The world of prisons has gone mainstream. In some ways, at least. With shows like Orange is the New Black (OITNB) and books like The New Jim Crow shaping public discourse, prison narratives have firmly wedged themselves into the American consciousness. And, for some, with exposure to these narratives comes the need to experience something similar for themselves.
Orange is the New Black came to life last night as Piper Kerman joined students and faculty in Kresge Auditorium for the first Ubben Lecture of the semester. Kerman got personal quickly, discussing not only her journey through the prison system, but also the specific ethical dilemmas she encountered and witnessed throughout her sentence. Kerman served thirteen months in prison (from 2004-2005) for money laundering- a crime that she committed once in 1993 while romantically involved with a woman who dealt narcotics internationally. Shortly after carrying drug money across international borders, Kerman realized she had crossed a line and ended the relationship. She returned to the states, got a stable job, and dissociated herself from the life she had been living with her former partner. Five years later, she was indicted and sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison at Danbury Correctional Facility. The title of her memoir is not only catchy but also meaningful. Orange is the New Black is a reference to fashion trends, but the underlining message is true and sincere. Her title highlights the fact that women make up the largest rising prison population. In the past 30 years, the number of women in prison has increased by 800%.
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