“Orange Is the New Black” – A Book Review

Guest post by Lisa Melquist

In Orange Is the New Black, Piper Kerman chronicles the actions that lead to her incarceration and the year that she spent behind bars in a federal prison.  After graduating from Smith College, Kerman felt that she was missing excitement and adventure in her life–things many young adults yearn for.  She soon met someone–Nora–who provided her with the stimulation she found lacking.  Though Kerman originally accompanied Nora on her journeys to see the world and spend time with her, she was soon swept into the world of drug smuggling and money laundering herself.

Kerman realized the enormity of her actions and cut all ties with Nora after smuggling money into Europe once, but the harm was already done.  Kerman was sentenced to fifteen months in a federal prison, of which she did thirteen months.

For anyone who wonders what prison is like, this book definitely provides a relatable account of the loss of control over one’s own actions, a sense of helplessness and finding the little joys to make a desperate situation tolerable.

However, it is apparent that Kerman’s story is not the norm.  Throughout the book, she states how different her situation was from those of her fellow prisoners: she had weekly visitors including her devoted fiancé, she received a plethora of mail daily, and she knew she had a stable home and job to go back to post-release.  Knowing these differences, one must wonder what the typical prison experience is like–is it more or less tolerable to be in prison when you know that you’re going to have to start from scratch at release?

Lisa Melquist is an AmeriCorps Vista working with Amicus in our Community Engagement area. Thanks for the post, Lisa!