“Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women´s Prison” by Piper Kerman is a book about woman´s experience in a prison with its problems, inside hierarchical system and overcoming challenges after discharge. However, Piper´s story differs a lot from stories of other female offenders that make this piece of writing special and helps to look at the prison´s life from another point of view.
Piper´s criminal offense differs from usual women´s characters of crime. She is a beautiful young lady with blue eyes and blonde hair, which has graduated from college. She did not have real reasons to commit any crime, and it seems that this whole drug affair was only an adventure for her, she wanted to have fun. Moreover, considering her socioeconomic status, she has a decent family. Her parents are freshly separated, but still are in fine relationships with each other. She also has grandparents who are always ready to take care of her. Her family had a high status in their society (Kerman, 2011): “I came from a family that prized education. We were a clan of doctors and lawyers and teachers, with the odd nurse, poet, or judge thrown into the mix”. However, she wanted to feel and lead another way of life. She was bored after four years of studying. However, Piper was not a lazy girl and has worked a lot in bars and restaurants, and she liked this life (Kerman, 2011): “Those jobs and people were more my speed than many of people I had met at college”. She was young and wanted to make her own decisions and not always to follow her family: “It was time for me to live my own life” (Kerman, 2011).
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Although Piper was well-educated young lady from Boston, she did not have a clear plan what to do further. The author shows the other type of women offender. Heroine did not need to join this drug affair; she had everything for a living. However, she was curious and wanted to try something new all the time.
Taking into consideration a description of prison´s inmates, Kerman wanted to show the kindness and humanity of these women in a prison. She emphasizes the fact that all these people that help her are strangers. They do not know each other before and meet in a prison. The main heroine is an example of how her inmates have helped her to overcome difficulties that she faced. Piper demonstrates that they are just desperate people who also want to live a normal life but they do not have an opportunity. She shows which influence the society has on these women and demonstrates partially reasons why they are doing these things. She presents such sources of their offenses as limited education, bad employment opportunities and poor health. Kerman received friends in prison and describes them in a kind human manner. For example, she writes about her inmate Janet, “a world traveller, a classic eco-peacenik intellectual, a fitness fanatic and joga expert, and a devout Buddhist possessed of a wry sense of humor” (Kerman, 2011). In her book, she emphasizes the human side of these women, trying to show as much as possible that they are also people with feelings, talents and same rights for happiness.
Talking about relationships with guards, the author tried to show their whole brutality, especially of men. Guards have never thought about prisoners as about people who also have feelings and are not always prised in a fair way. Moreover, Piper explains how difficult it is for women in a prison. They are more often under threat of sexual abuse than men are.
The prison life is shown as a hierarchical society with its own rules and leaders. The place in this hierarchy determines a lot of things. The job assignment, friends, facilities that one can use, a number of cigarettes that one can smoke are heavily dependent on one’s place in this prison´s system.
Piper tells about her new experience in prison. At the beginning, she was class apart as she was different from other prisoners. She has graduated from college, being from a well-off family without reason to get into this drug deal. However, after a short time, she reveals the real nature of these imprisoned women. Later she had gained decent relationships with her jail inmates. She was sure that they are imprisoned unfairly because of wrong drug laws.
Taking a look at coping skills, Piper tells that she met a woman in prison that had helped her to learn to overcome problems: “The women I met in Danbury helped me confront the things I had done wrong, as well as the wrong thins that I have done”. However, what differs her from all these women is that she has never really regret about her actions. She does not think that she has committed something serious enough and characterizes herself as “I-am-an-island-fortress method of dealing with problems”. She thinks about her offense as about entertainment of youth that has not made any damage.
However, in last chapters, Piper also faced a real conflict as her ex-girlfriend Nora turned out in the same prison. Kerman suspects Nora all the time, as she is not imprisoned yet but is waiting for a court decision in this prison. Piper is convinced that Nora wants something from her, but Kerman feels herself offended and left, and is not going to stay friends with Nora.
There are many cases when people who were arrested already come back to prison after a short time. There are a lot of reasons explaining this fact. The society blames prisoners themselves that it is their fault that they cannot control their criminal impulses. It is considered that people who committed the crime once will definitely do that again. However, they do not take into consideration the fact that society does not provide suitable conditions for ex-prisoners to reintegrate into the social life again.
The main issue is to find a normal job after a prison. Employers do not want to hire ex-prisoners. There is a stereotype that they are going to commit the crime again and organization will loose. The program should be created for helping these women behind bars to find decent jobs. It will help them to feel themselves more confident as, of course, after a few unsuccessful attempts to get a decent job; these women loose their hope for a normal life and often turn back to the crime. Such program can prevent their further criminal actions and will help them to adopt better to their social environment.
Another essential aspect for reintegrating women into the society that should be taken into consideration is their psychological state. Prisoners should visit some reintegrating psychological courses that would help them to overcome challenges that they face after being released. The majority of released do not have any support of a family or friends. Mostly, they are lonely people who encounter enmity from other people. When they do not have any psychological support, they loose any hope to live normally hearing all these mockeries. Such psychological trainings will teach them how to overcome challenges that they face. Ex-prisoners will learn how to make their own decisions without influence of their criminal past. For Piper, it was not as hard as for the most others. She had a husband who had supported her all the time. Furthermore, she had friends that helped her to find a profitable job.
Summarising all the information above, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women´s Prison” is the memoir about one year experience in a women´s prison that differs from other works of this type. Piper´s work shows the life in a prison from the other side. The author describes the humanity of all these offenders. Kerman is convinced that the most of them are innocent and unfairly imprisoned. However, the real life and problems of a prison are not revealed properly. Piper has not encountered real problems, in exception, once prisoner has punished her to pick all the spinach out of a salad bar. Moreover, it is the middle-class-transgression memoir without the real honesty, as her narration is about women who were simply bored and turned to crime in the search of new impressions during the time of recklessness.
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