Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard about Orange Is the New Black. I watched season 1 of the Netflix show and then read the memoir. I liked the series and I don’t often say this, but the show is better than the book. This is in part due to the amazing cast of lady actors that bring the adaptation to life.
The memoir didn’t live up to my expectations for various reasons. The writing itself just didn’t flow well for me. I found myself wanting to edit the book rather than just read it. I read the book to find Piper Kerman’s real story, but instead was left with a feeling of insincerity about the writing. At times it felt like Piper was trying too hard to mask the reality of prison life, while at other times it felt like she was trying too hard to appear as a seasoned inmate. She wants us to believe that prison has changed her, but doesn’t give us any real insight into that change. I guess I was looking for a depth to the writing that just wasn’t there.
Piper does highlight important issues with today’s prison system. Things like inadequate mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, and re-entry to society training for inmates. Perhaps this was really part of her goal in sharing her experience. Kerman writes, “Dr. Kirk sheepishly informed us that he was in the Camp for a few hours each Thursday and ‘couldn’t really supply’ any mental health services unless it was ‘an emergency.’ He was the only provider of psychiatric care for fourteen hundred women in the Danbury complex, and his primary function was to dole out psych meds.” How can we expect these women to be successful after release when they do not know how to secure housing and work opportunities? When they have not received tools to try to remain drug free on the outside or received proper psychiatric care during their time on the inside?
I give Piper credit for taking responsibility for her crime and doing her time. I cannot imagine having to go to prison, but I am sure reading would be one of the things I would use to survive the experience as Kerman did: “… the literary avalanche was proof that I was different, a freak: ‘She’s the one with the books.’ Annette and a few other women were delighted by the influx of new reading material and borrowed from my library with abandon … Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Alice in Wonderland definitely served to fill time and keep me company inside my head.” I have recently purchased some updated editions of some of my favorite classics and plan to donate my other copies to the Women’s Prison Book Project. For anyone interested the website is: http://www.wpbp.org/book-donations and the mailing address for donations is:
Women’s Prison Book Project
c/o Boneshaker Books
2002 23rd Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404