Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman (audio)

orangeSubtitled: My Year in a Women’s Prison

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?

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
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6 Responses to Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman (audio)

  1. Heather says:

    I read the book and really enjoyed it, and I’m now watching season 2 of the show. It’s completely and totally different from the book. The only thing that’s the same is the basic premise: middle-class white woman gets sent to prison for a ten-years-ago drug offense. 90% of everything else that happens in the show is totally different from the book. I really, really like the show and I think it does a good job being respectful of prisoners but also realistic about their situation. It’s extremely entertaining (and is meant to be that way) but has a lot to say about gender, class, prison culture, etc. at the same time. But I have to say it again – it’s NOTHING like the book.


  2. Trish says:

    I haven’t read the book but I have watched the show (we’re halfway through S3 right now). I had actually heard how similar they were so I’m surprised by Heather’s comment!

    I think the show does a great job of humanizing the inmates. Backstories are shown (my favorite part of the show) and it’s fascinating and eye opening and very respectful. It does deal with some stereotypes but it also works really hard to bust those stereotypes right open. The second season was a bit over the top of me (I don’t like watching graphic sex scenes…straight or gay) but the third season reminds me much more of the first season. Try the first couple of episodes and you’ll get a good taste.


    • Amanda says:

      So I’m curious – is there graphic drug use (especially needles) or vomiting? Because those are the ones that really bother me. Sex doesn’t. I do plan to check the series out from the library when I’m back in TX.


      • Trish says:

        Some vomiting, but it’s fresh in my mind since I just watched several episodes this weekend (and there was one scene that I can think of). And there is drug use…though I don’t think it’s excessive…most of it deals with the selling of it or the effects. Mostly just sex. Lots of sex. All kinds.


      • Amanda says:

        Good to know. I’ll go cautious, then!


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