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I read books, I write about books, I would probably marry a book if I could find one who liked me enough. Three words to describe me mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four...

Should have been so great! But wasn't

Orange Is the New Black - Piper Kerman

Let's be honest, I'm a sucker for a true life story and Kernan's sounds fascinating and also truly scary: in her youth she got in with the wrong crowd, helped smuggle some money out of the US for her lover. The money was part of a drug smuggling enterprise and years later, that person rolls on Kernan, in return for leniency. Result: one year in a woman's prison.


So far, so good. Kernan manages (just) not to present herself as too much of a victim in all of this, which gets her points from me, although there is still a bit of me which is uncomfortable with the idea of her making money out of getting sent to jail. But let's move on, because the interesting part is what's a women's prison really like???


Well, not that interesting. Kernan did her time in low security along with a bunch of other women also incarcerated as a kind of side-effect of the War on Drugs. The official decision to come down hard on drugs offences meant that many people tangentially connnected with drug dealing - wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters - also ended up in jail and these are the women who Kernan lives alongside while banged up. Generally, they are a peaceable bunch. The guards can be petty, but none of them are violent. The rules are sometimes silly, but not draconian. Kernan's boyfriend and family are supportive. She soon learns to play the game inside, which means that any humor inherent in a middle class white woman learning to get along with people she would never normally mix with soon evaporates (also Kernan is clear that the various ethnic groups stick together, so actually she spends most of her time with other women more or less just like her). Some of the characters Kernan describes are interesting, but she goes into very little detail about their lives (possibly because she didn't get to know them all that well), so the whole experience feels 'surfacy' and while there's a sensible amount of outrage about the stupidity of jailing hordes of women whose guilt is mostly by association, Kernan also doesn't delve very deeply into the whole issue of the war on drugs and the effect it has had on sentencing, so there wasn't much for me to get my teeth into there either.


And as a footnote, it interested me to note that the TV series based on the book has changed some aspects of the story significantly, with the aim of amping up the drama. So maybe I wasn't the only one who thought the idea was interesting, but that the result lacked impact.