“We have a racially based justice system that overpunishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”
Ok, so I haven’t watched Orange is the New Black on Netflix yet. I know, I know — I will, ok? But I have read Piper Kerman’s memoir now, and found it very interesting and heartfelt (unlike the other white person goes to prison book I read this year — Sanctuary of Outcasts, which kind of blew).
As many of y’all probably know, Kerman was sent to a woman’s prison to serve for 15 months as the result of a some drug trafficking that she participated in as a young woman. It’s been 10 years since she actually committed the crime, so she’s a wildly different person now, but of course that doesn’t matter to the prison system. She is sent to a minimum security prison called Danbury to serve her time with other female, non-violent offenders.
There are two main components to Kerman’s story, both of which I found compelling. First of all, she describes in detail what it was like to be in prison. The monotony of it, how the guards treat the prisoners and how your ability to get along can make or break you. It takes her some time, but she ends up bonding with some of the other prisoners, and some of the long-timers basically take her under their wing and show her the ropes. In time, she returns the favor to other newcomers.
The other main component of the book is Kerman describing just how fucked up our penal system is. It’s obvious the girl did her research. She also goes into the trial system, and insanely drawn out some of the cases can get. For instance, six years went by between when she was arrested for her crime and when she actually started her sentence. Six years waiting to find out what would happen to her. I’d go crazy.
Kerman is an articulate and funny writer. The stories she tells are great. But she also makes it clear that it was an incredibly trying experience, for herself and her family. Seeing what she learned from going through it all really impressed.