Sunday, October 27, 2013
HEARTBREAKING CRUELTY IN WOMEN'S FEDERAL PRISON
AT 24, PIPER KERMAN boarded a flight to Belgium wearing slacks and a nice jacket, carrying a suitcase full of cartel cash to be delivered to a West African kingpin by her heroin-dealing girlfriend. Kerman didn't run with that crowd for long, but her crimes caught up with her; she ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony money-laundering charge.
Her 13-month stint in federal prison became the basis for her 2010 bestseller, Orange Is the New Black, which was adapted into an acclaimed Netflix series by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. The show—whose second season is in the works—follows Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as the Whole Foods-shopping Smith College alum bumbles her way through life on the inside. Orange has been hailed for its realism and its diverse and well-developed cast of female characters, but the show also has caught flak for its reliance on a privileged white protagonist. At the height of the hoopla, I caught up with Kerman, now 44, to talk about sadistic guards, crocheted phalluses, and her top three prison reforms.
Mother Jones: At what point did you decide to write about all of this?
Piper Kerman: The woman I shared a cube with for many months turned to me one day and said, "You go home and write a book about this, bunkie." I was not necessarily planning on writing a book, but when I came home, almost every single person I knew wanted to hear about my experience. I had a sense that it would interest people who would not otherwise pick up a book about prison. I wasn't writing for the choir.