Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman could be your neighbor, your daughter, your best friend, or you. After graduating from Smith College, Kerman longed for an adventure, and she found it as a courier for a drug lord. She was a small part of an international operation, but ten years later, her youthful lark landed her in prison in Danbury, Connecticut, close in miles to her friends in New York and Boston, yet eons away in the life she faced.

Stripped of her clothes, belongings, and dignity, Kerman learned what it is like to be a prisoner in 21st Century America.

Our favorite part of the book was Kerman’s acceptance of her fate and empathy for the women she lived with—she seemed to completely enjoy many of them, while acknowledging impatience with those who kept making poor choices and endangering their entire families. Kerman writes with wisdom about her own poor choices and how they not only hurt her and those she loved, but ultimately hurt the women she was living with, many of whom were caught in the drug trade she joined just to have fun.

She shows how dehumanizing and pointless prison sentences are for many of these women who were given minimal rehabilitation or education and treated like they were less than human, often because of crimes in which they were more victim than criminal.

As part of the discussion, we tasted Kerman’s version of prison cheesecake and agreed it was surprisingly tasty.

We recommend the book, and those of us who have seen the Netflix series recommend it as well, although it often wanders away from the storyline of the book. Seeing the filmed version helped us visualize the prison and its women.

— Patricia Prijatel