Thursday, 17 October 2013

Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

Why I read it: After binge-watching the Netflix series, I needed MORE, so I binge-read the book.

Podcasts: There are many, but Fresh Air is always good.

Brow: I cannot say that a prison memoir is anything more than middle brow.

Summary: When she was 24, Piper Kerman carried some drug money to Belgium for a cartel her then-girlfriend was a member of. When the authorities finally caught up to the cartel 5 long years later, the now-ex girlfriend named Kerman as a member in exchange for a reduced sentence. Kerman was sentenced to a year in Danbury Federal Prison in Connecticut. Now free, she wrote a memoir of her time there.

What I liked about it: Kerman is an excellent writer who can paint vivid portraits in just a few lines. She turns her sharp critique on the entire prison system: the justice system that locks up millions of people for years for non-violent drug offenses at $30 000 a pop, the prisons that do nothing to actually rehabilitate or educate people who will, for the most part, be back on the streets with even fewer resources than when they left and the staff, who are incompetent at best and sociopaths at worst. She also richly describes her fellow prisoners, who are mostly poor and minorities, but gives them dignity nonetheless. Finally, she describes the mind-numbing boredom occasionally punctuated by pointless routines as she wastes an entire year of her life behind bars.

What I didn't like about it: As this Salon article points out, both the show and the book assume that every single person Kerman meets in prison is guilty of whatever crime she was accused of. Kerman does acknowledge that charges and sentences are largely at the discretion of the prosecutor, but nowhere does she point out that some, probably a lot, of her fellow inmates were quite possibly innocent, but couldn't afford lawyers who could take them to trial and prove it.

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