Piper Kerman’s “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison”

A Must Read 300Like many people, I have recently been watching Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black in full-on marathon mode in preparation of the new season. Once I learned the show was based on a book I had to pick it up. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is a memoir by Piper Kerman, detailing her year of incarceration following a ruling on her brief involvement in a drug smuggling ring in 1998. Over the last decade, Piper has become a well-rounded, successful woman; you wouldn’t recognize her if placed next to her freshly-graduated self. Orange is the New Black details her experiences in an environment that tempts her to return to her old ways, while almost systematically challenging her beliefs about justice, religion, trust, and independence.

I was surprised when reading Orange is the New Black. The show is extremely funny, but memoirs tend to be dry reading experiences, however enlightening the read may be, and shows take massive liberties in how some characters are represented. Thankfully, Kerman makes her story an engaging and equally humorous foray into the American prison system. You, the reader, feel a connection to Kerman that is quickly established, since you are both being exposed to new demeaning, scary, and altogether strange circumstances for the duration of Piper’s stay in prison. The book is particularly effective at highlighting the pros and cons of the American penal system. Some rules and regulations seem natural, with liberties occasionally being granted in ways you wouldn’t expect. Others seem cruel, while yet more seem downright arbitrary. It is important to note that Kerman did not stay in a maximum security prison, which would undoubtedly show an entirely different tone of incarceration.

Ultimately, if you are a fan of the show, reading Orange is the New Black is a no brainer. Don’t expect the complete craziness of the show to be entirely based on fact, but do expect to see the inspiration for some fan favorites. If you aren’t a fan, there is still a lot to be found in this book. Kerman raises important questions about the American penal system, how we learn to grow trust, and how some individuals learn to rely on systems of stability. Piper Kerman’s Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison is a fun and intriguing read that fans of nonfiction or political/ethical writing should definitely look into.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor

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