Women and Prison in Piper Kermans Book, Orange Is the New Black, My Year in a Womens Prison

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“Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” is about Piper Kerman a Smith College graduate who was convicted in a minimum security federal prison on a drug smuggling and money laundering charge. The book tells us about how Piper ended up in prison and her experience in Connecticut’s Danbury Federal Correctional Institute. When she was twenty two Piper got involved romantically with a woman named Nora who was drug dealer and she convinced Piper to smuggle cash for an international drug mafia.

A few years later Piper who was then settled in Manhattan with her fiancé was struck by a blast from the past when Federal agents came knocking at her door charging her with conspiracy drug smuggling and money laundering. After dragging her case along for years Piper was sentenced to a fifteen month sentence at a minimum security federal penitentiary.

In her book Kerman discusses the necessary behavioral codes to survive in prison; the hierarchies, the strip searches, acceptable questions to ask inmates and lesbian relationships.

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She repeatedly mentions how prisoners are kept in check with the constant fear of being put in the solitary housing unit which is basically solitary confinement. Kerman passes her days with visitors, books, prison jobs, letters and education. Kerman also talks about how small things like sharing toiletries with the other women and movie nights bring great joy to her otherwise sedentary life. The most depressing part of the book is how most the inmates are unprepared to start over fresh once they are released.

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Some of the important characters are Larry Smith: Piper’s fiancée; Annette, Yoga Janet and Pop: who were some of the inmates that were doing time with Piper; Piper’s parents and Larry’s parents.

Author information

My book was written by Piper Kerman. According to the Contemporary Authors Database, “Piper Kerman was born c. 1969. A native of Boston and graduate of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, she is [currently] a communications executive at the nonprofit Spitfire Strategies where she also worked in justice reform, public health accreditation, and media policy. She has produced interactive marketing, television advertising, print, and Web sites.” The article tells us about Piper’s post-prison life and how she has grown after being imprisoned.


According to “Orange is a colorful tale of life redeemed” an article by Deirdre Donahue in USA Today,” [Piper Kerman] is a zippy, unpretentious writer, Kerman wisely focuses not on herself but on people: the 50ish wife of a Russian gangster who rules the kitchen, a gospel music-loving transsexual and a peace activist nun. Kerman summarizes how she ended up behind bars. In 1992 at age 22, she fell in love with an older woman named Nora who maintained her lavish lifestyle by operating a drug- and money-smuggling ring.” This article emphasizes on Piper’s writing style and what she focuses on in her book. In the article “American Justice” by Sasha Abramsky, Columbia Journalism Review, the author states that, “Piper Kerman’s beautifully written Orange Is the New Black is destined to become a classic in this genre. In its introspective tone, it is more similar to South African anti apartheid activist Albie Sachs’s Jail Diary than it is to say, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s denunciatory com-muniqués from Pennsylvania’s death row. From time to time she does lambast The Man, mocking the absurdities of current incarceration practices and the politics behind them. Yet the bulk of Kerman’s narrative is a journey of self-discovery, describing how one can find one’s true strengths during moments of adversity. It is akin to the great blues songs, written by Lead Belly and other prisoner-troubadours.” This is a great article as the author shows us how Piper’s writing could be related to the works of anti-apartheid activists and how Piper discovered another part of her when she was in prison.


The topic I picked to research is solitary housing units and their negative effects. Solitary housing units are presented in the book as the ultimate punishment that is used to keep prisoners in check. The topic interested me as Piper Kerman testified at a hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement” in front of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights chaired by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin after she was released. Another reason why I chose this topic is because the idea of locking a person up with no human contact in a 9-by-11-foot cell for an extended period of time seemed repulsive to me and I felt that the negative effects of solitary confinement needed to be studied in detail. In the article “The Abuse of Solitary Confinement” published in The New York Times the author talks about the large number of inmates put in solitary confinement and the reasons why they are put in. The article states that, “There are at least 25,000 prisoners in solitary, while tens of thousands more are in other forms of segregation, which are only somewhat less restrictive. Solitary confinement, which typically means up to 23 hours a day in isolation, can cause depression and rage after a few days, with severe mental suffering when imposed for longer periods”(“Abuse”). The article also says that in the prisons in America, solitary is justified while dealing with extremely dangerous prisoners but nowadays inmates are put in solitary for something small like irritating a guard (“Abuse”). This brings out the reality of how some guards improperly use solitary confinement to punish their prisoners.

According to the article “Bureau of Prisons Addressing Solitary Confinement Concerns” written by Zach Rausnitz, Charles Samules the head of the bureau of prisons said that, “I do not believe that it [solitary confinement) is appropriate” and that solitary is for inmates that are extremely dangerous to be placed with fellow prisoners and correctional officers (“Bureau”). The article tells us that even the head of the organization that is in charge of incarcerating prisoners knows how bad solitary confinement is.

In the article “A Solitary Scandal” published in American Magazine, the authors clearly explains what solitary confinement is and how it affects the inmate. In the article Dr. Craig Haney, a leading expert in penal institution psychology testified that “Solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness.” Solitary confinement is described in the article as, “Solitary confinement–also referred to as isolation, “the hole,” permanent lockdown or segregated, restricted or supermax housing-is the practice of holding prisoners in small, windowless cells for 23 or 24 hours a day. There is little or no human contact and minimal access to rehabilitative services and medical and mental health treatment. It is increasingly being used as a punishment for violating prison rules, even minor, nonviolent infractions, or as a behavioral control mechanism for the mentally ill. Who goes to the hole, and for how long, is often decided with little or no due process” (“Solitary’). This article brings out all the negative effects of solitary confinement and it reinforces how it is misused by the prison guards. It helps me establish the fact that solitary confinement does nothing but damage to the prisoners.


I personally felt that the book was very well worded and that Piper Kerman gave a very vivid and detailed description of her experience in prison. I felt that her writing was different as she did not focus her writing just about herself but on the people around her too. Kerman gave me a different view of prison life in America unlike what the movies and television shows tell us. She showed me how even in prisons a lot of valuable connections and friends could be made. Piper helps voice out the problems a lot of women face in American prisons, problems like Solitary Housing Units, lesbian tendencies and guards having sexual contact with the inmates. I strongly recommend this book to all the people who want to learn about the American prison system and the struggles that an incarcerated woman in America faces.

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Women and Prison in Piper Kermans Book, Orange Is the New Black, My Year in a Womens Prison. (2022, Feb 25). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/women-and-prison-in-piper-kermans-book-orange-is-the-new-black-my-year-in-a-womens-prison-essay

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