Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Orange is the New Black

Piper Kerman's memoir Orange is the New Black caught my attention from page one. Kerman writes about her time in the women's prison in Danbury, CT, after pleading guilty to money laundering and drug trafficking charges. Kerman is in her twenties in 1994, looking for adventure. When her partner Nora brings Kerman in to her drug business, Kerman doesn't think twice about becoming involved. Nora seems to have plenty of money and travels to exotic locations.

Years later Kerman has moved on with her life. She and Nora are no longer together, and Kerman is happily dating Larry, the man she will eventually marry, when her past comes back to haunt her. Kerman decides to plead guilty to the charges against her, knowing that by doing so her sentence will not be as long as if she stood trial and was then found guilty.

A decade after her crime, Piper finally begins her stint in prison. Although out of place, she is able to forge some friendships, and find commonalities with the other women there. Kerman's account of prison life does not make it out to be the scary place we see depicted in movies. Many of the prison staff were kind to her, although she did experience a few who were rude and downright mean. And while Kerman does not dispute her guilt or her punishment, she does show in her writing the amazement at that the many women she came across in prison who are in the system for long spans of time for somewhat minor offenses. The cost of this to us as taxpayers is astronomical. Along with that, the types of jobs these women hold while in prison and the lack of any real guidance for them as they re-enter society seems to set them up to return to prison. Many of them have never earned money legally and don't even know how to go about it. Kerman's background is different from most of the women there. She is college educated, has a supportive family that visits often, and has a job lined up for her upon her release. I found Kerman's account of prison life fascinating, and enjoyed hearing about the many books she read and the miles she ran each day to pass time.

Kerman's memoir is absorbing. She is able to provide and insider's perspective on the women's prison system as well as an account of her own life and how the choices she made in her youth affected her years later.


Anonymous said...

Chosen sounds good!

Lisa said...

Gonna have to add this one to my list, it sounds fascinating.