Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #31: LibraryLove June 7, 2010

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

Book description~ When federal agents knocked on her door with an indictment in hand, Piper Kerman barely resembled the reckless young woman she was shortly after graduating Smith College. Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, Piper was forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking. Following a plea deal for her 10-year-old crime, Piper spent a year in the infamous women’s correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, which she found to be no “Club Fed.” In Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison , Piper takes readers into B-Dorm, a community of colorful, eccentric, vividly drawn women. Their stories raise issues of friendship and family, mental illness, the odd cliques and codes of behavior, the role of religion, the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailor, and the almost complete lack of guidance for life after prison. Orange is the New Black sheds a unique light on life inside a women’s prison, by a Smith College graduate who did the crime and did the time.

In prison, you’re always waiting in line for something and no rule is unbreakable.

In Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman chronicles her 15-month stay in the Danbury Federal Corrections Institution (FCI). This memoir is a mesmerizing look at the indiscretions, inadequacies and blatant crisis that is the federal prison system. Sure, you might say it should be a quick walk in the park for Kerman,  an upper–class white woman, with a ‘hook up’ to the outside for bringing in books, letters, and a slew of visitors helping her pass the time. But no matter who you are,  where you come from, or however long your sentence, prison is about survival and it’s a struggle every moment.

I have some very strong points of view on the prison/drug offense front that I won’t go into too deeply here. But I will say this- I find a major moral dilemma with the idea that our prisons are full of white-collar criminals while many child sex offenders, the lowest of the low, IMHO, are let off with a slap on the wrist after registering to a website because the BOPs’ (Bureau of Prisons) ineptitude . It’s appalling that the United States mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses are the primary reason that our prison population has ballooned since the 1980s to over 2.5 million people, a 300% increase. The United States locks up one out of every hundred adults, more than any other country in the world. Food for thought…if you don’t like it, PLEASE exercise your right to vote at the next election. I digress…

Throughout Kerman’s stay in Danbury, many fellow inmates would question what such an “All-American Girl” did to get there and they assume she was serving time on a financial crime, when in fact, she was like the majority of the women there: serving a nonviolent drug offense. Did you know that a federal prisoner costs about $30,000 to incarcerate and women actually cost more??? I was fascinated to read about life after prison as well. Our current criminal justice system has no provisioning system for restorative justice after an inmate has served their time. Instead, our system of “corrections” is about “arm’s length revenge and retribution, all day and all night. Then its’ overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.”

I definitely recommend you pick up this just released memoir, and when you’re done, check out Modern Love, a column by Piper’s husband, Larry.

What I love so much about this challenge is that each book I read leaves a lasting impact and drastically changes the way I view the world, both good and bad. It’s amazing. I hope if nothing else, maybe just once this summer, turn off the television and read your local newspaper or crack open a book. It’s amazing what you learn if you put yourself out of your comfort zone once in a while, as I did in reading this book on a topic I previously knew nothing about.

Kerman is now a vice president at a Washington, D.C.-based communications firm that works with foundations and nonprofits.

4.5/5 stars

31 down, 21 to go.

Up next- Heart of the Matter



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