Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Release Date: April 6, 2010
"With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they're there."

Taken from Goodreads

Start: 1/1/2014  |  End: 1/21/2014  |  Pages: 298  |  Rating: 3.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I had very mixed feelings about having to read this memoir, for the book club at my school. I have never read anything about the prison system before, and I have not read anything non-fiction in a long time. Basically, this book was totally out of my comfort zone, but I still somewhat enjoyed it.

The author and main character, Piper, landed herself in prison 10 years after trafficking drug money abroad, just once, for her girlfriend, Nora. During those 10 years, Piper completely rebuilt her life and settled down with her fiance, only to suddenly find the feds at her door. Apparently, after breaking up with her Nora, the whole drug smuggling business fell apart and names were mentioned, including Piper. So after 10 years of hiding her past and moving forward, it all comes back up again. Lesson to this story, don't participate in drug trafficking.

Although I've never watched the Netflix series, I've heard that it's a little bit different from the book. First off, there aren't any sex scenes in the book. In fact, Piper brings up lesbian relationships in only a couple of parts. Most of the focus is on prison ethics and her actual life in prison. I found this so much more interesting and educational, because as a 20 year old, I know nothing about prisons. Actually, I recently found out through my book club discussion, that prisons themselves make a lot of money, but yet the state still has to pay over $40,000 a year for each prisoner. This is because the minimum wage for jobs in prisons are a lot less than $7, and buying commissary items while in prison is much more expensive. 

Another important thing I learned is that prison is like a trap for some women. Some women end up spending more than 5 years in prison, and when they're released, what's in store for them? It's hard to get a job, hard to find a place to live, and some of them might not have any family left. In prison, you get free food, free health care, a job, and you can even attend college classes. In these womens' eyes, prison is a much more affordable place to live in compared to the real world. Therefore, most women just end up going straight back to prison. 

In the end, I enjoyed reading Orange is the New Black. There were a lot of names to grasp, due to the comings and goings of inmates, and also the end was dragged out a lot, but what can you say, it's an accurate description of prison life. 
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