About the Author
Orange may be the new black. But the Orange and Black together is the new prison story.
Many people have asked. I am not Piper Kerman. I do not know her. I did not serve time with her. But I am trying to be like her.
Piper did an excellent job weaving her experiences into one streamlined, entertaining narrative. The joint itself is disjointed making a streamlined narrative very rare, especially in state prisons which are the homeless shelter to federal prisons’ split ranch. Piper might have been uncomfortable at the federal prison in Danbury – after all, uncomfortable is the point of prison – but marshmallow Peeps on Easter? We get chicken tetrazzini. Root beer floats? We sink into tubs of toxic punch, colored carcinogen–red at every meal. A running track? The new warden refuses to let us outside to our various recreation yards because he lacks the guards to watch us. Overcrowding forced its way into our gym; approximately 75 – 150 inmates live in it right now. And iceberg lettuce? I would have thrown down for iceberg. If I lucked out, I found a lemon-sized clump of it on my tray every two weeks since there is no salad bar here whatsoever.
I seek no sympathy in publishing the diary entries; incarceration is supposed to hurt. Some prisons just hurt more than others. From what I read in Orange, I would have preferred to feel Piper’s pain. The detention center in Chicago that finally released her is more like what I have experienced for the last six years. So to Piper, as the inmates say, (and you speak this language now): Danbury ain’t shit.
Piper’s selling point is that she was a graduate of Smith College and her upper-middle class background provided an unusual foil to prison life. I am a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University. My sisters graduated from Brown and Yale. My mother earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Boston College and my father was a successful lawyer who graduated from the Georgetown Law Center about 50 years ago. I skied in Sun Valley, spent Thanksgiving in West Palm Beach, attended Easter mass in Vatican City. My family does its grocery shopping at Whole Foods. My parents bought me a new Saab for my sixteenth birthday and I drove me and my sisters to Hamden Hall Country Day School daily. I have driven only Saabs, BMW’s and Mercedes. I was a spoiled little shit. Then alcoholism, undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and incompetently treated mental illness intervened. I served six years, three months and eleven days in prison and my father finished his sentence in 2012, half of it spent at home, on parole, because he needed open heart surgery that the Department of Corrections would not provide. Again, no sympathy sought. Just the FAQ’s.
I promise you, the stories of this prisoner, of the mighty Orange and Black – a glimpse of which you catch here in Prison Diaries – is so extreme and nuts that it will intermittently fascinate you, annoy you, make you want to write to Congress and ponder suicide until you realize that your life – like mine – isn’t all that bad.