Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

NaBloPoMO 11. Orange is the New Black

NaBloPoMo_November_smallREAdingMy friend Karen handed me this New York Times bestseller last week, and I read it in a day. So, I will combine a NaBloPoMo and a It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman.

Piper Kerman, a 1993 Smith graduate with no life plan, no goals, seemed happiest working in restaurants, bars, and 001nightclubs. So after graduation, while her colleagues went off to graduate school, jobs, and suburbia, she chose to hang around with a few colorful, if somewhat unsavory, characters.

She linked up with Nora, a here-again, gone-again lesbian, who threw money around by the fistful, coddling,  cuddling, and pampering Piper in a self-indulgent lifestyle: money, travel, nightclubs, restaurants, clothes, spas. Until one day, Nora, who was getting deeper and deeper into criminal activities, demanded that Piper carry a drug-money filled suitcase on an international flight to Paris. Piper realized then that her bill for all the extravagant living had come due.

The reality of her criminal life and life-style nagged at her conscience, so back in New York City after months abroad, she bailed out and broke all ties with Nora, prevailing on old friends in San Francisco to help her regain normalcy in her life.

With a somewhat unusual job, infomercial production, Piper settled into routines in San Francisco, found new friends, a boyfriend, and started to breathe easier. But with life’s twists and turns, she and Larry ended up back in New York in 1998, where the always anticipated and feared knock on the door came.

Arrested and indicted for drug smuggling and money laundering,  Piper was assisted by her rich daddy’s lawyer through the criminal proceedings. Piper spent six years under federal supervision while the authorities built their case against the leader of their gang, then was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison to be served at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut.

The rest of the book is about her life in prison (chapter 3 to 18), the friends she made, the coping strategies she used, and practical job skills she learned.

Kerman tells her story in a matter-of-fact sort of way, without heavy emotion, using vignettes of events that occur as she counts out the days and months and seasons of her sentence.

She has roommates, but they are not the ivy-league type she has been used to. Still, she manages to be something of an out-of-place prima donna given that she gets the New York Times delivered to her cell and receives tons of mail, books, and visits from Larry, her family, and friends. Surprisingly, she is not taunted by other inmates, as she otherwise tries to be a good girl, keeping away from troublemakers while serving out her sentence.

Orange is the New Black is a fast, easy-to-read book, without a lot of complexity. While Kerman describes emotional situations, the book is not overwhelmingly emotional. In fact, tense situations blow over quickly, with little or no aftermath. Even the outrageously embarrassing situations, the strip searches for example, seem to be handled with aplomb.

My favorite part of the book is page 150 where she gives the recipe for Prison Cheesecake. I will never eat cheesecake again without remembering this very special recipe. I will never use this recipe, but I will definitely remember it.

Bon appetit! Oh, I mean you’ll like, but not love, the book. It does have some interesting tales to tell. But it ends on the date Kerman gets out of prison. Period. Just like that. The End. I had hoped for a bit more of a reflection on learnings and setting of goals for a new life. Oh well, maybe that will come in another book.

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14 thoughts on “NaBloPoMO 11. Orange is the New Black

  1. I haven’t read the book but did watch the Netflix TV series based on the book. They make prison life a bit more harrowing and her relationships with Nora and Larry much more melodramatic. I think she becomes very unsympathetic in the process. Interesting to hear how the book differs.

    • I haven’t seen the series, but I have heard from others that they are much more dramatic. While I liked the book, I found it a bit underwhelming in terms of the tension I know to exist…at least based on my experiences in an adolescent drug and alcohol rehab facility. Lots more anger there. Thanks for visiting.

  2. Hmm…the little stern woman who lives inside of me says Kerman should have done the right stuff to stay out of prison, but then there wouldn’t have been a book and you wouldn’t have read it in a day because it had to be returned nor would you have written this blog. So hmm…lol!

  3. Have you seen the series? I wonder how close it is to the book, although there’s always something missing or added. I haven’t watched it yet myself and NetFlix keeps suggesting I do 🙂

  4. I rarely read non-fiction being an escapist kind of gal, but after succumbing to Orange is the New Black and Netflix, I had to read the book. (Warning: Netflix version is gritty. Not for everyone and a shallow interpretation of the book.) For me, the commentary on the prison system in America was important. In the afterward, Karen talks about the affect of prison on women and their families and offers many websites and organizations available to families in this terrible situation.

    • To Kerman’s credit, she does bring attention to the issue of women in prison. It is a whole slippery slope. While the women serve their time, their families, especially the children, languish in instability, which possibly perpetuates the situations that cause crime in the first place. Of course, addictions are a big piece of this. I get the sense that Kerman keeps watch over this problem with her website: http://www.piperkerman.com/justice-reform.

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