Mazola1's Reviews > Orange Is the New Black

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
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Jul 29, 2010

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Orange is the New Black is a modestly interesting memoir of the author's time as an inmate at Danbury, a federal minimum security facility. Kerman did a year there for a decade-old drug offense, after she had left behind the lover who got her into smuggling and settled into a fairly conventional middle class life style. While being imprisoned is no doubt never much fun, Kerman hardly did hard time. So if you're looking for something like the American version of Midnight Express, or an expose of brutal conditions in American prisons, this ain't it.

Kerman never actually spent time behind bars until she spent a few weeks in a Chicago jail waiting to testify at the trial of one of her co-conspirators. At Danbury, she learned a bit about construction and electricity, made friends with many of the inmates and mused about the waste of money and societal resources it takes to lock up thousand of non-violent drug offenders like herself. She also read lots of books and learned how to make prison cheesecake.

Kerman's book is peopled by inmates who seem more innocuous than threatening, and a surprising number of her fellow inmates seem to have been senior citizens and mothers separated from their children. Some of the hardships, indignities and inconveniences of Kerman's incarceration included not getting a furlough to visit her dying grandmother, strip searches before and after seeing visitors, mediocre food and sometimes not having conditioner for her hair. On the other side of the balance, she enjoyed regular visits from her boyfriend and family, a limitless supply of books to read and fellow inmates who either befriended her or left her alone. The closest she came to being "attacked" by another inmate was when a woman gave her "the hairy eyeball" for picking through the salad looking for prime ingrdients.

Kerman throws in a bit of superficial analysis of some of the perceived problems with the American prison system, and pays a bit of lip service to the lessons she supposedly learned from her incarceration. But really, sometimes fiction is more revealing of the human truth than non-fiction. I couldn't help but reflect on this as I compared Orange is the New Black with Michelle Huneven's luminous work of fiction, Blame, whose main character is, like Kerman, a middle class woman sent to a minimum security prison.

Far more than Kerman's book, Blame lays bare the psychic cost and consequences of wrong choices. Kerman's book is something like the Cliff Notes version of what being in prison is like, while Blame is the real thing. Read the first for mindless entertainment and the second for some serious thinking about the human condition.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Larry Bassett Thanks for the tip about Blame. I will check it out. I know quite a few people -- including my mother -- who have been in jail for civil disobedience, mostly anti-nuclear and anti-war. If we send enough good people to jail, the system may change. Put a community organizer in jail and you create a prison reform activist.

Allison Couldn't agree more. And don't forget about what great shape she got into, not eating the terrible food and running on the track -- I was a little surprised there wasn't a chapter on the fantastic new prison diet.

SweetCheeses And Coffee Dreams I could not articulate why this book bothered me so much, but your review pretty much did it for me! The prison she was in seemed to be a girl scout camp, and I did not understand her crusaide for reform with her descriptions of how she spent her time.

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