Monday, October 14, 2013

Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman

Summary: With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.
Summary from book, cover photo from

My Review: I first became interested in this title after listening to multiple talks and interviews with Piper Kerman on NPR. Piper had spent several months in a minimal security prison after being convicted of drug trafficking, a crime she committed a decade before being charged when she helped smuggle drug money into a foreign country. Piper entered the prison feeling sorry for herself but once inside it didn't take long for her to gain a greater understanding of the severity of her crime as she meets the women whose lives the drug industry has destroyed.

If you have watched the Netflix series based on this book you are familiar with the dramatic scenes, full of shocking moments that at once sicken you and pull you in. Unfortunately I can't say the same for the book. While certainly interesting, the book feels a bit disjointed, moving from one scene to the next without any recognizable transitions. The story also lacks detail. I kept yearning to know more about the characters, the moments of daily prison life and Piper's deeper thoughts, only to be disappointed. I also felt that Piper put too much effort into making herself out to be likable. I could live with all of these flaws but then comes the very poor ending that barely touches on what Piper did once she got out. I longed for more information on the gals Piper befriended while in prison but this information only barely presented itself.

For all my complaints I must admit there were some very good aspects to this story. First, it provides a general overview of life within a women's prison, an interesting topic. Secondly Piper's growth while inside the system was a pleasure to behold. She does seems to realize the bigger role her crime played in getting drugs to the addict and feels genuine remorse for her actions. Finally, the book does make one ponder the role of our justice system. It brings to light the fact that these women are not getting the help they need to be constructive members of society once their sentences are served. These women are being locked up and then released with very little training on how to survive in the world outside. In this sense it really is a sad story, and one worth reading.

My Rating: 3 Stars

To sum it up: A PG-13 version of the hit Netflix show and a realistic glance into life inside a women's penitentiary.

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