“The United States has the biggest prison population in the world – we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we’re only 5% of the world’s population. This reliance’s on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had some 500,000 Americans in prison; by 2010 we have more than 2,300,000 American people locked up. Yes, that’s close to 2 ½ million Americans now!”
Piper Kerman has written a great memoir of for 13 months in the Federal prison system. Many people know about her work because they’ve seen the TV show which was created as a result of this memoir. Yes, Piper Kerman wrote Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.
I like the TV show AND the book. When I write “like” – it is the kind of appreciation that comes when I am made to think deeply about information and when I find myself caring about something which, previously I hadn’t given much thought to. I also love good stories with characters that are authentic. Where people grow and evolve. Where people are complex. All of that and more is happening in the book and the TV series.
If you are interested in learning more about our current American prison system – this book is a place to start. It is the story of one of those many million Americans who have spent or are spending time in prison. It is a story that let us into a world we don’t necessarily know much about. Yet, the world of prison life is huge in America. So, yes – this book and TV series gets us thinking about our country and how we operate.
Kerman sees clearly that “America has invested heavily in prisons, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities – schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers – go without.” I see this too and would add to the list the need for greater resources in responding compassionately and productively to homelessness and community and mental health across the country.
Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman 2010, 2011 is published by Random House and can be bought or checked out of libraries everywhere. The TV show is a NETFLIX original series (Orange is the New Black) is based on the work of Piper Kerman and season three is to begin in the summer of 2015. That gives you lots of time to read the book and catch up on season 1 and 2.
The complexity of the American prison system is important for all of us to think about. Kerman asserts that we “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 over punishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”
The quotes above can be found on pages 303, 299 and 303 of the paperback of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman