Orange is the new Black, an autobiographical story by Piper Kerman, has been making waves since it was published, so much that it was adapted into a Netflix series of the same name recently. Read on for a preview of what Ms. Kerman had to say about her book at The Ohio State University recently.
There is nothing about Piper Kerman that makes you associate her with any sort of criminal activity. And yet, this girl-next-door spent a little more than a year of her life in a federal prison in Connecticut. How did this come about? What happens when someone like you and me, someone whom you are likely to meet in the course of your daily routine, is sentenced to a jail term? What happens once you enter a prison, anyway?
Piper Kerman has taken a good look at questions like these and beyond in her novel. In her talk, she went into great length about the things that had motivated her to put her story down on paper- the appalling increase in the number of prisoners in the US legal system, the dilemma of watching families being rendered unstable by virtue of the mother or the father being behind bars, the stereotyping (economic, racial, sexual, you name it) of convicts and so much more.
She touched upon a few experiences that only someone who’s been behind bars can empathise with; for instance, the symbolism of the prison cheesecake. Piper talked about how cheesecake was made in prison, using purchased essential ingredients from the commissary and using microwaves assigned to the prisoners for this purpose. And then, she went on to talk about why cheesecake was made in prison, how doing things like these could restore a semblance of humanity to a convict’s life in a place that is designed to strip that essential quality from its inmates.
The experience of doing time for a long-forgotten crime led Ms. Kerman to actively take up the issue of prison reform; and she is now actively involved in promoting awareness about her cause, in the hope that it will get people to start thinking about the prison system in the USA and make better choices in terms of public spending as well as the sentences doled out to crime suspects.