Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review - Orange is the New Black

***SPOILER ALERT:  Chances are you've at least heard of the book Orange is the New Black.  You've probably heard of it because of the super popular Netflix series of the same name.  Let me clear something up.  The book is very different from the Netflix series.  If you've seen the series but have never read the book, you should know now, this review is based on the book and therefore has spoilers for the book in it.  Read on to find out what I really think of the book and author.***

For my book club for October, we are reading the book Orange is the New Black.  Now, I wanted to like this book.  I really did.  BUT, through the entire thing, all I could think was "Holy shit, I hate Piper Kerman."  Never in all my years of reading have I found the author of a memoir to be so thoroughly unlikeable.  She was arrogant, snide and bitchy throughout the entire memoir.

The first time that I really just wanted to punch Kerman was on page 138 when she declared: "I had a fantastic private attorney and a country-club suit to go with my blond bob."  From that point on, I knew there was no way I would be able to like this character.  She was always talking about how she went to Smith College.  She said it like going to Smith automatically made her better than every fucking person in prison with her.

Kerman seems to firmly believe that because of her stellar education, country club suit and blond hair that she shouldn't be in jail.  The thing is, no matter what Kerman believes, she broke the law.  And even though she broke the law and is doing something every other felon should have to do, she got an incredibly lenient sentence.  She served 13 months of a 15 month sentence.  11 of those months were in a minimum facility prison in Danbury, CT.  The rest were in a maximum security facility in Chicago.

Now, don't mistake me: I think serving time in prison must be very difficult.  I hope that I never have to go through that experience.  But that doesn't mean I feel empathetic or sympathetic towards the author.  I wondered many things throughout this book.  I wondered:

*Why everyone in the prison kept coming to Kerman for help with stuff.  Were they really coming to her for help or was she exaggerating because she's so full of herself?  Piper says it's because "No one else is going to do it, babe.  The feds aren't going to take care of us in this shithole.  We have to do for each other."  Yet, you never hear about Piper saying that the women went to other prisoners for help.  In the book, they all come to her.  That doesn't seem realistic.  So, either Kerman is lying, or exaggerating, or she's exceedingly arrogant.

*Why does Piper think that she can treat some people like crap and other people like the sun shines out of their asses?

*What in god's name makes Piper think that she can act like she doesn't deserve to be in prison?  With the amount of time that she spent bitching about how much she wanted to go home, she could have just sucked it up and realized that she did something wrong!

Piper talks a lot about the jobs that people have in prison, about how much she hates the electrical job she first started under and about how these jobs do not prepare women for life in a career outside prison.  In her defense, she does genuinely seem to care about the fact that many prisoners will be ill-equipped to face what the real world has going on when they are released.  That was really the only redeeming thing I found in Piper's behavior or attitude though.

I think that Pop, the kitchen cook, said it best:  "Look, Piper, things are pretty calm around here now, but that;s not always the way.  Sometimes shit jumps off.  And down the hill - forget i!  Some of those bitches are animals.  Plus, you've got lifers down there.  You've got your little year to do, and I know it seems hard to you, but when you're doing serious time, or life, things look different.  You can't put up with shit from anyone, because this is your life, and if you ever take it from anyone, then you're always going to have problems.  There was this woman down the hill I used to know - little woman, very quiet, kept to herself, didn't bother nobody.  This woman was doing life.  She did her work, she walked the track down there, she went to bed early, that;s it.  Then some young girl show up down there, this girl was trouble.  She starts with this little woman - she's giving her shit, she's hassling her all the time, she's a fucking stupid kid.  Well, that little woman, who never said boo to no one, put two locks in a sock and she let that girl know what time it was.  I never seen anything like it, this girl was a mess, blood everywhere, she was fucked up good.  But you know what, Piper?  That's where we are.  And we're not all in the same boat.  So just remember that."

Throughout the memoir, I found myself thinking just how incredibly lucky Piper is.  Had she been a woman of color or a poor person, she would have undoubtedly served much more time for her crime.  Unfortunately, none of that seems to have crossed Piper's mind.  She was just as spoiled and bitchy at the end of her experience as she was at the beginning.  It makes my heart hurt, not for her, but for the thousands of other prisoners serving longer sentences just because they weren't as lucky as Kerman.  I hope that they are the ones who can someday catch a break and see the outside world again.

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