Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman (TV/Book Review)

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black is a memoir written by Piper Kerman that chronicles the year that she spent in a minimum-security prison.  The book starts with Kerman describing her college years and the events that ended up landing her in prison and ends with her release from prison after serving twelve months of a fifteen-month sentence.

In the memoir, Kerman describes many of the unique people she meets and events she experiences in prison.  I found it undeniably entertaining to read about the Russian cook, the Dominican bunkmate, the politically geared warden, and delinquent electric shop manager, among others. Listening to Kerman describe how her life became a series or routines and rules, some unspoken and others tentatively ignored, gave me a very intriguing insight into the life of someone who resides in prison.

Aside from describing her experiences, Kerman makes an attempt to give several social commentaries in her memoir.  She speaks on how even one stupid decision made over a decade ago can change the course of your life.  Kerman gives a somewhat harsh observation on the policy of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug involvement.  She criticizes the state of the prison at times and saves her most scathing commentary for life that the prison is preparing these women to return to.

My criticism is that Kerman spends too much time describing all of the interesting people and goings on in the prison that her commentaries get a little lost.  One reviewer on audible asks the question “Is prison really as fun as it sounds?” One life lesson that Kerman learns from her experiences in prison does ring clear throughout the memoir, which is that she is no better than anyone else.   She concludes that while her circumstances are different, giving her the opportunities to rise above her misfortunes, that those circumstances don’t make her a better, nicer, more complete person than all of the other women whom she encounters in prison.

Orange Is the New Black recently was made into a Netflix exclusive television series.  Becoming one of the first in a handful of Netflix exclusive TV series, Orange Is the New Black has been praised, along with House of Cards, as breaking some of the stereotypes and prejudices that have belonged to content that originates on the Internet.  With actors such as Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, (both from House of Cards) Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew and Jason Biggs signing up for these projects, a certain amount of respect has also come to Internet exclusive content.  Netflix has actually made history this year as both House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black are nominated for Emmys being the first pair of online original series to be nominated for Emmys.

As a family who cut our cable back in 2010, we are especially excited about this development. Having seen the first series of Orange Is the New Black, I can say that we are talking about some entertaining material.  While this show is definitely not family friendly, it paints a really intriguing picture of what might go on in a prison.  After finishing the series, I became very interested to see how much of the series is based on what actually came from the memoir.  I am surprised to see how much of the series is from the memoir, such as many of the events and even more of the characters, but, just like the TV show Dexter, the series deviates from the source material as it drags on.  This doesn’t shock me too much as we know that they can’t continue a series into multiple seasons if it is truly based on a 12-month period of someone’s life.

Also, if Piper’s social commentary on prison life etc. gets lost in the memoir then it becomes even more buried in the television series.   Even though the series does begin to deviate from the source material, especially at the end of the season, I do recommend the series to anyone with a Netflix account (just be sure to watch it after the kiddos go to bed) and I will watch to see what happens next season.

The audiobook that I listened was done excellently well. The one woman who was the narrator not only nailed the somewhat innocent voice of Piper but also successfully, in my opinion, acted out the voices of the Dominican, the Russian, and even the male characters.  I definitely would recommend the book to people whom I know enjoyed the TV series and I would also suggest the book to others whom I know listen to and enjoy audio books.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison Purchase Links: Kindle Edition, Paperback, Audiobook

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