Thursday, May 15, 2014

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman was (for the most part) surprisingly thoughtful.

This was another book club pick, and I was excited to read it because I love the Netflix show which is based on it. So let me just say that Netflix took some pretty big liberties in turning a memoir into a narrative story line. I mean, I should have seen that coming, but I didn't really so I feel like I should warn other people.

Kerman goes to jail for a 10 year old offense of carrying drug money across national lines (or something to that affect). Although she knows intellectually at the beginning of the book that what she did was illegal, she doesn't really believe that she should serve prison time for it. But as she goes through her 13 month sentence she begins to realize the lasting consequences of the small role she played in the drug trade business. Kerman does a good job of pointing out the fact that she had it so much better than most of the other women in there. She was engaged outside of prison to a wonderful man who visited her pretty much every week. He was buying them a house so she knew she'd have somewhere to live when she got out. She already had a job set up though a friend upon her release date. She got countless letters and books from various friends and relatives. And she got money to spend in the commissary on any items she wished. Even though it's clearly a memoir, Kerman manages to point out the lack of all of these things which the other women have to face. She points out time and time again the many ways in which our prison system is failing the very people we would like to rehabilitate. And she gives a list of resources to donate to or help in any way possible at the end of the book.

However, I almost put this book down. I kept getting irritated at her blatant disregard for any sexual identity outside of lesbian and straight. She also occasionally reinforces certain stereotypes (referring to women as "dykey"). She also gets a little hypocritical at one point where she talks badly about a prisoner who left and then lied to a magazine about the conditions of the prison and then talks about how great prison has been for her in another part (talking about how much weight she's lost in a positive manner and how many great relationships she's formed).

I think it's overall a great introduction to the state of prisons today. It will definitely tug on some heartstrings (and hopefully purse strings too) but I think it's also good to keep in mind that this is one middle age, middle class, white woman talking about something which is vastly more prevalent in poor people and people of color.

Favorite Quote: "Do you have to find the evil in yourself in order to truly recognize it in the world?"

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