Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

iconiconI had a hard time trying to classify this one, so eventually I put it under the memoirs label.  Orange is the New Black is about the author's 13-month prison sentence for a 10-year-old drug trafficking offense, a mistake she made when she was fresh out of college and fairly naive.

Having made some mistakes in my past as well (though none of them drug-related), I sympathized with her fear throughout the entire process: going to court, getting charged, and ultimately going to prison.  Not that I've ever been there, but I know how scary it can be to suddenly feel that you are on the wrong side of the law, and have to face the consequences for your actions.

But Kerman's book isn't just about that.  She also talks about the unexpected friendship and solidarity she found in the women's prison.  Granted, she didn't do hard time — Danbury seems like it was a pretty good place if you have to serve a prison sentence — but it was clearly the friends she made that helped get her through it, and vice versa.

Almost buried in the stories of these friendships is the moment when she realized that she had done a bad thing.  I think she went into prison almost feeling that she'd been wronged, that her crime was justifiable and she shouldn't have to do time for it.  But while in the prison, she saw the devastating impact of drugs on her friends' lives, and realized how WRONG her crime really was.  She didn't put much emphasis on this revelation in the book, but it was there nevertheless, and I think it illustrated how much she grew as a person during her time in prison.

I know sometimes nonfiction books can be dull or difficult to follow, but this was not the case at all with Orange is the New Black.  The book is well-written but also interesting and compelling, written in a conversational tone that makes it easy to read.  And it's definitely a fresh subject.  I know this isn't the sort of book everyone wants to read, but if the idea interests you, I urge you to pick it up.  I think you'll be surprised how much you like it.

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