Becky’s One Hundred and Fifty-Third Book Review: “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman

“Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman was a book that I picked up after I saw how popular the television show was. Before I read the book, I knew nothing about it except that it involved a woman telling her story about her time in prison. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed both Kerman’s writing and the topic itself.

I am pretty well defined as a ‘goodie-two-shoes’ so I have never spent much time thinking about what prison life would be like. Kerman is able to open the door and invite her readers in to experience prison right along side her. She breaks it down for you and fills her readers in on what the most difficult thing about being locked away is, “Prison is so much about the people who are missing from your life and who fill your imagination.” (Orange is the New Black, pg 107). It’s nothing I have ever, or will probably ever, experienced myself, but reading this book really made it easy to relate to the position that Kerman found herself in.

I really liked the way that Kerman illustrated the relationships between the guards and the inmates. It’s no secret that guards are at a huge advantage over the inmates, but I still thought Kerman was able to capture the raw reality of this really well, “It is hard to conceive of any relationship between two adults in America being less equal than that of prisoner and prison guard. The formal relationship, enforced by the institution, is that one person’s word means everything and the other’s means almost nothing; one person can command the other to do just about anything, and refusal can result in total physical restraint. That fact is like a slap in the face. Even in relation to the people who are anointed with power in the outside world – cops, elected officials, soldiers – we have rights within our interactions. We have a right to speak to power, though we may not exercise it. But when you step behind the walls of a prison as an inmate, you lose that right. It evaporates and it’s terrifying.” (Orange is the New Black, pg 129). I think not having a say in anything with regards to yourself or your living situation would be insanely difficult to deal with. Especially considering how many freedoms are allowed those on the outside. Leaving those all at the door would be a real challenge for anyone.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think it was a very entertaining read; I enjoyed Kerman’s style of writing and her tone held just the right amount of humor mixed in with a serious subject. Reading about prison life from a woman’s perspective is something new for me. It was easy to relate to Kerman because she did something dumb and illegal in her youth. It came back to bite her in the ass ten years later. It could happen to almost anyone. The book was an enjoyable read, but it also opened my eyes a little to how ridiculous some of the reasons that people are in jail are. A ten-year-old drug offense of such a minimal amount really doesn’t deserve a prison sentence; it seems like something a fine and/or community service could take care of. Instead people are thrown in prison for the smallest of offenses, and the taxpayers are the ones who are funding the unnecessary imprisonment of so many people. It’s something that I never even crossed my mind before. “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman really made me think. I’d be more than inclined to pick up something else written by her and would highly recommend this book.

Side note: the book and the television series have very little to do with one another. Some of the characters are the same, but there are a lot of changes made. I read the book first and was fine with the liberties the show takes. That being said, I wouldn’t tell people to expect the show in the book if they are going in reverse order. Both are enjoyable in my opinion.

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