After binge-watching the Netflix original series “Orange in the New Black” in only three days, I knew I had to read the book to compare the real accounts of Piper Kerman to the dramatized television series of Piper Chapman. I’ve always liked books better than their movie or television counterparts, and because I enjoyed the series, I expected to like the book more. I wasn’t disappointed.
Without going into too many details because of the differences between the two versions, the basis of the story is the same: In her early twenties, Piper assists her girlfriend in laundering heroin into another country. About ten years later, she is sent to jail for her crime. At the times of her arrest, indictment, and sentencing, (which in reality took over five years), she is engaged to her fiancé Larry and living a comfortable life as a self-proclaimed WASP in a family of lawyers and doctors. Her journey through a minimum security women’s prison is one of struggle, acceptance, and enlightenment.
As a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed white woman, it’s not surprising Piper stood out in prison. She quickly had to learn the social structure inside bars and developed strong bonds with women she’d never expect to befriend in the outside world. Both in the book and the series, you are introduced to a cast of characters you come to appreciate as (mostly) endearing individuals instead of hardened institutionalized criminals. You can’t help but want to be their friend too.
During her time in prison, Piper learns of the over-incarceration in America and the lasting negative affects it has on our communities and in our families. The ineffective War on Drugs is much to blame, as the majority of inmates are non-violent drug offenders, while addiction on the streets is rapidly on the rise. This is a cause Piper has personally taken on in an effort to help change the criminal justice system. In the back of her book she lists a bunch of resources for the reader if they wish to get involved as well. One cause that stuck out to me was the option to donate books to women in prison. Unfortunately the education “system” inside most correctional institutions leaves much to be desired, and the majority of the reading materials provided are outdated and ineffective at helping women prepare for their re-entry into society. Since this is a blog about books, written by lovers of books, if you’d like to share the objects of your literary affection with others who have limited access to quality reading materials, (or donate money to help inmates receive better books), below are the organizations Piper provided where you can contribute.
Although I’ve read the book and know how Piper’s story ends, I’m looking forward to the second season of the TV series. I like the author Piper more than the character Piper in the show, but I’ve grown attached to her crazy cast of characters and look forward to seeing how Netflix depicts the rest of her journey, as fictionalized as it may be.