Can you imagine being in prison?
I don’t like to think about it. Wrenched away from my dog, my home, my family and friends, my job — all sense of self gone.
But reading Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman, that’s exactly what I find myself doing.
In 1993, bored and lacking direction after graduating from Smith College, Kerman befriends a woman who is part of an overseas drug smuggling operation and travels for a year with her and her associates.
Five years later, federal agents appear at her door in New York City. Some 10 years after her ‘crimes by association,’ Kerman finds herself an inmate at Danbury Correctional Institute in Connecticut.
Orange is the New Black is the story of Kerman’s thirteen months in prison. I started it yesterday; I’ve found it difficult to put down.
Her life there surprised me on many levels. It was safer than I expected — she wasn’t attacked by every lesbian in the joint — and far more boring. She seemed to have a lot of free time and spent it running track and taking yoga classes.
Although she was cautioned to ‘keep to herself to survive,’ she made numerous connections and friendships in prison that made her life at Danbury easier to endure. Those women are the heart of the book.
Kerman emphasizes that the isolation from her fiancee and family was the real prison. Danbury had four visitation days a week, and she was lucky to have a steady stream of visitors to see her through her incarceration.
Funny thing: the wrong friends got her into prison, and the right friends — on both sides of the bars — got her through.