Book Review: Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

By now, most of us have heard of the TV show that is based on this book, and how Netflix  took a leap of faith to finance production of what is a web based TV show, but that is really not the story…nor is the dramatic TV series the story.

The story, very well told by Kerman, is about how she ended up in  jail and her experiences in jail.  For those who  do not know how a ‘white, blond, college educated’  woman ended up in jail…in a nutshell:  she was in a relationship with a woman who  was not running drugs, but who was transporting money for drug dealers.  She had so much cash to transport that she asked Kerman to  help her.  Kerman stopped doing it,  started a new life, and years  later, her  friend was arrested and implicated Kerman.

It is  more complicated, as lawyers are involved, of course, but ultimately, Kerman was sentenced to just over a year in a minimum security  penitentiary.  I think all of us are curious about what life is like for women in jail, and Kerman does a good job of  describing how women cope.  I learned a lot.  So did Kerman.

What really compelled me is my interest in Restorative Justice.  Incarcerating people is expensive, and it does not make communities whole.  I have  no objection to locking up  violent offenders.  I, personally, do not understand why child molesters do not serve life in prison, or why a police officer’s life is worth more than a civilians.  I do not think people who sell drugs or engage in prostitution (unless they are trafficking others) should be locked up.  Unfortunately, we can no longer afford to lock people up for being assholes, or for being stupid.

Indeed, many of the women Kerman met  were locked up, serving arbitrarily long sentences for either trusting some man, or defending themselves against a man.  Many women came from  broken families, mothers who were  drug addicts, absent fathers (who  weren’t working steady jobs anyways).  They were forced apart from their children.  Many could not read.

I knew a lot of this before reading the book, as I volunteer as a court advocate, and I  also have a sister who  does similar advocacy.  We, who think we are law abiding, and manage to stay out of trouble, think  of  the situation as  Us vs. Them, and that’s not how it is.

At the end of the book, Kerman gives information on how to reform the ‘justice’ system, and works for that. I strongly recommend this book as not just a good read, but as an entre into a world we think we understand, but don’t.  The Netflix series is not how jail is.


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