Like many others, I assume, when I started watching the Netflix original show, Orange is the New Black, I had no idea it was actually based on on a book. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison, written by Piper Kerman, is the first memoir I have ever read and reviewed. I had no idea that the wacky characters in orange that I watched on my television, and laptop screen, are loosely based on the real life women that the real Piper interacted with during her fifteen month sentence for a 10 year old crime.
Once I found out about Kerman’s New York Times Best Selling novel, I grew skeptical of the show I enjoy.
How true did Netflix stick to Kerman’s story?
Does the book drag on as the television show does?
Are the characters in the show based on real prisoners?
Is it seriously that easy to sneak off and finger bang another inmate? (Pardon the language on the last question!)
My inquiring mind wanted to know, so that led me to finally picking up the Christmas gift off my yet-to-be-read shelf, and I dove into Kerman’s journey.
Fresh out of college, Piper Kerman was looking for adventure. She found it in the arms of a drug smuggler, Nora, though her only offense was delivering a suitcase of drug money. After that, her life with Nora became disenchanted and Piper attempted to distance herself from that life. 10 years later, a visit from a couple of U.S. Customs officers brought her right back to international luggage claim in Brussels.
To get a lesser sentence, Piper pled guilty and could have potentially served a 30 month sentence. Instead, the Judge sentenced her to 15 months in a low security prison. Slowly, she learns the ways of Danbury and about her new roommates for the next 15 months.
Where the book differs from the show is that the real Piper was attempting to shed a light on just how bad a woman’s prison is in the United States, as well as revealing how the laws against the War on Drugs affect women like Piper. It also is a scary reality that no one cares about these women while behind bars, nor does the system actually prepare prisoners for life on the outside once their sentence is served.
Let me be clear: I am still eagerly awaiting the new season of Orange is the New Black to drop this summer. Even if they’ve dragged out Piper’s session to feel longer than the last month of school before summer vacation, and added in a lot of unnecessary girl-on-girl action. The show is meant to entertain, which it succeeds in doing so with flying colours.
However, reading Piper’s memoir made me realize just how much her story was altered for our consumption. Sure, we see the women struggling in prison where they endure physical, emotional and psychological abuse. But, the show is not conveying the messages that Piper was attempting to portray in her novel.