Friday, July 16, 2010

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman

This is Piper Kerman’s account of her time spent at a women’s prison in Connecticut, having been involved in drug trafficking. She is not sentenced until 10 years after her conviction, since the government was trying to get the head of the smuggling organization extradited from England, and wanted her to testify against him, only not as a prisoner. Kerman pled guilty to money laundering (having flown money in her suitcase to Europe), which carries a minimum sentence of two and a half years. With a great lawyer and lots of friends and family to write glowing testimonies for her, she receives a 15 month sentence, and ends up serving only 13 months.

There is not a lot of insight into her character and why she allowed herself to engage in crime. Kerman is faithful in detailing how she got special treatment over and over again for being a white, blue-eyed and attractive blond woman, with a degree from a prestigious women’s college – which is not your average inmate. It makes it difficult to understand how she got sucked into supplying heroin to addicts. The rationale seems to be more about her free and adventurous lifestyle than about the money. Kerman had an “open” orientation and had more female lovers than male, during college and afterwards. One of these females is instrumental in flying her across the world to join her in Bali, from which point Kerman becomes more and more enmeshed in the trafficking life, until she is pressured to take part in the actual smuggling.

Some of the controversy regarding the strong lesbian counterculture which exists in our top women’s colleges may come to mind when reading this book. One wonders if Nora, the woman who pulled Kerman into the trade, would have been as successful in enticing Kerman if she had been a man. Be that as it may, the book has value for its day-to-day portrayal of the minimum security prison. Kerman has long since distanced herself from her lesbian past, has a fiancé waiting for her, and tries to walk a straight line while doing her time.

What is most revealing is how, as Kerman points out mid-way through the book, that in any prison, it’s the prisoners who “run” the prison. Even dealing with the bondage they live under, the prisoners’ personalities and their particular strengths and weaknesses all feed into the system, giving everyone a part to play. Kerman says that our country has more convicts than any other, and the system has to change, especially regarding non-violent crime. After reading this book, I think most would have to agree with her.

No comments: