Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Prison is so much about the people who are missing from your life and who fill your imagination

I realize I haven't talked about my love for the Netflix show Orange is the New Black here, although if you follow me on Twitter you've probably seen some ALL CAPS declarations of love. Because it's an amazing show and if you haven't seen it yet, you should probably drop what you're doing and go binge watch. It's hilarious and touching and complicated and OMG I LOVE IT. So reading the book that inspired it seemed like a natural choice. Especially when said book was on sale.

The original Orange is the New Black is a memoir by Piper Kerman, as WASP from a good New England family who, in her early twenties Piper dated a woman who dealt heroin for some guy in West Africa. She didn't deal heroin in the "stand on a street corner" kind of way, but instead the way that let her jet set to exotic locations and have lots of disposable income. Piper laundered money for the operation one time and ten years later found herself serving a 15 month sentence at a minimum security prison. Piper's memoir details what she learned about herself, about the other women she was incarcerated with, and about the American prison system. Things about herself and other women: pretty good. The prison system:...yeah, not so much.

Laura pointed this out in her review that Kerman does an excellent job talking about all of the problems with the prison system without smacking you over the head with them. She's so right. Kerman points out things that are messed up in the prison system, be it conditions or who is predominantly being arrested, without preaching. And they're woven within the story itself so they never get eye-rolly. And some of the stuff is terrible and unfair
"A female prisoner who alleges sexual misconduct on the part of a guard is invariably locked in the SHU [solitary confinement] in 'protective custody,' losing her housing assignment, program activities (if there are any), work assignment, and a host of other prison privileges, not to mention the comfort of her routine and friends."

There are a lot of funny moments that come from the ridiculousness of the situation.
"Nice veins!" [the prison doctor] said with very genuine admiration. "No track marks!" Given his total lack of irony, I thanked him.

Reading this made me want to watch the show all over again. It's different enough that you shouldn't expect to read the same thing as the show, but there are enough moments and characters that are the same or at least similar enough to make me go "TAYSTEE I MISS YOU".

I know there are complaints that the book only focuses on Piper's experience so you're only seeing prison through the eyes of a white upper-middle-class woman. Those people are dumbasses. You've picked up a memoir by a white upper-middle-class woman. The hell did you think it was going to be about? I know the show branches out more and that is AWESOME and a big plus for the show. But really, why did you think Piper's memoir would also include memoirs from other ladies?

Piper does come off a bit like her shit smells like flowers, but not enough that I was mad at her for it. I mean I assume when it comes to memoirs most people are painting themselves with some pretty rose colored glasses. I would. Again, another way I appreciate that the TV show, since it's not Piper's memoirs, can branch out from this, but I really don't think it's something to hold against the book.

I really enjoyed the book. It's one I could see my re-reading. However, the show is still better. Just don't go into the book expecting to get the same experience as the show. Which is probably good advice in general when seeing a story in multiple media.

Title quote from page 107, location 1690

Kerman, Piper. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison. Spiegal & Grou, 2011. Kindle edition.