a nurse's wallet during a chemotherapy session. It was clearly a flashback to her outlaw past, but it wouldn't be Rosa's last act of rebellion. After getting the news from her doctor that she had as little as three weeks to live, Rosa was given an opportunity by hospital transport driver Morello to drive off in a prison van, and Rosa took it. She barreled out of Litchfield and sped down the highway, where she spotted another escapee: the evil Vee. Rosa steered the van right at Vee and left her lying bleeding on the side of the road. "Always so rude, that one," Rosa said in Season 2's (and sadly, maybe hers) final scene.
Pre-Litchfield: Miss Rosa was a bank robber! And quite a talented, fearless one, at that. She and a trio of guy friends robbed a string of banks and snagged lots of cash along the way. Rosa's personal life suffered, though: First husband Marco, one of her fellow robbers, was shot and killed during a heist. Then she married Andy, another member of the gang, who had a fatal heart attack during another postheist getaway. Finally, Miss Rosa began a relationship with the only other surviving member of her gang, Don, and he survived… because, according to her, she didn't marry him.
Why we love it: It was surprising, and surprisingly comforting, to learn this physically destroyed woman was once a fearless, beautiful rebel, whose only regrets were those unlucky husbands.
Lingering questions: How did she finally get caught? And will we ever see her again?
1. Lorna Morello (Yael Stone)
Episode: "A Whole Other Hole," Season 2
In prison: You might have had your suspicions about this one. Maybe you had even gone as far as thinking Lorna Morello's alleged fiancée Christopher was just that: her alleged fiancée. But, oh, the truth turned out to be so much more, more shocking, more devastating, more brilliantly written and acted than nearly anything that didn't involve the wonderful Uzo Aduba in Season 2.
Pre-Litchfield: Morello, we learned, lived at home, with a houseful of other adults and children and a sick mother she and her sister were tasked with caring for. Her escape was her bedroom, covered with magazine cutouts of dreamy clothes and dreamier guys, where she set up a scam: She ordered expensive clothing and shoes online, then claimed she never received them and demanded refunds. The scheme netted her so many packages she had them delivered to a post office box, where, one day, she met a handsome man named Christopher. The two clicked, and he asked her out, but the meet-cute ended there. What followed was one date, and then years of stalking. Yes, Morello stalked Christopher, and his eventual fiancée. He had to move several times and take out restraining orders against her. She tried to kill both him and his fiancée, by strangling her (perceived) rival and putting a DIY bomb under Christopher's car.
(Back) in prison: She still hasn't let go of Christopher. While waiting for Rosa to receive her chemo at the hospital, van driver Morello took off to where Christopher and his fiancée lived. She broke into their house, tried on the woman's bridal veil, and took a bath in their tub, escaping out a window mere seconds before they could have caught her. Later, Christopher did visit her at Litchfield, but only to tell her he knew she had somehow gotten out of jail and broken into his home, and to scream loudly to everyone in the visiting room that Morello was crazy and that they had no relationship. And the most crushing detail of all: Morello knows she's got mental issues, admitting it to Nicky after Nicky saw Christopher ranting at her in the visiting room.
Why we love it: Because it just rips your heart into tiny little shreds that this woman, so sweet and friendly as we know her at Litchfield, and so desperate for a better life outside the prison, is so seriously disturbed that she may not have a real shot at happiness… and she knows it.
Lingering questions: The specific reasons Morello is incarcerated remain a mystery — is it mail fraud? Stalking? Assault? Violating a restraining order? Attempted murder? A combo of the above?
Orange Is the New Black Season 2 is available on Netflix.