Study Guide

Orange Is the New Black Setting

By Piper Kerman

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Federal Correction Institution, Danbury, CT

Life Behind… Not Bars, but Beige Walls

The prison where Piper is held has an official website, but Piper Kerman's book tells us more about this institution than the website would ever care to reveal.

Danbury is a place where someone could put a lock in a sock and beat you senseless with it, but that doesn't mean they do. Prison is mostly just Boring, with a capital B. There's lots and lots of paperwork, and nothing happens quickly.

When Piper first gets to prison, we tour the place alongside her. She learns about the gross prison food, like the pudding that "comes out of cans marked DESERT STORM" (4.70), and the segregated nature of the sleeping arrangements: "A Dorm was known as 'the Suburbs,' B Dorm was dubbed 'the Ghetto,' and C Dorm was 'Spanish Harlem'" (4.75). Someone even illustrates cubicle name tags, making the place seem like the most racist college dorm on move-in day. The living arrangements basically mimic the segregated nature of some cities. Piper observes:

There is basically a revolving door between our urban and rural ghettos and the formal ghetto of our prison system. (13.44)

It's not all bad, though—there's a program called Puppies Behind Bars, where prisoners help train service dogs—but it is, like, ninety-eight percent bad. The longer Piper is there, the more she realizes how flawed the U.S. prison system is. "Two-thirds of all released prisoners are locked up again" (8.57), but the prison does nothing to help its prisoners acclimate to society. She's angry about it, saying:

I grieved angrily over the insanity of locking up children, and then returning them to neighborhoods that were more desperate and dangerous than jails. (16.24)

Which is why she now devotes her life to prison reform. In the end, Piper states, "You come in alone and you walk out alone" (18.101), which kind of makes jail the bleakest metaphor for life we've ever read.

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