Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at a federal correctional facility in Connecticut for trafficking drug money across international boarders ten years ago, Piper Kerman trades in her life wearing all black in Manhattan for an orange jumpsuit and severely restricted freedoms. Kerman quickly learns that this restrictions aren’t always grounded in reality but, rather, exist in the unpredictable world of prison life where guards do as they please and prisoners band together based on race forming their own families and their own societies.

Although I resisted my friends’ and tumblr’s demand that I watch the Netflix series based on this memoir for nearly a year, I eventually succumbed and dragged my parents down with me. Absolutely hooked and sad to see the finale of season two, I eventually made my way to the top of the wait list for this book at the public library and eagerly checked it out hoping to discover hints about the direction of next season and to learn answers to my lingering questions about this show.

“Based on” should really be substituted for “inspired by” because so little of this memoir and the television series are the same. Morello and Daya are amalgamations of multiple characters; Crazy Eyes only wants to borrow a book. It is much harder to connect with the secondary characters in the memoir because Kerman tells us so little about her fellow inmates seemingly because she’s clinging hard to the “rule” that inmates never ask one another what they are in for. They exist solely to scare her, to support her, to provide comedic relief for her and the reader.

Although the focus is very me, myself, and I — an aspect I loathe about Piper the television character — Kerman is at least willing to admit that she had it much easier than her fellow inmates — a fiance who never wavered in his love and support, family members who sent checks to help pay for items she wanted and needed from the commissary, friends of friends who set her up with a high-paying job back in Manhattan after she was released, and people who sent her boxes filled with books to help her pass the time. (There is an entire organization dedicated to donating books to women in prison so something to consider the next time you clean off your bookshelves.)

It’s refreshing to see considering how much this does not compute with Piper the television character. Like Piper the television character, though, Kerman still expresses shock that poor women and women of color could have something of value to add to her life, and I found myself gritting my teeth as I turned the page. Even so, I liked that the people in Kerman’s life were much better than those who surround Piper the television character. I actually felt bad while reading for Kerman’s family members who are portrayed as such self-centered, horrible people on the television.

However, it is hard to see people champion for reform based on her experience because there is so much privileged injected into the story and so little we know about the other people mentioned in this book. As such, I appreciate the television show even more now because it fleshes out the secondary characters from this novel breathing life into those who Kerman cannot bother with.

Book Mentioned:

  • Kerman, Piper. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013. Originally published 2010. Print. 352 pgs. ISBN: 9780812986181. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Spiegel & Grau. Retrieved: June 25, 2014.
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