Sunday, September 22, 2013

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

This book is a memoir written by Piper Kerman, a WASP-y, upper middle class, Smith college graduate that has to spend 15 months in a minimum security prison in Connecticut after she pleads guilty to federal drug charges. It is the basis - loosely - of the Netflix series of the same name. If you haven't seen the series, please take a time out immediately, go over to Netflix and add it to your streaming queue because it is to die for - it's one of my guilty pleasures.

I really liked the memoir (which is different in many ways from the series - which can take many fictional liberties whereas the memoir can't). Kerman tries to provide a glimpse of what life is like on the inside of the prison, albeit in a way that is similar to what went on in Eat, Pray, Love. I really liked seeing the day to day life of a post-adjudged convict in the criminal justice system and the struggles that these women faced and that were inherent in the return to society. I really wished that I had gotten more backstory on the women that Piper came across. Piper's goal in writing this memoir was two fold I think: to show how badly the criminal justice system is set up to reintegrate these women into society and to humanize the women that she met. However, the backstories were incomplete, non-existent or completely fictionalized because prison etiquette seemed to forbid the questioning of other inmates about their background (according to Piper).

Piper is obviously really smart - she went to Smith after all - and she writes pretty well. She was engaging and could be witty at times. It was easy to imagine the setting and the people that she dealt with and the interactions that she had with them because she was able to engage all of the senses in her descriptions. The book came across as a sugar coated summer camp, when it obviously wasn't - something like prison simply can't by nature be so happy or copacetic.

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