When I finally picked up ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (originally published in 2010), I did not know what to expect. The buzz around the Netflix series, which I have not yet viewed, seems to suggest high drama, machinations, and lots of attitude. But this is one of the most compassionate books I have ever read. It provides a very human look into the life of a woman who makes some bad decisions and later pays the price: a year in a minimum-security prison. Though of course we know how it ends (she is released and writes a book), the book pulses with suspense because like the narrator, we do not know what to expect from one moment to the next. Although certain aspects of prison life are predictable, many depend on human variables—some surprisingly uplifting and heartening, some humiliating.
If you know anyone whose life has been touched by incarceration—directly or indirectly—Piper Kerman captures not only what life is like on the “inside” but also some of the absurdities that land people there and the consequences for their family and friends.
And given that 2.3 million people are locked up annually, those consequences are vast.