After being introduced to the series airing on Netflix by a friend, and subsequently watching all of season one, I found myself wanting to know more of the story. I did a little googling, and found out that it was based on the memoir Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, who served thirteen months of a fifteen-month sentence for a nine-year old drug offense in which she traveled with a suitcase full of money. If it had been one year later, her case would have been thrown out of court, a fact that we are made aware of both in the memoir and the series.
There was a slight bit of hesitation on my part, on whether or not to purchase the memoir, because I didn’t want to spoil season two, but almost instantly after I started reading it, I realized that that was not going to be the case. Although the premise in the series runs true to the memoir, there are quite a few differences between the two.
The memoir tells the story of Piper’s experiences at a minimum security prison in Danbury, Connecticut. While serving time, Piper works in electric and then later in construction, after she was sexually harassed by the prison staff member who was in charge of the electricity department. She seems to be allowed some freedoms, because she is constantly running on the track. At times you can almost forget that they are in prison because of such things as that, but that doesn’t last long. Piper has a ton of support from the outside world, with people all over the country – some she even had never met – sending her books and letters, and visiting her. Her fiancé Larry makes a point to drive up from New York and visit her once a week. All of her visits seemed to be pleasant and lasted longer than what I had imagined they would (multiple hours). At the end of the visits, after the visitors had all left, Piper and the other inmates were forced to strip, even going as far as having to squat and cough to make sure that nothing had been smuggled into the facilities.
Piper did not serve any time with her former girlfriend and ex-drug trafficker, Nora (Alex) while she was at Danbury, of which she was there for eleven months. For the last two months of her sentence, she boarded Con Air, en-route to Chicago as a star witness for the government against a man who was higher up in the drug smuggling business than she had been; she had never met the guy and didn’t know who he was. It was there that she ran into Nora and her sister, en-route to the same destination, for the same trial, except that Nora and her sister had actually known who this man was. At first Piper refused to speak to them, even being seated next to Nora on a long flight without breaking their awkward silence. Eventually, they become friendly for a little while, until Nora departs on her way back to what we can only assume is the prison where she has been serving her time.
A lot of Piper’s time in prison seems a bit mundane to me. Perhaps this is because of the views that society imposes upon us of what prison life is supposed to be like, or perhaps it is because the series on Netflix has a bit more drama to it; the Piper in their seems to make more enemies than friends, but in the memoir, it isn’t like that at all. The reason why she was able to survive came partially from her contacts with the outside world, and partially from the friends that she made on the inside, the women that were service with her. Orange Is the New Black isn’t just a story about one woman, it’s really a story about all of them, and one that I highly recommend, as I have just loaned out my copy.