I first fell into the world of Orange is the New Black when I picked up a copy of the book on a whim (you can read my review of Piper Kerman’s memoirs on Goodreads) and delved into it one cold December. This was before I had heard of the show being produced, before I knew anything about women’s prison besides my mother volunteering at the North Carolina one in Raleigh as a yoga instructor and her tales of being behind bars or Martha Stewart’s trip after her insider trading scandal.
This article WILL have spoilers for the memoir and the show through the end of season 2. You have been warned.
As the show advances, anyone who has read the book will begin to notice that the show is little like the book itself. For one, in real life, Piper served her time with women who were painted in broad strokes, never truly identified by real names or real identifiers. Some of these real people sort of described make it to the show – Red’s inspiration “Pop”, in particular. Also, Piper marries Larry and the rest is history. Alex, or Nora as she is called in the book, is not a big feature in Piper’s life, nor does she have any fling with “Nora” during their very brief meeting in Chicago for the drug lord’s trial.
If you haven’t yet, checking out Piper Kerman’s real life prison blog (written by a much less asshole-ish Larry) is worth it, especially to see what books Piper desired behind prison, and to realize that no, Danbury FCI was not nearly as badly run as Litchfield FCI in the show. There was no Vee, there was no Figueroa, there was no lesbian sex scandal that sent Piper to the SHU because of a vindictive Healy (although there was an anti-lesbian speech). In fact, in the memoir, Piper makes prison sound very, very boring.
I’ll be honest. I just wanted to write a post about Orange is the New Black. So now you’ve finished the memoir and the two seasons of the show. What do you do now while you wait for the show to come back a full year from now? You read obviously.
Books to Read Once You Finish Orange is the New Black
The ultimate true story ever told about a Hispanic family from the Bronx from the mid 80s until the late 90s. I’m reading right now and it’s very long but very in depth and fascinating as it delves into a real life story about two women, their many children born while they were still teens, their many male suitors, and their families as they get involved with crime, homelessness, jail, and murder. While OITNB follows a white woman with first world problems, Random Family follows her opposites.
2.) Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons by Ayelet Waldman
What happens when you combine Ayelet Waldman with women talking about their experiences in prison? This book, obviously. Waldman shares the experiences of real women with much darker pasts than Piper Kerman and her fictional counterpart, such as the story of a woman who was punished for trying to reveal the secrets about her cellmate’s suicide – and the people trying to hide it.
3.) Sentenced to Hell: The Incredible True Story of a Young Mother’s Miraculous Escape from Venezuela’s Notorious Prison System by Natalie Welsh
Ever seen the movie Brokedown Palace? Well, this is sort of like that. A young mother takes her child on holiday while dealing with a nasty cocaine addiction, and desperation leads her to agree to smuggle a suitcase of drugs out of the country. Except she gets caught and sent to a Venezuelan women’s prison, which is not a place you want to be. Read this if you want to realize that yes, prison can be worse than on OITNB.
4.) Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity in North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura Ling and Lisa Ling
Or maybe you’re in the mood for a memoir by two sisters, both reporters, where one was captured by North Korean soldiers while investigating the lives of dissidents and (maybe) crossing the border by accident, and her sister who used her connections to get the help she needed. Powerful stuff.
5.) The Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow
Not so much about women in prison, but still a fascinating exploration of the lives of death row inmates, their guards, and everything in between. Dow studies the stories of different people piecing together the story of death row, from the innocent to the guilty, from lawyers to family members, and everything in between.