Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Orange is the New Black - by Piper Kerman

I've been intending to read Kerman's memoir ever since the debut of the Netflix series of the same name in premiered in 2013. After recently watching the fifth season, I finally got over to my public library and checked the book out. Much less edgy than the television show, Kerman's book is, nevertheless, a quick and fascinating read.

While the television show's characters Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) might have one believe that the prison library is a hub of activity, it was in fact barely mentioned in the book. Most of Kerman's reading materials were sent to her by friends and family, so much so that she ended up with her own personal library, which she was glad to share with others. When she left the federal penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut she donated all of her books to the prison library. She knows her books are being used when a year after her release she receives a letter from Danbury
Formal and stilted, it was from Rosemarie, and folded into it were two photographs of my grandmother. My cousin had sent them to me in prison...Rosemarie wrote that she hoped I was doing well on the outs, and that she had found these photos in a book in the library and recognized who it was. 
Photographs are among the more innocuous things found in returned library books. For some real tales from the stacks see this post from BookRiot, and this one from BuzzFeed.

Another fellow inmate, Levy, upon being released was interviewed by the Hartford Courant newspaper and described her six-month sentence as a "holiday" with a "wide range of classes" as well as "two libraries with a wide array of books and magazines, including Town and Country and People". All of this, of course was a surprise to her fellow inmates who listened to her complain and cry every day of her incarceration.

In the book's Afterword Kerman (now serving on the board of the Women's Prison Association) points out that the United States has the world's biggest prison population with 25% of the wold's prisoners, but only 5% of the world's population. Low level offenders make up a huge proportion of these inmates. She further explains
Most of the women I know from prison have lived lives that were missing opportunities many of us take for granted. It sometimes seems that we have built revolving doors between our poorest communities and correctional facilities, and created perverse financial incentives to keep those prisons full, at taxpayers' expense. America has invested heavily in prison, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities - schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers - go without.
Sing it, Sister!

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