I enjoyed the majority of this book. It was well written and kept my attention. There is evidently a television show which resulted from this book and I wanted to read the book before watching the show.
My son enjoys the show (but didn’t read the book) so I will tell him where I was in the book and was frequently met with a puzzled look. “That didn’t happen in the show,” he would say. Since Piper Kerman wrote about her firsthand experience in prison, I will go with the book version as the truth.
Ok, on to the book. The first part details her early life and how she met Nora, how she became involved with drug smuggling and living a double life. She lied to her family about her traveling experiences and when she was tired of the life, she settled down in California, assuming a respectable position in society. A full ten years passed and law enforcement officers came knocking on her door. She had been named as a co-defendant and charged with money laundering and smuggling.
After reading this book it never was clear to me who dropped Piper’s name into the investigation but clearly, she was named. It took a long time for the judicial system to move her case along as they were trying to extradite a bigger fish from England. As soon as she knew she would be going to trial and most likely to prison, she had to come clean with her boyfriend, her friends and family. They looked at her as if she were joking as the news was received, then in disbelief as they realized this blonde, blue-eyed innocent looking respectable woman who graduated from one of the seven sister colleges was in fact – a criminal.
Finally the court proceedings were over and Piper was a surrender at Danbury Federal Correctional Institute in Connecticut. The support of her family, her fiancée and friends were amazing. She was very fortunate to have been sentenced to only 15 months in a minimum security prison. She describes how frightened she was upon surrender and what the in-processing was like. Some women were kind to her and gave her shower shoes, soap and other items which she did not have the ability to purchase right away. Later in the book, Piper describes how she kept extra items to give to those newly incarcerated, treating them with the kindness she received.
This is where the similarities end for Piper and the other inmates. She was from a well-to-do family and had excellent, and expensive, legal representation. She had a host of friends and family who sent her books, money, anything allowed in generous portions. She had numerous visitors. Most of the other women described did not have any of those comforts. Some refused visitors (a life line according to Piper) because they couldn’t abide the strip searches that were required after a visit. Some didn’t want their children to see them in prison. Others had no one who cared enough to visit or didn’t have the money to make the long trip to Danbury.
While Piper comes off as a generous character in the book, you have to remember she was writing about herself so….wouldn’t you paint yourself in a glorious light too? There were women who had been in 10 years, some who had no idea what to expect upon their release. Some will be released in a world very different than the one they knew prior to incarceration with cell phones, laptops and other digital media they won’t be familiar with.
The stories about those women were interesting and I would like to know more about their lives. They didn’t have a generous support network and some faced homelessness after release.
The inmate’s included all races and cultures, most were poor, there were money launderers, elderly women, several nuns and a transsexual making the change from male to female.
Overall a good read and I will post back after I see a few episodes of the television program.
Incidentally, Piper Kerman is speaking at Florida State University for their Opening Night performances in April.
This is the first book in my What’s in a Name reading challenge hosted by Charlie at The Wormhole.