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Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison Paperback – March 8, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Relying on the kindness of strangers during her year's stint at the minimum security correctional facility in Danbury, Conn., Kerman, now a nonprofit communications executive, found that federal prison wasn't all that bad. In fact, she made good friends doing her time among the other women, many street-hardened drug users with little education and facing much longer sentences than Kerman's original 15 months. Convicted of drug smuggling and money laundering in 2003 for a scheme she got tangled up in 10 years earlier when she had just graduated from Smith College, Kerman, at 34, was a self-surrender at the prison: quickly she had to learn the endless rules, like frequent humiliating strip searches and head counts; navigate relationships with the other campers and unnerving guards; and concoct ways to fill the endless days by working as an electrician and running on the track. She was not a typical prisoner, as she was white, blue-eyed, and blonde (nicknamed the All-American Girl), well educated, and the lucky recipient of literature daily from her fiancé, Larry, and family and friends. Kerman's account radiates warmly from her skillful depiction of the personalities she befriended in prison, such as the Russian gangster's wife who ruled the kitchen; Pop, the Spanish mami; lovelorn lesbians like Crazy Eyes; and the aged pacifist, Sister Platte. Kerman's ordeal indeed proved life altering. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Just graduated from Smith College, Kerman made the mistake of getting involved with the wrong woman and agreeing to deliver a large cash payment for an international drug ring. Years later, the consequences catch up with her in the form of an indictment on conspiracy drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges. Kerman pleads guilty and is sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. Entering prison in 2004—more than 10 years after her crime—Kerman finds herself submerged in the unique and sometimes overwhelming culture of prison, where kindness can come in the form of sharing toiletries, and an insult in the cafeteria can lead to an enduring enmity. Kerman quickly learns the rules—asking about the length of one’s prison stay is expected, but never ask about the crime that led to it—and carves a niche for herself even as she witnesses the way the prison system fails those who are condemned to it, many of them nonviolent drug offenders. An absorbing, meditative look at life behind bars. --Kristine Huntley --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The real Piper, whose last name is Kerman and not Chapman, didn't seem as conniving or crazy as the TV show Piper. She didn't take part in a dirty panties operation, didn't do her time with Alex Voss (only a few short weeks when they were testifying in Chicago), and never got starved by the head kitchen worker. As an avid reader, I get it - the book is always different than when Hollywood takes over and makes dramatic effect on it.
The book was very informative - it displayed women bonding in a situation that is less than desirable for most of the human population. While most women, when put together with other women in cramped up places usually proves as challenging and scary, Piper Kerman talked about the positives when it came to serving time together. She included many details that the show leaves out - it was nice to actually get in her head and feel the emotions of doing time.
I'm giving it 4 stars because it took me a little longer to finish than other books. While not a bad book, there were parts where I had a hard time focusing because it felt repetitive and unnecessary. If you were into the TV show, check this out. While there are shades of similarities, the book is extremely different than what Netflix has shared with us.
There were many tragic characters and tangential victims (the children of fellow inmates) who suffered greatly. People with little means - no obnoxious website for their many, many supporters - no endless source of money, books, visits, etc. - No protection from abuse in or outside of the prison walls, and yet Ms. Kerman falls apart when she doesn't get a furlough to see her ailing grandmother (although she is given special rights to call). While saying that she gained a greater perspective, Ms. Kerman continued to behave like an entitled, self-absorbed surly teen who didn't get her way.
I am giving the book two stars for the excellent list of resources in the back. And for the other women who were reflected in the book.
The TV series runneth over with rich, exciting characters, who make it difficult for you to entertain prison stereotypes for too long. It seems that most of these characters were either invented or cobbled together from various women in Kerman's narrative. Many of the characters I loved dearly from the show are not a part of the book or are just mentioned in passing. This was ultimately the biggest disappointment for me.
Kerman is a solid writer, but not a stellar one, and her story feels unfocused at times. The memoir also lacks immediacy- it feels as though it was written long after the fact with the benefit of 20/20 vision (which it was, but we don't necessarily want it to read that way).
Where this book excels is in showing just how broken the US prison system is, especially when it comes to required minimum sentencing for low level drug offenses and preparing inmates to return to civilian life when their sentences are served. Kerman is fairly lucky- she's an educated, middle class white woman with a loving family, supportive friends, and guaranteed employment upon her release from prison in one year. Most of the other inmates don't fare so well. They are under educated and come from high risk neighborhoods. They are serving unnecessarily long sentences and watching their children grow up from across a table in the visitors room. They suffer from addiction or mental illness. They have no way of getting employment or public assistance. They have flimsy or non-existent support systems. These are women who would have a very difficult time voicing their own stories to the public at large, and it's clear that Kerman has decided to use her privileged place in society to help.
A worthy read, by all means, but it's probably best to pick up the book without the expectation that it will be very much like the TV show.