06 July, 2015

Orange is the new black: my year in a women's prison by Piper Kerman

In my opinion the book is always better than any film or television adaptation. Which is why I have never really got into the televised version of Orange is the New Black. Prison documentaries have been more my thing because I find reality way more fascinating than dramatised versions of it in programmes such as OITNB and women’s prison drama Wentworth. This original true-life account that the OITNB series is loosely based on is well, so much more real than the show.

Indeed, there is plenty of real-life drama in Piper Kerman’s memoir of her fifteen months ‘down’ for transporting drug money (but not actual drugs) to make it far more entertaining than a prison documentary as well. I also came away with a much better understanding of what it’s really like to be in a women’s prison.

Life on the inside is a huge eye-opener for white, well-educated and privileged Kerman. Seen through her eyes we get an insight into the degrading and soul destroying American penal system and are introduced to her fellow inmates, an often hilarious colourful cast of characters. It is the relationships between the women that provide a humanising element to what is otherwise a dehumanising environment.

Yes, there are a few same-sex relationships (including the ‘gay for the stay’ phenomenon) but it’s not the overplayed salacious trope that is portrayed on television. Sure, some of the inmates have bad attitudes, but there are none of the constant catfights and bitchy feuds seen on TV either.

Like Kerman, most of the women are incarcerated for non-violent drug related crimes. Her book made me think a lot about serious issues such as social justice, what an epic fail the War on Drugs has been and the desperate need for rehabilitation as opposed to punishment in these areas. So, I really recommend reading this book instead of zoning out in front of the goggle box for hours.

Title: Orange is the new black
Author: Piper Kerman

Recommended by Karen I, Devonport Library

Karen I likes reading biographies and memoirs about people with interesting and unusual lives, because she spends a lot of time reading and doesn't get out much.

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