When Piper Kerman’s reckless past catches up with her, she is forced to give up her comfortable Manhattan lifestyle, say goodbye to her loving fiancé, and spend a year behind bars. The book details her experiences in prison and her observations about the strange rules and coping strategies she encounters. Piper is greeted with surprising kindness by her fellow inmates, who provide her with the basic supplies she needs and advise her on how to behave toward the various prison staff. Over the course of the year, as she learns the stories of the other women, Piper comes to appreciate that her previous activities did impact the lives of addicts, and genuinely regrets her actions. The book sets out some eye-opening statistics about the US war on drugs, the vastness of their prison system and the shocking lack of rehabilitation or treatment programs for the inmates.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
This was a really engrossing read on a topic we were all curious about. There were some slow points in the middle of the book, but generally it was a fascinating glimpse behind the prison walls. All the crazy rules, the work details, visiting day procedures, and even the lack of simple toiletries like soap and shampoo without outside money were so interesting to learn about. We were intrigued by the systemic racism in the prison, and how Piper’s middle-class white girl status warranted special treatment by the staff. We were also shocked by the statistics and the size of the US prison population – what a waste of human potential. We recommend that people read the book before watching the Netflix program because there are a lot of important details that have been lost to the sensationalization of the TV show.