Piper Kerman comes to Xavier

By: Taylor Fulkerson ~Managing Editor~

Piper Kerman, on whose memoir the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” is based, addressed an audience of students and staff at Xavier on Feb. 3.

Kerman spoke about her time before, during and after her term of 13 months at Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury in Danbury, Conn., in 2004 and 2005. She addressed themes such as race, class and power dynamics in the correctional system, ideas for prison reform in the United States and the Netflix television series that grew out of her memoir.

Hosted by Student Activities Council (SAC) and Xavier’s Department of Criminal Justice, Kerman was invited to share stories from her year as a female prisoner in the United States and how it has affected her perspective since.

Kerman began writing her memoir in 2007 to share her experience after friends and family asked about her time “in as much detail as I was comfortable sharing.”

She said that “Orange is the New Black” is meant to show the kind of people who are imprisoned in the criminal justice system and the “worlds of prisons and jails” that are “hidden away from public view,” as well as how women fare in American prisons.

Memoirist and prison justice advocate Piper Kerman spoke at Xavier on Feb. 3.
Memoirist and prison justice advocate Piper Kerman spoke at Xavier on Feb. 3.

Kerman noted that the book strives to get someone to pick up a book on prisons, especially a reader who normally wouldn’t do so otherwise.

“Orange is the New Black,” the memoir, was published in 2010. After garnering the interest of Jenji Kohan, creator of the television series “Weeds,” the Netflix series followed soon after, with official interest from the media-streaming service in 2011.

Originally given a 15-month sentence for money laundering and drug trafficking, Kerman was eventually transferred to the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Chicago, to testify for a trial related to her own crimes.

She was released in March 2005 on the same day as Martha Stewart. In her memoir, Kerman juxtaposes Stewart’s experience with her own and that of other inmates at Danbury to explain how the correctional system uneqaully treats people of different classes and races.

As noted in her presentation, the book and series both have served to promote awareness of the way the U. S. correctional system functions. For Kerman, last Halloween was a surreal experience when she received a flood of tweets of pictures of women dressed like her.

Kerman also offered practical suggestions for correctional reform, including better mental health resources for prisoners, public defense reform and improvement of the way children are treated, both in juvenile detention centers and in facilities for adults.

The presentation prompted questions from the audience on Kerman’s concept of feminism — “A woman has the right to be treated as a human being” — and whether she regretted the television series — she doesn’t. She also noted that she didn’t think a strict, biographical approach would have worked to convey the problems in the system.

The next season of the Netflix series will premiere this summer.