While I was in Germany this summer, T started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but abandoned it after a few episodes because he kept thinking, in his words, “My wife is GONE! She’s in JAIL for a whole YEAR and I’m never going to see her again!”
Obviously neither of those things was true, but it did spark my curiosity about the show. When I stumbled upon the book at Barnes and Noble on my lunch break one day, I couldn’t resist picking it up.
It took me about three pages before I was completely hooked. From the very beginning, Kerman’s writing is simple and honest, thoroughly descriptive but not flowery. It’s easy to see where she is coming from––she’s young, experiencing true adult freedom for the first time, and she wants an adventure. Unfortunately, that adventure ends up involving a drug ring, and even though Kerman eventually escapes, she is busted several years later and finds herself spending a year as an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.
Orange is the New Black offers a rare look inside the U.S. prison system. Kerman describes the stresses, restrictions, and sometimes even horrors of prison, things that she acknowledges most Americans are very curious about. She writes about inadequate physical facilities, lack of any sort of training programs to prepare inmates for their future in the outside world, and verbal abuse by prison staff. At the same time, she expresses deep care and gratitude for the women who were her fellow inmates, and I got the sense that she really wants to communicate to the reader that prisoners are human beings too, no matter what they have done in the past. The end of the book has a somewhat surprising twist, but I won’t spoil it for you.
After I finished the book, I read several negative reviews on Goodreads arguing that Kerman and her cast of real-but-protected characters weren’t believable, that she was a snotty white girl with entitlement issues, and that the story was too much of a narrative. I have a hard time taking those comments seriously, since a) everyone in the book was in fact a real person, even though she (understandably) wanted to protect them, b) Kerman does recognize that she had a much easier prison experience than most of her friends, and c) the story, by definition, is a narrative.
Obviously everyone can form their own opinions, so I highly suggest you read the book for yourself. Personally, I can’t wait to start watching the show!