Title: Orange is the New Black
Author: Piper Kerman
Publisher: Tantor Media
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Date of Publication: 2010
Ten years ago, Piper Kerman made a mistake. She fell in love and became a criminal–transporting a suitcase of drug money across borders. Now she has to pay the price:thirteen months imprisonment in a women’s minimum security prison. This book is her memoirs from this time.
I came into this book expecting it to be like the TV show. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. It isn’t an over the top or blatantly exaggerated or stereotyped version of what prison is like.
While reading this book I had to keep in mind that it’s memoirs. The odds are that Kerman is fudging the truth a little. This became apparent a few times. She talks a lot about overcoming adversity in the prison, and her relationships with the other women. She doesn’t dwell on the negatives, which tells us a lot about her as a person, but weakens her message. Towards the middle of the book she mentions that it’s a ghetto, and that society has left people in this prison to rot. I think this is ultimately the message that Kerman is trying to get across, and it becomes more obvious as the book progresses. The government and corrections workers were doing nothing to help these women reintegrate into society after they’ve finished their time. It’s the reason why so many ex-cons re-offend–because they aren’t able to succeed in the outside world. There’s one scene where the inmates are going through training on how to survive on the outside. Someone is giving them a lecture on the type of roofing to have in their new homes. A woman raises her hand and asks how to find a place to rent. The lecturer coughs and says something about using the internet before continuing to talk about roofing. I hope to God this is an exaggeration, but I’m willing to bet it’s the truth. Prison (especially minimum-security prison) is supposed to be about rehabilitation, not retribution, but it’s clear that a lot of the people working in the prison don’t feel this same way.
Throughout the memoirs, Kerman talks about how privileged she is because she’s blond-haired, blue-eyed, has a huge support network on the outside, money to help her through, etc. Life on the inside wouldn’t be considered “easy” for her, but it was a lot easier than it was for anyone else, and Kerman does a good job of acknowledging this. Hardly a chapter goes by where Kerman doesn’t acknowledge this privilege.
The fact that this book got published itself is quite telling. Would a book about a hispanic or black woman going to prison have been published in 2010? Would it have become a bestseller? Probably not. Especially since this story, while well-written, doesn’t have any of the drama or the pizzazz of the TV show. It’s quite bland. She didn’t get into any fights or nary a scuffle.
I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in finding out what goes on in those minimum-security prisons. It’s a heartfelt story of making up for her mistakes, and a woman discovering that society has failed so many of its people.
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