I watched the Netflix series Orange is the New Black in fortnightly increments. I found it uncomfortable, confronting, awkward and yet excellent. So I thought I’d read about the real Piper and see what her experiences were really like as a college-educated, middle-class detainee.
I have to say as shocked and as confronted as I was by the TV series, the book itself actually felt a bit beige. None of those confronting and harrowing scenarios played out in the drama were to be found in the pages of Kerman’s biography. That’s not to say her stay in the Danbury Federal Correctional Institute was a walk in the park, but reading her book felt far more sanitised than watching the Netflix adaptation. It also seemed as though there was an agenda behind the telling of this tale. Kerman is [now] an advocate for prisoner’s rights and sits on the board of Women’s Prison Association and a fair portion of this book is dedicated to her views on incarceration versus rehabilitation. Further, she spends so much time feeling positive in the book that it doesn’t feel authentic. If I were imprisoned for a crime I committed ten years previously, I would not be embracing a ‘hakuna matata’ moment. I would be angry. I would be depressed. I would not be rational.
It seems to me that that good people at Netflix bought the premise to her story and weaved their TV magic. Having read the book and viewed the TV series, they are seemingly worlds apart. But they are worlds apart in the way that I feel the TV show with all it’s bells and whistles feels more real. And for all her ‘positivity’ throughout her memoir, Kerman maintains her sense of entitlement, despite telling us the reader that she is humble and contrite. Kerman reaches out for empathy from the page but I just didn’t want to give it to her. She just seemed to profess one too many times that she was grounded, sound and stable. And (it could be weird of me, I don’t know), I actually wanted to hear more about her crimes. THAT part she glossed over and it felt like she was maintaining some sort of ‘innocent bystander’ defence. Puh-lease.
I’m glad she’s happy and I’m glad she’s free. But I’m glad I watched the TV show before I read the book because I may not have otherwise.