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Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman is a riveting account of a year of a woman’s life in prison. It’s an honest retelling of her entire experience, and is a peak behind the curtain at the broken, scary, biased modern criminal justice system. Reader beware: you may become passionate about prison reform after reading this book.
Piper Kerman made a mistake (well, a lot of mistakes, but one major law-breaking mistake) in her early 20s, and it caught up with her in her early 30s. She was sentenced to over a year in a federal prison on the east coast. Her memoir follows her through her entire experience with the the American justice system, from her time in court, through her drawn out sentencing, to her actual time in lock-up.
The book takes a hard look at how horribly our current system treats people who have broken the law, or at least those found guilty of breaking the law. And the American justice system does not come out looking too good.
As Kerman is quick to point out, and repeat on several occasions, this book is told through the lense of a white, privileged, educated, middle-class, adult, healthy woman. Throughout the book she is clearly treated with favoritism because of her class and skin color. That said, her experience is still incredibly bad. Throughout the book she questions why we lock up so many people and how we could treat the people who are locked up so poorly. How, as a society, can we be okay with the current system?
Maybe because many of us – at least many of us who have the power to make serious, real change – don’t see the problem. Because it’s literally happening on the other side of walls that we don’t care to peer over.
Kerman’s honest accounting of her experiences is necessary for change to happen in the American justice system. Writing this memoir took an incredible amount of courage, and is a necessary read for people who have been lucky enough to have never flown close to this ecosystem.
It’s my hope that her literary success opens the door for more people, including men and minorities, to come forward to tell their stories, and for the public to be brave enough to hear what they have to say, and bold enough to demand change from our politicians.
Would I recommend it?
Yes, for those who want to know more about the realities of the criminal justice system. I didn’t find anything overly graphic or trigger-warning-ish. However, I’ve heard that the Netflix series is rather graphic. For some scenes Kerman chose to tell instead of show, which I don’t think Netflix would have the restraint to do.
Also, I listened to this on audiobook, which was well done.
What was your take on Orange is the New Black? Have you watched the Netflix series? Which do you prefer?