Before I read the book, I knew nothing of Orange is the New Black. I know I know, I’m super late, as I usually am when it comes to pop culture and whatnot. I mean, I knew a smattering of things like there’s a character called Crazy Eyes, drugs may or may not be involved, prison and something about a rose made of rubies. Other than those things, I knew nothing. I came about the book while talking to one of my residents and telling her about my obsession with reading (which I haven’t gotten the chance to do much of because of school). She offered to let me borrow her book, and to all those that know me know, I can’t resist a good book. Especially if I don’t have to buy it.
Like I said earlier, I’ve never seen Orange is the New Black on Netflix, so I didn’t know what to expect really, however once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. Orange is the New Black is the memoir of Piper Kerman of her road to retention and of her experiences being locked up. While I was reading Orange is the New Black with my virgin eyes, I realized two things:
- I wouldn’t survive in prison.
- There are many stereotypes surrounding those that have been incarcerated.
Reading this book opened my eyes to something that I would have never thought about on a day to day basis. No one really close to me has been to jail, I certainly haven’t, nor have I ever been to a prison before. In fact, on the matter of our judicial system practices, I was woefully ignorant.
Kerman describes the trouble that she goes through adjusting from regular life to her life behind bars, and as her time draws to a close, she recounts the lack of effort and resources put into integrating former inmates into society again. This is juxtaposed by the sadness realized that for some, staying in prison was better than being out of it.
Throughout Orange is the New Black people come in and out of Kerman’s life and she recounts them in a way that is so human and kind that I had to remind myself that these women were imprisoned for a reason (though the length of their imprisonment is shoddy and should be reevaluated based on the severity of their crimes, but that’s a rant for another day). Instead of focusing on the bad, and on the negative, Kerman portrays them in a way that you feel as if you have met one of them in a class, or you can picture them in your head.
This is not to say that Kerman made them out to be victims, or helpless to their situation (though socioeconomic background, race, and other factors do play a role in treatment of woman in their individual cases and the amount of time they were sentenced) but rather, that these women and herself should not be judged solely on the fact that they are considered “criminals” because there’s more to them than just their crime. They are a wife, a sister, a mother, a daughter, a niece, an aunt to someone out there.
In addition to making me seriously think about the treatment of women by the law, Kerman made me laugh and cry many many times. Things such as “gay for the stay” or a gripping recount of a small skirmish over spinach at the salad bar were times where I couldn’t help but chuckle a little. But as she recounted the struggle it was to be separated from her fiance, or not being able to be near her grandmother in her time of need, my heart went out for her.
Piper Kerman’s memoir was more than just a story about her life. It was the tip of the iceberg for all those who have to deal with incarceration or have a loved one that is incarcerated. She did not shy away from anything as she recounted her experience, and for that we the reader were able to live the life of a woman who went to jail for a silly mistake. I would recommend Orange is the New Black to anyone and everyone because I truly learned a lot from reading it.