Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman


Piper Kerman was born on September 28, 1969. She was named Piper Eressea Kerman by her parents who are Americans. Piper Kerman is an author with a bias in memoirs. Her book, Orange is the New Black, tells the story of how she was incarcerated for a crime of money laundering. The same story has formed a basis of a TV series, also named after the book, and is now on some pay TV channels. From the book, it seems that the past eventually catches up with us no matter how cleverly we think we have disguised it. The story is that Piper Kerman committed a crime 10 years ago by delivering a suitcase full of drug money. Initially, Kerman had a job, a boyfriend named Larry, and a loving family whom she left behind when she went to prison to serve her prison sentence. In the book, Piper had led a reckless life style a couple years back; now, it finally caught up with her, and she has to pay her dues to the State. When she finds herself at the Federal Correctional Facility, Danbury, Connecticut, she loses her name and becomes prisoner number 11187-424 instead. With that number, she becomes one of the many millions of people who once get incarcerated and lose their name. This paper provides a review to the book and examines how the book reflects the author’s character before and after the prison.

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In the book, Kerman (2013) narrates her experience in prison after being incarcerated for money laundering. She tells her story with humor, compassion and touches on her own redemption. Piper also points out what she sees as the problem with the Criminal Judicial System especially in the United States of America by the method they use to call criminals to book and wonders whether it is possible to change these regulations if the states want to have better mechanisms of rehabilitating criminals who have committed minor offences. She brings to light facts about prison life and asks important questions which policy makers ought to confront and make necessary adjustments. In prison, Piper learns to live a life that is totally different from anything she has ever imagined she would live. Everything in there is through strict codes of conduct, different behavioral habits and, luckily for her, friends who can give advice and console. Kerman hears stories which are as strange as they are incomprehensible from the women she finds there. She is made to feel right at home. She mixes with women from different ethnicities and races, and yet, in that background, their differences seem to disappear.

In addition, while still in prison, Kerman comes across women who are generous, hilarious, kind and sometimes angry in expressing themselves. Piper’s story paints a clear picture of the lives of women who are in prison, the reasons for their incarceration and their everyday lives while they are in there. Piper Kerman’s story is told with affection for the women she is incarcerated with, reverence by the way they show that despite being inmates, they are human also; these women show compassion for each other and exhibit humor from the stories they share among themselves. She conveys what she has seen, experienced and heard from her fellow inmates beautifully.

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In general, Piper’s story is generous and kind and seeks to look at her fellow prisoners in a humane manner, not just as prisoners with a number for a name. She has nothing but praise for her fellow prisoners because she brings out this fact: any of those women could be your daughter, your mother, your wife or even your best friend. She brings out the humanness in all of us. Kerman’s story lays bare human emotions making one to stand up and take notice.

Prior to her being incarcerated, Kerman recalls that the suitcase issue had happened when she was a 24-year-old woman who was running with the wrong crowd. Piper got herself mixed up with women she describes as stylish lesbians who were pushing drugs for a West African Drug dealer. It is because of this relationship that she ended up with the suitcase full of money and being arrested five years later for being a mule. It took five years before the law caught up with her despite leaving the drug smuggling ring after only a few months. Kerman says she started this business after being influenced by a couple of ‘stylish cool women’ who were in their 30s.

Analysis and Evaluation

The book Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman liberates by purposely speaking up about a number of issues that the author came across before and after her prison sentence. The facts in Kerman’s story are perhaps to make it more colorful than it actually was in prison and thus more entertaining for the viewers. In the book, Piper tries to show in a stark manner that she is not telling us the entire truth about her experiences and puts it to mean that it is only a tiny friction of the story which is based on facts while the rest is pure old fiction. Maybe because she believes truth is stranger than fiction.

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For instance, in the book, when Larry, her boyfriend before she went to Prison, proposes to her after her release from jail, the script is done exactly as it had happened in real life. So is when Piper has a shouting match with Red by exchanging insults, which happened too. However, beyond that, everything else was all old fiction. Another fact in the story is the duration it took her to know that she might be going to jail and ending up there. Between not knowing that she might go to jail and ending up going, it took six years of not knowing her fate until eventually it happened, and she had to go to prison. That was a traumatizing period for the author, and it gave her time to reflect on the wrong choices she had made. It also gave her a chance to reflect on and prepare herself psychologically for the life she would have to live for 15 months. From here, she could live her life knowing the end would come.

According to Kerman (2013), she coped in prison because she had to understand the rules enforced by the guards and the wardens as well as the prisoners themselves. For instance, she understood the daily counting of prisoners several times a day, which she had to adjust to, as well as many rules and conditions which were sometimes unreasonable and depended on the guards and wardens whims. Some rules were made by the wardens and guards, and they went ahead and broke them themselves. That points to lack of order and a failure by the judicial system itself to employ people who are in charge of decision making. All the time she was in prison, Piper had to learn those as well as many more other rules which were unofficial. Unofficial rules were made by the prisoners themselves. Those unofficial rules were mostly about individual space, usage of stuff, sitting arrangements or the kind of questions one prisoner was allowed to ask her fellow prisoner so that it is not seen as offensive or rude. In the book, some of these facts are obscured or glossed over, or even simply overlooked.

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In reality, Piper Kerman points out the race issue in the United States of America. She says that there were a lot of racial differences in prison; when a prisoner came in, if she was white, she would be welcomed by the white community, and if she was black, by the black community. This touches on race in the USA and the way each individual reacts to and against people with other racial backgrounds. The race issue still needs to be brought out of the closet because the feelings are still raw. It is a real challenge; there are some people on both sides who have issues with the color of someone’s skin, and they continue to judge others not by their capacity, but by the color of their skin. Differences do crop up; however, the reality in the book is that race was organized based on very powerful principles. To Piper, it did not play any important role. The reason being that one, she was allocated duties in the electric shop where she worked side by side with Asians, African-Americans and Latina. The author also gives us a scenario about a different life style where, for instance, an older woman called Mama would take on the role of a mother and take younger women under her to watch over, or a Papa who also does the same. This seems to help make life easier for prisoners, to survive by offering each other some kind of emotional support.

Kerman makes a powerful statement about prison life, and that is the truth in any criminal justice system the world over. While in jail, she has a chance to meet face to face with the woman who caused her to be there. When Piper confronted the woman, it occurred to her that the fault was hers because it was also her responsibility. The choice was presented, but it was her decision to accept what was offered or not. At that moment, the author found herself face to face with the situation and realized that it was not only her fault, but that it was also her responsibility. In essence, she argues that when we are offered an opportunity to do right or to do wrong, we have a choice to accept or not to accept that offer. In the book, Kerman’s information is sketchy and shallow. She does not explain her thoughts conclusively, nor are they coordinated.

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When a person commits a minor crime, should that person be incarcerated with hardcore criminals in the same space, and will doing so rehabilitate that person, or the influence he or she is exposed to in prison will change him or her to become worse than before? Should minor crimes be given capital punishment? There were six years between the period the author was found guilty and the time it took for her to go to jail. Yet, during that period, she never committed another crime. Looking at the criminal system worldwide, there are some rules which need to be amended so that people who commit minor crimes are made to serve probation outside prison walls. This is because bundling people who commit minor crimes with hardcore criminals for long spells is giving fodder to criminals to mentor and teach people with minor crimes to become hardcore thus defeating the reason for their incarceration. There ought to be rehabilitation centers where people who commit minor crimes serve minor sentences or go through probation. This will help such people instead of helping criminals recruit them to commit worse crimes.

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