Interesting glimpse inside the prison system

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison - Piper Kerman

Like many people, I was eager to read this book ever since the Netflix series came out.  I knew, starting it, that this was going to be far less sensationalized than the show, but I was surprised by just how many elements from the show turned out to be true.


I had braced myself for a certain degree of privilege and cluelessness on the part of the narrator, due to both the show and skimming a few reviews of this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked her voice.  From the beginning, she provides a good picture of the person she was, and what led her to participating in trafficking heroin.  


I was somewhat surprised by how little thought she gave to what she was doing.  Not in relation to the trouble she could get into, but what this drug does to people.  What people do to get it, to themselves and their loved ones.  I've seen this.  Someone close to my family eventually died of a heroin overdose, after years of lying, emotional abuse, stealing, and time in jail.  While obviously not everyone has had such experiences, I thought that most people were still aware of this at least in the abstract.  That Piper didn't seem to think about this at all at first was strange to me.  She did come to understand this later, to my relief.  Danbury's populace was overwhelmingly there for drug-related crimes, so Piper was finally able to witness, first-hand, the harm some of these drugs can cause people.


There were a couple of moments in which I found Piper a little bit off-putting, but they were few.  The first being when she mentioned eating leftover foie gras while in the waiting room at Danbury for her self-surrender.  My eyes just about rolled out of my skull.  Another one of those eye-roll moments was later, at a salad bar, when someone told her to stop picking all the spinach out, and she responds by shouting, "I DON'T EAT ICEBERG LETTUCE."  Well.  Is there really anything more I need to say about that?  The other thing that made me a little uncomfortable were the numerous times she mentioned various people asking how someone like her wound up in there.  As if she's really apparently better than the other women in there.  She isn't.  Fact is, she did a great deal more harm than many of these other women.


Despite all this, I enjoyed Piper's insightful observations of the prison experience.  I can hardly imagine such a dehumanizing experience.  The disrepair that Danbury was in really bothered me.  The toxic mold in the classroom, and the instructor being in trouble for not denying it was horrific to me.  And then, later, seeing other places, and realizing just how good she had it at Danbury was chilling.  I really feel for these people who are stuck in these places, regardless of what they may (or may not) have done to end up there.


I applaud the author for writing this enlightening book.  It was long overdue.