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My Time In a Woman’s Prison

Like the majority of the world I am obsessed with the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black. Therefore I decided to read the novel from which the series is based; written by Piper Kerman, it is a true story of her time in a federal woman’s prison for a drug related crime she had committed ten years prior to being locked up. Whilst there are a few similarities between the novel and the series – certain characters and events that occur in the show are touched upon in the novel – however the majority of the novel is very different. It is clear that Netflix have expanded and created characters and storylines that make for gripping viewing, and whilst I enjoyed the novel it is a shame that it isn’t more similar. Maybe if I had read the novel before watching the series I would have enjoyed it more, but there are still some fascinating insights into the world of American federal prisons that gives the novel a more serious and realistic outlook than the serialised TV drama! It is easy to forget when watching the show that a lot of the events happen in real prisons, and though funny to watch in some cases, it would be very different if you were in the situation yourself.

One thing that struck me as incredible in the novel – and not in a good way – was that after Piper is told of her imprisonment it actually takes six years for her to be put away! She is left waiting, unsure when the call will come for her to hand herself in, something which must have been a huge ask for herself and her family. I couldn’t imagine trying to continue with my life knowing that any day I could be taken away from it all. The reason Piper had to wait six years was because the main guy involved in her case had been arrested in London on a US warrant and whilst the US tried to extradite him to stand trial, Piper’s prison date was postponed. She was eventually imprisoned in February 2004, 10 years after the crime had happened.

Relationships within the show are also different in the novel. Fans of the series will know that Piper and her fiancé Larry’s relationship struggles whilst she is imprisoned, particularly when Piper’s ex-girlfriend Alex joins her inside, but in reality the real Piper didn’t meet Alex (or Nora as she is called in the novel) until the very end when she is about to be released. I suppose Netflix wanted to create drama and added a whole new storyline between the three characters in order to keep the audience interested (something which I am glad about!). In reality Piper and Larry remain faithful to each other the whole time she is imprisoned, with Larry visiting her every week religiously. Although it is clear the whole situation is a strain on each of them the fact that they remain devoted to each other shows how strong their relationship was to start with. A lot of couples can’t survive long distance relationships let alone if one of them is locked up for fifteen months!

Overall the novel is very interesting to read, the real Piper is very similar to the Piper we see in the show which I’m glad about, so it is easy to connect to her and understand what she is going through. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in factual/autobiographical novels or anyone interested in the series as it is good to remember that the show is based on someone’s real life – although very loosely – and isn’t just something made up for our enjoyment.

By Aileen Chafer

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