Study Guide

Orange Is the New Black

By Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black Introduction

Everyone does a little experimenting in their twenties. After college, you just want adventure, so you might do some traveling, or have a same-sex fling, or go dancing all night long. Or, you know, you might get involved in a lesbian drug-smuggling ring, helping move huge quantities of cash across European borders. 

Ah, your twenties.

Piper Kerman did all of the above, and then she left the wild life behind and moved on with a more "respectable" (read: boring) life. She married a man (yawn) and moved to New York City. Then, one day, the feds knocked on her door. Remember that money she was laundering in Europe? Well, that was a federal crime, so now she's facing eighteen months in prison.

Unlike the over 200,000 other women in prison, who struggle to rebuild their lives after doing time, Kerman returns to New York and her amazing husband, Larry, who is most definitely not Jason Biggs, and writes a book about her experience. That book is Orange is the New Black.

Published in 2010, Kerman is now an activist for criminal justice reform, especially for women's prisons. The book inspired Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds, to create the super successful Netflix show of the same name in 2013, starring Taylor Schilling, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, and dozens of other talented actresses (oh, and Jason Biggs).

Of course, the show is a little dramatic compared to the true story, but you might be surprised to find out just how many of the events and characters on the show are pulled straight from Kerman's book. 

So pause the Netflix for a few hours and read the true story of one woman's year in prison.

What is Orange Is the New Black About and Why Should I Care?

So some bougie blond lady went to prison. Who cares? 

You might think that none of this affects you, but the United States has the largest prison population in the world. The U.S. is home to five percent of the total population of people on the planet, but it has twenty-five percent of the world's prison population. With one in thirty-one adults a part of the correctional system in some way, chances are you know someone who has been in prison—whether they ever admit it to you or not.

Orange is the New Black intends to break down the us vs. them dynamic between felons and non-felons. Most of them, especially the women in prison, are mothers. They have families of their own. They're not that different from people who haven't been behind bars. (Felons! They're just like us!) 

Oh, just one thing: these folks have committed crimes. So are they just like us?

You tell us.

Orange Is the New Black Resources

Websites

Black and Orange
Piper Kerman's website is now a one-stop shop for everything book and show related.

Prison Wishlist
Piper's friend's website, the Pipe Bomb, is still up! It even has a link to Piper's Amazon wish list, which includes Virginia Woolf (a cell of one's own!) and the Odyssey.

Movie or TV Productions

Netflix is the New HBO
The official Netflix site has trailers, interviews, and everything you need about the much more dramatic (and attractive) television adaptation of the memoir.

Articles and Interviews

Better than the Prison Salon
In this interview with Salon.com, Kerman says, "more people have experience with the criminal justice system than people assume." How'd she know about our criminal past?

Whose Story Is It?
Piper Kerman, a prisoner with a literary agent, says, "It wasn't even so much my own story […] but the people I met along the way who would probably never have this opportunity." She definitely got the message out there.

Prison Tales
Larry's magazine ran an interview with Piper in which she talks about how she remembered so many details without a journal or tattooing them onto her arm with a ballpoint pen.

Video

After Words
This is probably the only time you'll watch C-SPAN and not fall asleep.

If It's Broke, Try to Fix It
We're number one! We're number one! Oh wait… we're number one in incarceration rates in the world… that's not something to cheer about.

TED Goes to Jail
A TEDx talk? More like a TEDx-con talk, by former convict and memoirist Piper Kerman.

Audio

Stale Air
Kerman talks about the not-so-fresh air in prison with Terry Gross.

Season Two
With season two of the show hitting the Netflix, Kerman continues her advocacy for prison reform.

Prisoners, They're Just Like Us
Kerman's memoir was the "Talk of the Nation" even before the Netflix show came out.

Images

Love Behind Bars
Here are the real Piper and Larry… post jail time.

As Seen on TV
Taylor Schilling isn't an inmate, but she plays one on television. Here she is with the real ex-con, Piper Kerman.

From Nora to Alex, with Love
The Netflix series takes the line "impossibly stylish and cool lesbian" to the next level with Laura Prepon's portrayal of Nora-turned-Alex Vause.