Tuesday, August 13, 2013

“Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman – Demons of Change

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman book cover
Piper Kerman is a woman with what many would readily describe as a perfect life; a good career, a loving boyfriend and a supportive family. She is a far cry from the woman she was ten years ago, when she delivered a suitcase full of drug money, a crime which has caught up to her, and long story short, it landed her fifteen months in a minimum-security prison. Orange is the New Black is Piper Kerman’s autobiographical account of her experience behind bars, detailing everything from the small daily rituals to the relationships that were forged in what could be referred to as one of the “lighter” circles of hell.

Especially fascinating, in my opinion at least, is the amount of detail Piper puts into all of her descriptions. We get to learn virtually everything about life inside a woman’s prison, or at least the one she was at. We follow her every step as she changes from Piper to inmate #11187-424, learning about how life changes when you need to follow very strict rules, both in regards to the guards and the other inmates. We get to see how prisoners are treated by others, and how they have to adapt to this new lifestyle to preserve their sanity, dignity and integrity.

In other words, we don’t just see how life in her prison is, we actually experience it. I will admit that she does omit a few details here and there that could leave some people who are unfamiliar with how the penal system works a bit confused, but on the whole it’s far from being a big deal.

To be frank, as insightful and interesting as it was to learn about life in minimum security women’s prisons, a criminally under-discussed subject, it did feel as if Piper tried so hard to show herself as not being above anyone else, that she ended up doing the contrary. It’s a bit like constantly bragging about your sense of modesty and humility… it’s just counter-intuitive and goes against the purpose.

Also, I was a bit let-down by the ending in the sense that it didn’t really discuss what happens after the release from prison, if the adaption to normal life was difficult and if relationships were maintained.

Despite its few flaws, Orange is the New Black, which by the way, was recently made into a TV show on Netflix, makes for a partly-comical, partly-outrageous, and completely insightful read. It will entertain you, just like it will teach you about the seldom-explored life in female prisons, and even serve as a testament to life’s weird and incomprehensible ways. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to the fans of the show, those who like prison-based dramas, or simply want to learn about the penal system from the women’s side of the fence.

Piper Kerman (September 28th, 1969) - author

Piper Kerman

Personal site

Piper Kerman is an American author whose memoirs based on her experience in prison for money laundering, Prison, Day 1, The Mistake That Nearly Cost Me Everything, and The Piper Kerman Is Going to Federal Prison FAQ, were used as the inspiration for the popular TV show, Orange is the New Black.

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