|Taylor Schilling plays Piper Kerman in the TV series|
Blasting apart this image is Piper Kerman’s outstanding memoir. Detailing her year in a minimum-security federal camp, Orange is the New Black is a first-rate effort to educate the public about the realities of women’s prison.
|Promo for blockbuster Netflix spinoff|
I found myself grateful that, once in a blue moon, a middle-class person with a social conscience is sent to prison. Kerman’s bad luck is the public’s fortune. With the overwhelming mass of prisoners voiceless, who else can speak the truth and be heard? Kerman is the everywoman; through recognizing ourselves in her, we feel the prisoner’s plight as our own.
Her sense of not belonging among the underclass was shared by correctional officers and prisoners alike, who more than once asked the blond-haired, blue-eyed Smith College graduate: “What’s someone like you doing in a place like this?!”
|Laverne Cox as trans prisoner Sophia Burset|
For a real-life visual representation of the lot of the woman prisoner, I recommend the documentary Crime After Crime. The story of battered woman Debbie Peagler’s struggle for justice is far more heart-wrenching than Kerman’s memoir, but both dramatize how a soulless bureaucratic machine chews up and spits out human potential.
|The real-life Piper Kerman|
The sincerity of Kerman’s transformation is evident in her life since leaving prison nine years ago. She serves on the board of the non-profit prison reform group Women’s Prison Association and does public education on the plight of women prisoners -- especially the two-thirds who are mothers -- through influential media outlets such as National Public Radio. As she writes in a recent op-ed in the New York Times:
"Harshly punitive drug laws and diminishing community mental health resources have landed many women in prison who simply do not belong there, often for shockingly long sentences. What is priceless about JusticeHome, however, is that it is working not only to rehabilitate women but to keep families together -- which we know is an effective way to reduce crime and to stop a cycle that can condemn entire families to the penal system."
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*I listened to the audiobook version. The reader was quite good. Her only false steps came in reading the word "SHU": She read it aloud as "S-H-U," instead of the way it is actually pronounced in prison ("shoe"). The SHU is too ubiquitous to merit three syllables at every utterance.
(c) Copyright Karen Franklin 2014 - All rights reserved