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Orange Is the New Black
By Piper Kerman
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Orange Is the New Black

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Orange Is the New Black
My Year in a Women's Prison
By Piper Kerman
Thorndike Press; Large Print Edition, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-1-4104-7212-0
Genre: Autobiography

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 7, 2015

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman, which was originally published in 2006, is at long last available in large print! A quick read, this remarkable book chronicles the thirteen months that Kerman spent as an inmate at the the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, in Danbury, Connecticut.

A graduate of Smith College, a career woman, and a non-drug addicted individual with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth, Kerman was not the stereotypical image of a prison inmate. She also was not the goody two-shoes that she presented to the world. Not long after leaving college she got a gig ferrying drug money around the world for an African drug lord. Although she tried to put her sordid past behind her, the law eventually caught up with her and she was indicted for money laundering and drug trafficking. Rather than go to trial and face the prospect of a long sentence, Kerman coped a plea and pleaded guilty to the charge of money laundering. It was for this conviction that she found herself, years later, in the Danbury prison.

The book covers the events leading up to her incarceration, and why the feds waited so long to make her serve her sentence. However, the bulk of the book deals with the time she spent 'inside' that is most interesting. Kerman details how the women in the prison treated her and other new inmates and how new prisoners had to find a niche within the prison structure. She explains what it is like to live under the regimented prison system, what it is like to always be under the thumb of the guards who could, at will, search her cell or her person.

This book is both humorous and sad. Many of the women she met in prison where there more out of circumstance then intent, and their prospects once they left prison were nearly as dire as they were in prison. For many, a return to prison would be in their future. Kerman also examines how the women formed 'families' with each other, how they helped each other, and what they did to pass the time. Most important, she showed how they struggled to maintain their sanity while trapped in an insane situation.

An interesting book, it was not too long ago transformed into a television show aptly titled, Orange is the New Black. I've never seen the television version of the book, so I cannot compare the two. What I can say is that while I really liked this book, and although I found Kerman to be an unsympathetic character, I felt that my time spent reading the book was well spent. One of the reasons that Kerman came across as unsympathetic to me is that she just struck me as an overly privileged woman who thought it was mean of other people to make her 'pay' for something that she really did not see as a crime. As well, she was so much better off - both in terms of money and support - than her fellow inmates, yet she did not seem to appreciate this fact. Basically, she comes across as kind of whiny and as someone who feels like they were victimized by the system. After all, she wasn't really doing anything wrong when she was hauling drug money around the world, she was just having a bit of fun. The other women that she mentions are much more 'real' and sympathetic, and their stories really made this book for me. Many of these women were indeed victims of the system - both educational and penal, as well as by their husbands or boyfriends who left the women holding the bag for crimes committed by their male partners.

Overall, Orange Is the New Black presents a unique view of what life is like in a women's prison, and of some of the unique challenges that face the women who come to prison pregnant, or who must leave young children on the outside. While not a comprehensive overview of what prison life is like for women, it does provide a starting point from which interested readers can further explore this topical subject.

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