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Orange Is the New Black: "I threatened to drown Nora in a toilet."

Like most right-thinking people, I watched and loved Orange Is the New Black last year and am now EAGERLY waiting on season 2 this June.


I was unsure whether I wanted to read the memoir it was based on, Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, mainly because when I first looked at it, I saw reviews that were essentially "Piper whines a lot about how could SHE be in prison because upper middle class/white/etc and it's totally a privileged view of prison and boo." It sounded like the show had revamped Piper's character to be much more aware of her problems. HOWEVER. Many times, the Internet is in fact full of shit.


If you're not familiar with the show (seriously? it's like 13 episodes and on Netflix and amazing -- why're you doing this? do you hate good things? probably.), it's about a woman whose ten-years-ago drug ring girlfriend names her in a federal case and the woman (Piper) does about a year in a minimum security prison in Connecticut. It's definitely a Real Thing That Happened.

I was surprised by Piper's thoughtfulness, how much she clearly bonded with the other women, and how by all appearances she wrote the book to make it clear to people how poorly thought-out our prison system is.

Over incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities, making life outside the mainstream more likely by limiting opportunities for change. We have a racially biased justice system that overpunishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.

I came away from this book wanting to reform our prisons. WHICH IS SUCH A GOOD THING TO TAKE AWAY FROM A BOOK. Piper humanizes the women in prison with her, makes you care about them, and then shows how hard life will be for them on the outside and how our current system does almost nothing to actually help them become better people. Whenever people used to talk about prison reform, I'd tune out, because whatever. Criminals should be punished, why should they be super comfortable, etc etc. OOPS WHAT A TERRIBLE WAY OF LOOKING AT IT, ME.

In the federal system alone (a fraction of the U.S. prison population), there were over 90,000 prisoners locked up for drug offenses, compared with about 40,000 for violent crimes. A federal prisoner costs at least $ 30,000 a year to incarcerate, and females actually cost more.

She makes it clear that the prison system did nothing to make her realize what she'd done. It was seeing the women she was friends with dealing with hepatitis and HIV, seeing how their drug use had torn apart their family and made it almost impossible for them to function outside of prison -- at that point, "I finally understood the true consequences of my own actions. I had helped these terrible things happen."

Our current criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice, in which an offender confronts the damage they have done and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. (I was lucky to get there on my own, with the help of the women I met.) Instead, our system of “corrections” is about arm’s-length revenge and retribution, all day and all night.

I was just hugely impressed with this book. It was ridiculously readable, it wasn't self-pitying, it moves you to action. I understand some of the complaints from people, because Piper does make comments about how people kept saying things like "Why're YOU in prison?", but that's because OUR SYSTEM IS SUPER-BIASED AGAINST PEOPLE OF COLOR AND THE POOR. She emphasizes this over and over. She's not saying "I am super special and shouldn't be here." She says "Everyone was confused about why I was there, because people of my color/in my class don't normally go to prison."

She was out in THREE HOURS. Because rich. (still favorite gif ever)

Read the book, watch the series, love all the characters. Then join me as we march around with signs that say "MAKE PRISONS BETTER, YOU DICKS." Or something of that nature.


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