Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Orange is the New Black - Kerman

True to my varied tastes in reading, I chose a book this time round that was about prison. I haven't read one in a while and figured, why not?!

Piper Kerman and I share some similarities. We are both from self-described good families and lived nice childhoods. We went to college in the same western-Massachusetts area, though to different schools. We were both theater majors about the same time, though we never met.  We both graduated with no idea what we were supposed to do next and decided to stay in the area for a while to figure it out.

But that is where the similarities end. Kerman is a unique spirit. She thrives in the western Massachusetts town of Northhampton and shortly finds herself living with her lover, Nora, a lesbian who has become involved in a drug-smuggling and money-laundering ring.  Kerman enjoys the benefits of the money her lover is making, traveling internationally, shopping and enjoying the high-life.  Her role in the business is small (she makes a few trips to deliver money, but avoids actually smuggling any drugs).  But, the damage has been done.

Ten years later, Kerman is living a great life. She's got a good job, a nice home and a wonderful boyfriend.  The happy ending seems within reach until The Feds come knocking. Not surprisingly, someone has cut a deal and turned her in.  In the hopes of avoiding or minimizing prison, she pleads guilty.  She receives a sentence of 15 months.  But the government works slowly and years pass.  Eventually, however, the bell tolls and Piper Kerman reports to Danbury Federal Correctional Insitution to complete her sentence.

Prison is not at all what Kerman is expecting. Yes, the guards are stoic and hardened.  But upon her incarceration, she finds her fellow inmates helpful, generous and even kind. In Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman tells us about her fellow inmates, real women who become not only fellow survivors, but friends.  She learns to survive (with the continued support of her amazing fiance, family and friends...and lots of books) and more importantly, she learns regret. She sees how her actions all those years ago are instrinsically linked to the lives and sorrows of her fellow inmates, many drug addicts or casualties of the drug trade themselves.

As she points out however, a lengthy community service sentence working with the population outside of prison would have served the same purpose. She makes some very good points about retributive justice vs. restorative justice. But at no point does she make excuses. She accepts her mistakes, and her punishment, and even comes to terms with her past when she is forced to co-habitate with her ex-lover, eventually finding herself considering even Nora a friend.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

3/5- Good. Read it, have a good time and move on. Or not.


Jeane said...

Sounds interesting. I might see if my library has this one.