Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Memoir of the Month: Orange is the New Black

 Subtitled: My Year in a Women's Prison
Author: Piper Kerman 
Publisher/Format: epub from Random House Pub group - 300 pages
Subject: life inside a federal woman's prison
Genre: memoir
Source: Adobe digital edition download from public library

Piper Kerman is not the stereotypical felon.  She is college educated, funny, literate, articulate, she had a good job, good family support, a fiancè, and altogether what most people would consider a good life.  She also made really poor choices during a period of her life and she paid for those choices by having to spend 15 months in the women's prison facility in Danbury CT as #11187-424-her new identify.

With self-deprecating honesty, she gives us a memoir of how she got there, what life was like inside, and her relations with her fellow prisoners.  It is the day-to-day relations with these sister inmates that captures us.  Kerman is quite insightful in her explanations of their plights, in her assessment of the prison system, in her stories of learning to work the system (for instance how to obtain items not available through the prison commissary), and work outside the system (how to get a manicure) and how to work for the system (she worked first as an electrician, then on  a construction crew).  Throughout it all, she shows how she maintained her equilibrium with the help of, and by helping, her fellow inmates.

Their stories are funny, sad, uplifting and depressing.  She has changed names and identifying circumstances, but the cast of fellow prisoners she presents help us understand not only the rules and workings of the prison, but the circumstances that brought many of these women to their current residence.  The stories of mothers separated from their children are particularly touching.

It was an eye-opening memoir: one that does not sugar coat, that does not cry "woe is me".  The author accepts responsibility for her actions and appears to have learned valuable life lessons. She is now working to provide those same opportunities for others who did not have her resources (either personal, financial or legal).  Kerman's work inside, and now outside is actually somewhat inspiring and causes the reader to sit back and think whether or not he or she could have survived the fifteen months the author did.

The book includes an extensive list of Justice Reform Resources and an interview she did for SMITH magazine about her current work.  Kerman also has a facebook page and a webpage Piper Kerman.  The paperback is due out this week, and promises to be well-received.  It's a memoir to make you think.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a memoir even I might like.
    not too sure I like her reference on her web site to having had a "dalliance in the world of drug trafficking". Dalliance seems a bit...


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