Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Piper Kerman, a successful woman with a boyfriend, loving family, and a great career, is forced to give all of that up for fifteen months when she’s sentenced to federal prison for a ten-year-old drug crime – a crime that was completely out of character for her, even at the time she did it. Orange is the New Black is her story of everything that happened to her in those fifteen months – it’s revealing, entertaining, eye-opening, heartbreaking, and at times even lightheartedly funny.
I truly regret the fact that it took me so long to get to this book. I was entranced with Piper’s story from the start and wanted to learn everything I could about her experience as quickly as possible. So much of this book surprised me but also so much about it made me smile. It’s shocking how the world inside the prison is so different from the one on the outside, but at the same time so much of it is the same. It’s something that’s difficult to explain but Kerman did such an amazing job illustrating that for the reader, of showing us exactly what was so awful and lovely about her experience.
It sounds crazy to say that even a minute of her experience in a federal prison could be lovely, but those of us on the outside can’t quite comprehend how deep the friendships developed inside the prison’s walls can be. In Kerman’s case, she truly loved many of the women she lived with in the course of that year. I was blown away by the stories of some of the women she befriended, women who seemed to be such incredible people, mothers and wives and super intelligent women who made bad decisions and ended up in prison for really long sentences. It baffled me that so many of these women (most, in fact) were in there for drug crimes, most of whom were accomplices to the men in their lives, and the government spent incredible amounts of money and resources keeping them behind bars while their children grew up without them and many of the men who helped land them in prison ran free. It was just … I don’t know. Eye-opening, I guess is the right word.
Something else that I found really valuable about this book was the insider’s look at prison politics and just how little power prisoners have in this environment. Truly, the things that male guards can get away with are astounding. The women literally have zero power and the guards can do absolutely anything they want with almost zero repercussions. Kerman never goes too far with her observations and commentary on prison politics, but she does make it clear that she didn’t enjoy learning about it first-hand.
I experienced Orange is the New Black as an audiobook, and with Cassandra Campbell narrating, this audio is a fantastic choice. I absolutely loved the listening experience and highly recommend it.
This is a fantastic memoir that I highly recommend. I can see why it became such a hugely popular TV show when it was released on Netflix (a show I have yet to watch, unfortunately). This is an important book and you will be riveted to the pages, it’s incredibly difficult to put down. Piper Kerman is a great writer and I personally appreciate that she took the time to document and discuss her experience for our benefit. Read it!