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Monday, December 22, 2014

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman's Prison

            This memoir, written by Piper Kerman, a Smith College graduate and advertising executive, details her imprisonment in a minimum-security federal prison for a little over a year. As part of a post-graduate fling, Piper travelled with a female friend who was a drug trafficker and eventually helped her by transporting drug money. Years later the friend identified Piper, as well as others, as an accomplice; Piper was arrested by the FBI for drug trafficking.  Legal matters caused the imprisonment to be postponed for another few years. Finally, Piper had to leave her boyfriend,  family, friends and job to turn herself in.
            From here, the narrative follows two themes. One is that the female prisoners that Piper lives with are often victims of poverty, little education and challenging family relationships; because prison life does not retrain them for self-sufficiency the prisoners often return to their lives of crime. The second theme is that of Piper’s maturation during her prison stay; she becomes acutely aware of the value of family members and friends who unconditionally support her during this time.  
            Although the reader might wonder at the validity of Piper’s observations, being that she is an upper-middle class white woman in the midst of poverty-stricken women of color, at the end of the book Piper does offer suggestions on how she and the readers of her book might help these prisoners improve their lots in life.

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