In 1993, Piper Kerman had just graduated from college when she fell for the wrong girl: Nora was an older woman who was involved in an international drug smuggling ring. Piper started following her girlfriend in her frequent trips, and one day Nora asked her to smuggle a suitcase full of money from the United States to Belgium. When her baggage was almost lost in transit, Piper realized she was in way over her head, and she escaped and settled in San Francisco. Her short criminal past was behind her, and she was going to build a new life. She started a relationship with a new boyfriend, Larry Smith, and after a while they decided to move to New York. Five years later, two Customs agents showed up at her door: she was indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. In 2004, after years of legal proceedings, she was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison, 13 months with good behavior. Orange is the New Black tells her story behind bars in a minimum-security facility in Danbury, CT.
Piper Kerman writes honestly about her experience as an inmate. She tells the reader about her fears and loneliness at the beginning of her sentence. In movies or on TV, prison is always depicted as a very violent place, but that’s not what the author has experienced. In fact, women show a surprising solidarity in prison, and Piper Kerman makes many friends during her 13-month incarceration. Sometimes it is a little hard keeping track of all the people mentioned in the book, as inmates arrive in prison, are released or are transferred somewhere else all the time. In the end, this book allows the author to denounce the failing of the prison system in the US. For example, it costs between $20,000 to $50,000 per year to keep one inmate in prison, and most of the prisoners are non-violent offenders who could do community service instead. Piper Kerman also points out that reinsertion programs are almost non-existent for people who come out of prison. Most prisoners are not as lucky as her when they are released. She had a boyfriend, an apartment and a job waiting for her, but most former inmates don’t have any of that, and that’s why recidivism is so high.
Orange is the New Black was a really interesting read, and I learnt a lot about prison. In addition, I really admire Piper Kerman for staying positive during this awful experience and for her activism since her release.
Fun facts about the author:
- Piper Kerman and Larry Smith married one year after her release.
- The author is still in contact with a few women who were in prison with her. Sister Ardeth Platte is one of them.
- Since her release, Piper Kerman has served on the board of the Women’s Prison Association, a non-profit organization that helps women go back to society after their release.
- Netflix created a series inspired by Orange is the New Black. It is pretty close to the book, except for one major change: Nora ends up in the same prison as Piper.
About the author and her work: Piper Kerman’s Website
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