'Orange is New Black' author to talk prison reform, Netflix show at Eckerd Thursday

Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black, is an advocate for prison reform and is vice president for the Women's Prison Association based in New York. [Netflix]
Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black, is an advocate for prison reform and is vice president for the Women's Prison Association based in New York.[Netflix]
Published March 3 2015
Updated March 3 2015

Piper Kerman's 2010 memoir, Orange Is the New Black, became a bestseller and then an award-winning Netflix series. (Netflix announced on Monday that the third season will be released June 12.)

Kerman could have just cashed the checks, but instead she has taken up the cause of prison reform, testifying before the U.S. Senate on solitary confinement of women prisoners and lecturing at venues around the country. On Thursday night she'll speak at Eckerd College as part of its Presidential Events series. The free event is open to the public.

Kerman, 45, served 13 months in a federal women's prison after pleading guilty to laundering money, related to an international drug ring. She currently serves as a vice president of the Women's Prison Association based in New York.


What should the audience expect from your talk at Eckerd?

I talk about the book and the facts and issues behind the book, and I also talk about the adaptation on Netflix.


Can you detail what you like as well as what you dislike about the Netflix adaptation?

They do a great job with the show. It's important to remember that the book is introspective and provides internal conflict, and television is reliant to external conflict. That's one of the things you see. One of the things that is lovely is how it gives more opportunity to expand on that universe, to tell the stories of so many more women, than just the (main character).

And I know there are many writers that express a lot of suffering (when their work is adapted), but I think they've done a great job.


When it comes to your advocacy, would you add anything to John Legend's statement at the Oscars? (He said, "There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.")

No society has more people locked away than the U.S. has and, combined with the fact that in the last 30 years women have been the fastest growing segment of our prison population and women are typically convicted of nonviolent offenses, this is all very troubling.

And I do think it's important for folks to recognize the disproportionate numbers of how law enforcement pursues and punishes people of color, both men and women, which should trouble everyone.


Are you in contact with Jae or any of the other women you grew close to?

Yes, lots of them. It's been several years, and almost everyone now is home from prison.


Does that include Nora (Kerman's ex-girlfriend)?

Yes, she's been released. I am not close to her, but I've been in touch with her.


Where is most of your income coming from now?

I'm very lucky. Most of the money is derived from writing. Lots of people are reading the book.


Are you familiar with the prison system here in Florida?

My grandfather was raised in Palm Beach, and I have longtime roots in Florida. Florida, of course, has the third largest prison system in the country, and we should all be concerned what it costs Florida taxpayers. Along with that, we are seeing human rights abuses coming out of the Florida system, many disturbing cases of abuse. Lowell Prison (in Ocala), unfortunately, is a really good example of really bad news and why the public should have eyes on institutions that are very hidden from public view . . . but there's a brand-new head for Florida's Department of Corrections, and I'm very optimistic.


Please talk a moment about remorse.

You have to reflect on your choices. We all make choices, good ones, bad ones. We all deal with consequences. Our choices and actions have an impact on all people. It's important for us to recognize that we are authors of our own lives.

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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