Orange is The New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison Review by Piper Kerman and review by Andrea. For fans of the show (and yes I’m a SUPER FAN, I LOVE the show) and fans of reading, I would recommend this book regardless of what I and anyone else say about it.
Most people are familiar with Netflix’s hit show, Orange is the New Black starring Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman, but many are unaware of its’ origin as a bestselling memoir. The author, Piper Kerman, last name was possibly changed for legal reasons within the show, writes about her year in a women’s prison. The first season is loosely based on the events within the book before it splits off into its own creation for the subsequent seasons. Kerman’s memoir is interesting for those who are curious to peek inside one woman’s journey in prison. Let me reiterate and say again, this is one woman’s journey, meaning it is vastly different from the hundreds of thousands of others in American prisons right now. Kerman comes from an educated, privileged background, a fact she acknowledges within the memoir, and is only ordered for one year, less for good behavior. Although she provides a unique voice and an eye-opening experience, it doesn’t exhibit half of the struggles for women in the prison system. Believe me, I know. I work with incarcerated women struggling with substance abuse issues and they could fill up libraries by writing down their own stories. As always, I’ll provide a little snippet summary before I dive into my review!
Piper Kerman has it all, a fact I’m quite jealous of. She’s living an amazing life with higher education, a stable career, a loving boyfriend, and comes from a strong, full family. One day she gets a knock on her door and she is served with a notice to appear in court. 10 years prior to her perfect life, she was in a relationship with a woman, Nora, who had been an international drug dealer. Nora needed a mule to carry a suitcase of money through the airport which Piper agreed to and successfully completed. That was the only part of her involvement in the business. When the ring was busted, everyone involved dropped a multitude of names in order to decrease their time, including Kerman’s. Soon, she was served and sentenced, 10 years after the fact. In my opinion, this was a waste of time and taxpayer money. She carried a suitcase of cash one time over 10 years ago and was a productive member of society with NO criminal history. I mean, come on. Anyway, Kerman is convicted and becomes inmate #11187-424 in a minimum security correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut. Kerman informs her family, her husband, she educates herself about life in prison, and then enters into unknown, foreign territory. She writes about the women she meets and provides small tidbits of their lives. She discusses the unfair circumstances that landed many of them in prison and acknowledges her own advantages in comparison to the other women. By the end of the book, she has become comfortable and fully immersed into the prison lifestyle, showing respect to others and eventually earning theirs. Unlike the show, Piper and her boyfriend Larry become engaged while she’s in prison and they marry when she exits. There is no hot, lesbian sex scenes or money-making, wet panty schemes. Piper does her time and is released early due to good behavior.
Every book I finish reading and review is a book I’m going to recommend. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother creating a review in the first place, unless the book is THAT terrible and I must let people know. Obviously, the show is much more entertaining and it’s not just the life of Piper Chapman but the lives of the other women that pull us in and engage us. The show is very, very different from the book other than the main character’s background and initial plot. Overall, the book is well-written, it flows, and it’s certainly worth reading. Especially for any woman who might find themselves going to prison for the first time.
The memoir only follows Piper Kerman and for the most part, it was a little uneventful. There wasn’t much drama or suspense or shocking material. Still, it does it’s job in detailing her own, unique journey and giving readers an inside look in a correctional facility.
The memoir acknowledges the complex issues found in state prisons and mental health facilities that are often overlooked and ignored by society. It lightly touches on some of the emotional and sexual abuse inmates are forced to take by correctional officers. Although in Kerman’s case, there wasn’t too much. She did suffer constant sexual harassment from one of the correctional officers who enjoyed humiliating the women in front of each other.
My biggest concern with this book, which the author recognizes and acknowledges, is her perspective and experience is somewhat rare in comparison to the women who usually sit behind bars. A white woman from an educated, privileged background is sentenced to a safe, minimally secure, correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut. Although it’s entertaining, I would have appreciated a little more depth into the struggles of fellow inmates with unprivileged backgrounds. But, in a memoir, your job is to write about your experience, not others, so I can’t complain much!