This article contains discussion of topics including infant mortality that some readers might find upsetting.
When we're first introduced to the core trio in Time season 2, we learn that Orla (Jodie Whittaker) has been given six months for "fiddling leccy", Kelsey (Bella Ramsey) is inside for drug offences, and Abi is serving a life sentence for the murder of her sister-in-law.
"Why?"asks a prisoner on the other side of the cell wall, curious to know what made Abi snap.
"She annoyed me," she responds, matter-of-factly.
Abi spent three-and-a-half years in another prison before being transferred to Carlingford, but we're not told why she has been moved, only that she has.
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But there's something about the way she carries herself, even when threatening other inmates, that suggests we don't know the full picture, which is confirmed during an unsettling encounter with another prisoner.
"I know who you killed," she says to Abi. "It wasn't your sister-in-law, was it?"
Following that, prison chaplain Marie-Louise (Siobhan Finneran) encourages her to open up about what really happened, which is still being withheld from the audience.
"Have you ever tried to tell anyone why you did it, not even tried?" she asks. "If you'd do that, you'd be in control, wouldn't you? You'd be in control of that truth."
But Abi has no intention of addressing her past, believing it far easier – and safer – to continue to lie.
Halfway through the first episode, however, her cover is ripped away while she's sat with her ex-husband during visiting hours.
"Eh love, do you know who your kids are sitting by?" another visitor yells at Orla and her children, who are just a few feet away from Abi. "They're sitting by a killer. Not just any killer. They're sitting by a woman who killed her own baby."
It's a staggering moment that sends Abi rushing back to her cell while the rest of the room is brought to a standstill, horrified by what they've just learned.
From that moment on, the dynamic shifts. Abi is at risk from her fellow inmates and must have eyes in the back of her head at all times. If she drops her guard, just once, she risks being severely injured at best and at worst, killed.
"I think the level of ostracisation Abi faces hardens her," said Lawrance of how her character moves forward from that moment. "She comes across quite tough and there's a symbiosis there – the more people [who] isolate her, the more she withdraws, and then the less people want to connect with her.
"And on top of that, there's a moralistic hierarchy where the inmates feel a level of superiority because of the nature of their crimes compared to hers."
Lawrance also highlighted that Abi's inmates don't believe she has repented for what she did to her baby son when, in fact, it's quite the opposite, as we see through her flashbacks.
"Abi is dealing with guilt, which they don't realise at first, and that seeming remorselessness is part of why they hate her," she explained. "But she is riddled with sleeplessness and oral and visual hallucinations and struggles to forgive herself."
She added: "I think her persona is that she doesn't care, but I believe that she's deeply sensitive and she shows that in the ways in which she steps in and steps up for people around her, particularly Kelsey."
She went on to praise Jimmy McGovern and Helen Black's writing for the "subversion of stereotype", noting the importance of "recognising how sometimes people do things that people might see as reprehensible, not because of who they are, but because of the circumstances they've been put in".
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Lawrance came to understand that herself through the extensive research she carried out into the UK prison population.
"It was quite alarming," she said, adding: "I can't remember all of the stats now, but the biggest thing that stood out to me was the intersection between childhood trauma, people in the family who've offended before, domestic violence survivors, sexual abuse, poverty and mental health issues, and how all of those things intersect as reasons why people commit crimes."
She continued: "We get a chance to empathise with them through this show, especially with the nature of flashbacks for Abi. Hopefully, that will give a lens into the pressure she was under, which led her to do what she did.
"Even if they don't obviously condone what they've done, I hope people come away with a level of understanding of how people end up where they are."
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