When offered an opportunity to do something fun and exciting, it’s hard to imagine what the consequences may be. That’s what got Piper Kerman caught up in an international drug cartel. Fresh out of college, unsure of what she wanted, and ready for an adventure, Piper starts dating a girl involved in drug trafficking. Suddenly, Piper is traveling the world with her lover and ultimately passes along money for her girlfriend. Aware this is not the life she wants, Piper leaves her girlfriend and the world of the international drug trade to get back to a life of normalcy.
But not too long after she arrives back home, Piper learns the drug cartel has unraveled, and she’s one of the many people the feds charge. When Piper finally goes to prison, she’s engaged to Larry, working and living a comfortable life in New York City.
Piper’s is a story many of us are now familiar with, thanks to the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, which shows Piper’s experience behind bars, as well as the backstories of the other women in prison with her. The show is based on Piper’s memoir of the same name, but after having read the memoir, I realized how much the series dramatized Piper’s life.
First off, the show glosses over the fact that Piper was in and out of court for 11 years, while anxiously awaiting her sentence, not knowing how much time she’d have to serve or where she’d be serving it. In some respects, those 11 years of uncertainty are just as sufferable as her 15 months in prison.
In the show, Piper learns within days that the ex-girlfriend druglord who gave her name to police is in prison with her. But in real life, Piper and her ex-girlfriend weren’t in federal prison together at all. Piper doesn’t see her ex until she’s already been in prison for a year and is then transferred to another jail, waiting to testify in a trial. When they meet, they make amends somewhat, but the romance has long since fizzled out and that spark is never fired back up again. Of course the Netflix series would spice things up, but it’s quite far from the truth of what really happened to Piper in prison.
However the anecdotes are the same — Piper’s insistence on running outside, the inmate who’s in love with Piper, the woman who pees on the floor, women having relationships with correctional officers and each other, the missing screwdriver, the going away parties, the yoga instructor, Red. And Larry did write a piece about Piper in The New York Times, but it didn’t mention her being in jail; it just talked about why it took him seven years to propose to her. The memoir also included anecdotes that I imagined and hoped would play out onscreen in the upcoming season of the show.
Having watched the Netflix series first, the memoir made me feel somewhat better about Piper’s life. I was happy to know she didn’t get involved with her ex again and that her fellow inmates weren’t actually homicidal maniacs. But that doesn’t make her experience any less awful. Orange Is The New Black remains a story about life in federal prison, and as much as I enjoyed both the memoir and the series, I would never enjoy spending a year behind bars like Piper did.