I’m sure most people have heard of the TV show version of this, at least, so I won’t spend a lot of time recapping. Piper Kerman spent roughly a year in a federal women’s prison for a ten-year-old drug offense. This is her memoir of that year and a social commentary on the prison system.
Let me start by saying that I’ve never seen the TV show version of Kerman’s book, nor did I really know much about it beyond it involving a women’s prison. I didn’t even know it was based on a book, or that the book was nonfiction. When Ceri came to visit me in January, she talked a little about this one, and it got me interested. Here I am, several months later, finally listening to the audiobook.
Honestly, I don’t have much to say about the book. It was a fascinating read, and I certainly learned a lot. There was a little class bias, which I think is to be expected, but not nearly as much as I would have predicted. Kerman was respectful about most of her fellow prisoners, and told their stories in ways that made nearly everyone sympathetic. I especially enjoyed learning about the inner workings of this particular minimum security federal women’s prison/camp. Kerman held nothing back. She was completely upfront about the bad things (racism, homophobia, abuse of power, etc) and the good things (makeshift families, little generosities, creativity, etc).
As for qualms, I only had a little one, and that was that several stories seemed to start from random segues. Maybe this would have been better in the print version, but on audio, it threw me off a few times. Which leads me to:
Performance: This audiobook was read by Cassandra Campbell. It’s my second experience with her, and both times, I had the same reaction – I really, really don’t like all the accents. I know it’s meant to enhance the narration, but these felt awkwardly stereotyped, and at odds with the respect of the words themselves. I was worried about that going in, because of my former experience with this narrator. Still, it wasn’t so bad that I quit and moved to the print version, so that says something. Still, not my favorite.
TV Show: Because I don’t want to end on such a negative note, I want to talk for a second about the TV version of Orange is the New Black. I still haven’t watched it, and I’m wondering how they made a show out of this book without turning the prisoners into entertainment fodder. That doesn’t seem very respectful, so I can’t imagine that’s what the show is doing. Maybe I’m just naive. But I wanted to ask: Have you seen it? Is it worth watching? Is it respectful of the prisoners’ situations?