Book Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Title: Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison
Author: Piper Kerman
Published: 2010
Genre: Nonfiction Autobiography

Synopsis: 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.

My Rating: Red-StarRed-StarRed-StarRed-Star 1/2

I feel like I need to add a disclaimer before I do this review – I have never watched the show (I don’t really watch TV). This year I challenged myself to read more nonfiction but more specifically to read autobiographies. I happened to come across this in my library’s audiobook collection and I thought why not – for my audiobooks I like them to be very different than what I’m reading in paper format so I don’t confuse storylines. I absolutely loved this and there’s a reason I loved it so much – because I completely understand Piper’s prison world. About 13 years ago my baby brother (then 18) got sentenced to 2 years in state for cocaine trafficking and we lived those 2 years with him as he went through court proceedings, went from county to state to boot camp and all of the uncertainties and hopelessness that comes with the system. It’s a world seldom talked about and polite people have a hard time discussing in polite conversation. It makes people uncomfortable because the sole purpose of the system is to dehumanize and the system does that flawlessly well and it continues to dehumanize for the rest of their lives.

Kerman presented us with a look of what would happen to you fine white middle-class people if you got stuck in a situation like going to prison with the rest of the classes and it’s a rather frighting thought. Yet I have to give it to Kerman because she continues to explain how it’s different for her and the stark reality of the other’s situation is always present because it’s such a contrast to her own situation.

I embraced this book because it’s a critique of the system, because it points out the shittiness of all and the inadequacies. I embrace it because despite this not being the best prison book out there it’s at least being read by people who normally would not pick up a book about an ex-con and I have to tip my hat to that.

I did not find this book funny and I did not went in expecting it to be, she makes the best of her situation, that’s all that can be accounted for. She’s not a writer per se, she’s just giving an account of her view – take it as you will. Is it perfect? No. The first thing my brother said when I was reading this book was asking me how long she had and I said 13 months. He said “she’s crying about that?” And he’s right but the fact is that unfortunately most ex-cons lack the education and the connections that Piper Kerman has and that makes the difference over who writes the book and who is featured in it and that is the final lesson. The fact that there’s something really fucked up about our prison system and you can hardly deny it without looking ignorant. It gets people talking and hopefully some of the talking leads to some action.


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