Although most people are familiar with the popular Netflix original series “Orange Is The New Black,” a lot of fans may not be aware that the highly-entertaining comedy-drama about a women’s prison and its rambunctious inmates was adapted from Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison.”
The book starts with Piper in her early-twenties, fresh out of college, detailing how she met her girlfriend Nora—who is renamed Alex in the series—and became involved in an international drug trade. This is the situation that eventually lands Piper in prison, nearly 12 years after her involvement with the drug trade. She is taken from her fiancé and locked up with a fifteen-month sentence.
It was upsetting to see Piper and Larry, her fiancé, separated throughout the book, as he had to live his own life while she lived hers behind bars. These bars are figurative, though; Piper was taken to the all-women’s facility at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution in Connecticut, where it seems less like prison and more like summer camp.
At the institution, the inmates were allowed to work in jobs at the camp, including the kitchen, the laundry room, and electrical and carpentry shops. They were also permitted to go outside at their own free will, either running around the track for exercise or just sitting under a tree and reading a book. Furthermore, each woman had a special bank-like account at the prison, and they were able to buy various products from the commissary.
All the activities and privileges the inmates had greatly surprised me as I was reading because it’s something I’d never been aware of. I hadn’t realized until this book that inmates had such a free range of things they were able to do. It was actually quite an eye-opening experience for me.
Throughout the book, Piper treads the pathway that is her sentence, adapting more and more to her current and forced lifestyle. We see her making friends and enemies alike while learning things about not only her fellow inmates, but also herself. In addition, she is trying to stay true to Larry, who visits regularly, as well as her family and friends on the outside. Her old life before her imprisonment sometimes manages to make its way into prison with her, though, forcing her to add it to the list of things to worry about.
The focus of the book is mostly on Piper, which would make sense since it’s her memoir. The Netflix series, however, focuses on not only Piper, but also all of the inmates, and even the employees of the prison. It’s almost as if we’re given more of a behind-the-scenes look when watching the show. While the book does mention certain inmates’ backgrounds, the show has a strong focus on their life stories rather than just Piper’s.
I loved this book. As aforementioned, it gave me such an insight into the real lives of the inmates of a women’s camp in prison, and it really opened my eyes to how things work in that sort of situation. The Netflix series adds a lot of extra drama and laughs, but it is with good taste as it’s obviously necessary to keep the show going. I like the book better, though, because it felt more real to me. I put myself into Piper’s shoes and lived at the camp with her, as weird as it may sound.
For fans of the show, I strongly recommend reading “Orange Is The New Black.” I also strongly recommend this fun memoir to someone who wants to watch the show, or who just wants to know Piper’s crazy story. It’s something that will be good and entertaining whether or not you’ve already watched both seasons of the show.