To quote from my Books That Changed My Perspective post, the book discussed in today’s post “ha[s] not only revealed to me my ignorance on certain issues of great societal and political importance, but also perfectly exemplif[ies] the fact that reading isn’t just a means of escape but rather a means by which we become enlightened.“
But rather than go into philosophical depths of the book I’ve chosen to feature, I’m going to focus specifically on the things I learned, in the hope that you will be encouraged to give it a read.
Today’s post was inspired by Hayley @Backpacking Bookworm who is a fellow book blogger and good friend of mine, so please do go and check out her fantastic reviews and also follow her on Bookstagram. Also thank you to Hayley for getting me posting again! I’m not nearly as regular as I should be ..
Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kerman (2010)
Orange Is The New Black is a memoir all about the real life events that took place in Kerman’s life subsequently culminating in a 15-month prison sentence.
Kerman is a freshly graduated college student with no definitive plans for her future and thus finds herself coaxed into the life of drug trafficking. This attractive life in crime doesn’t last though and soon she gives it up, finds a steady job and lands herself a dream finacee. Until her world is upended when six years later, she is convicted and sentenced to 15 months in a woman’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.
I largely enjoyed listening to this book and felt absolutely bereft when it ended, as I feel like the book did an excellent job of taking the reader on the narrator’s journey. Though some parts seemed pedestrian and quite banal, in that it was mostly a comprehensive look at daily life, I learnt a great deal from this book.
I felt completely enlightened on life in prison and the book certainly debunked previous misconceptions I may have had. As well as commenting on the harshness of the environment that the prisoners are forced to live in, it also looks at the general feeling of solidarity they all have and the way they assimilate into their new surroundings, the fact that the prisoners often leave prison with a new skill or trade and in some cases, an education.
It discusses the ineffectual training prisoners receive when being prepared to assimilate back into the outside world. During this section in particular, Kerman reminisces about a time when a fellow prisoner asks the trainer leading the class, how one is supposed to get a job upon leaving prison, to which a sub-par response was proffered.
Above all, this book taught me the reason why ex-convicts often re-offend and land themselves back in prison and that was probably the most poignant lesson of all. Kerman speaks of fellow prisoners who have left Danbury, with no family to speak of and a feeling of no future prospects. Such would explain why, in some instances, ex-convicts fall back into a life of crime, beacuse in prison, there is a sense of family, albeit the hell-like setting in which they live. Life on the outside can be just as hellish, with all its stigma, oppression and inequality.
There are several other points of political import I could expand upon, such as the narrator’s realization of her social privilege and her acknowledgement of the social customs and idiosyncrasies of other nationalities and races. Though Orange Is The New Black received quite an average rating on Goodreads and though I would slightly agree with that rating, I would still recommend this book, purely for the level of insight I gleaned whilst reading it.
This novel was later adapted for television by Netflix in 2013 and with a very respectable IMDB rating of 8.1 out of 10 (at the time of this post) and six seasons under its belt, I may feel inclined to watch it!