On March 03, 2015 UNCW had an ex-convict come to our school. But not just any ex-convict, it was Piper Kerman. Kerman is the author of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which was released in April 6, 2010 and three years later, on July 11, 2013, Netflix released its first season of the television series Orange Is the New Black. Here’s a recap of what her lecture series discussed.
Piper Kerman’s memoir focuses on her fifteen-turned-thirteen month sentence in a minimum-security women’s prison for transporting drug money from Chicago to Brussels. Her memoir discusses the close relationships formed during her sentence and how these women changed her life.
Kerman began her lecture from her graduation of Smith College in 1992. She described herself as a lost college graduate, who found solace in an older woman who dealt heroin for a West African kingpin. Piper and her friend would travel to different countries and make the most out of their adventures. In Piper’s mind, she believed that she could be around that atmosphere and not “cross the line.” However, after she carried this laundered money for her friend and drug smuggler, she knew she had “crossed the line.” She then explains that she ended her relationship soon after, and progressed on with her life. She got a job, had good friends, and was in a relationship with Larry (who we all have grown to love from the series.)
In May of 1998, two Customs agents visited her, and 6 years later she was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison. She became honest with the audience stating that she felt “scared” and “alone” went she entered the doors of the prison facility in Danbury, CT. But something happened that Piper Kerman was not expecting. The other inmates were nice to her. They welcomed her and made sure that she had the basic things that the prison did not provide. She admits that she experienced kindness where she least expected it.
Kerman continued to talk about her personal encounters with inmates known as Pom Pom, who worked in the garage, and Star who made personal designs on inmates ID cards. These were the things that kept her sane, and made her see that she is not just a number; she is still a human being. Through each of these women’s story, she became more aware to the problems in the federal justice system. She saw low level offenses receive maximum time, and social class and race impact the decision of the judge. Even though they were all on lock down, nothing stopped an inmate from things like the visiting rooms, mail time, and books.
In her last portion of her lecture, Kerman spoke about her book and television show adapted from it. She admits that when she wrote the book, she wanted to put readers in the shoes of an inmate and paint a picture for them. When she sat down for lunch with Jenji Kohan-the creator of OITNB- she never knew that it would be what it is today. Kerman now serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association, and has spoken at many events for non-profits, philanthropies, etc. through Spitfire Strategies.