I need to write about this book today. TODAY.
Why, you ask?
Because I have become completely addicted to the Netflix show, and it has a much different feel from the book.
The author, Piper Kerman, spend a year in minimum security prison for smuggling drug money 11 years before. I loved this book. Ms. Kerman takes the reader on a journey into a community of women very different from myself and yet not so different. She drives home the point that for many women in the prison system, it is but for my access to a few life advantages, and their lack of access, that they are incarcerated and I am not.
Ms. Kerman tells a story of temperance. She speaks of slowly learning the culture she has been dropped into, of wisely observing and avoiding drama and setting boundaries even as she bonds with her fellow inmates.
It is a story of strength. She tells of the saga of flying with Con Air to testify at another trial, and spending time in what sounds like a more miserable, less community-minded prison while waiting for her role in this trial. Parts of that story I could hardly bear to read, because she makes the reader care so deeply. There was one incident on board Con Air, a ten-second observation of someone — we never even learn her name — being treated unkindly by the male prisoners on board, that left me broken-hearted, sobbing for this person whose story is unknown to me.
It is a story of humility — the good kind, the soul-transforming, joy-producing kind. Ms. Kerman’s fiance and family are supportive and selfless throughout the story. Ms. Kerman helps the reader understand how her fiance, especially, was punished by the whole experience as well. She makes the reader feel that although prison is an awful experience for all involved, it is especially awful for the children of prisoners, and the mommas who miss years of their children’s lives. She highlights the lack of “correction” in the department of corrections, the inmates’ poor preparation for returning to life outside, the system of using the fewest resources and officers possible with few real avenues for prisoners to assert their rights or improve themselves in any way. She doesn’t minimize her own experience but she emphasizes that she is doing time for a crime she committed, that there is justice here. Possibly my favorite theme of the story, Ms. Kerman shows the gifts from her experience, the women who changed her and widened her understanding of compassion and humanity.
Now, the show… It is fantastic, off-beat, unique, risky, and raw. Funny and disgusting. Distasteful and sweet. ”I can’t believe they did that!” and “I want to see more!” live side-by-side in my mind. It is loosely based on the real characters from the book, but remixed to make a great, addictive TV show. The fiance is not so steady, the main character is not so temperate, and the corrections officers are more involved in the story…and much more disturbing. I can’t wait to see where the plot will go in the second season.