Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Orange is the New Black (2010); Piper Kerman

One of my favorite movies is Shawshank Redemption and perhaps that explains my fascination with prison tales. Orange is the New Black is an introspective memoir by first time author, Piper Kerman, chronicling her 13 month experience with the United States prison system. Can you remember some of the mistakes you made in your early 20’s? Kerman paid dearly for hers. As a recent graduate of Smith College, an all girl’s school, Kerman dabbled in a lesbian relationship with Nina, a woman with ties to a drug smuggling operation. She traveled the world in high class fashion and eventually ended up smuggling money to Paris as a payback to Nina. Completetely shell shocked by the endeavor and against her Connecticut WASP upbringing, Piper Kerman fled to a new life in San Francisco, fell in love with a wonderful man, Larry, and invested her time in a traditional marketing career. Fast forward ten years later and Piper is named in a lawsuit with the drug cartel purportedly being called out by Nina. The rest of the novel explores Piper's incarceration in a Danbury, Connecticut prison for women and the cast of characters she meets. The plot unfolds in a unique way as the protagonist is surprised at the generosity and kindness in the women she meets. Darker moments occur as she perceives how utterly defenseless she is to the extreme power of the prison guards and her terrifying trip on Con Air (the prison airline system). Piper comes full circle and is imprisoned with Nina as one of her only allies while waiting to testify about someone she has never even met. Kerman could be a sister or friend and her writing provides a cautionary tale for young women who wish to rebel and defy the straight path in life. Some major themes I discovered in the memoir included revisiting your past and paying penance, unlikely places to find true friendship and love, and how powerless one can feel inside the prison system. I hope you will read this wonderful nonfiction work over the summer and ultimately analyze the current prison system in the United States.

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