By Nova Sienkiewicz
Piper Kerman, the inspiration behind the hit original Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” visited KU Thursday, Oct. 23. A full hour before her speech, the bestselling author and memoirist attracted a crowd outside Schaeffer Auditorium. The event easily filled the 800-seat theatre with students and citizens alike. After seats were filled, many students chose to stand.
Piper Kerman graduated from Smith College. She was overwhelmed by her post-graduation life and soon entered a romantic relationship with a narcotics dealer that forever changed her life. What began as a naïve, whirlwind adventure then plummeted to end at an airport in Belgium. There, Kerman found herself searching for a lost suitcase stuffed with drug money. Ten years later, after a decade of putting her life back in order, she was sentenced to 15 months at Danbury Correctional Facility, Conn.
Kerman shares her story to offer a humanizing look at the people who have become hidden away from society. She hopes that by writing about her experience behind bars, people will “come away with a different idea about who is imprisoned in this country.” Some of them are mothers, all of them have a story and have people on the outside who miss and care about them.
Kerman asks us to take a better look at public defense reform and prison treatment of juvenile delinquents. Today, about 2.4 million people in the U.S. are prisoners. The U.S. has the largest prison population in the entire world. Kerman believes that if everyone, regardless of economic standing, received quality attorney representation there would be less convictions and shorter sentences.
In her speech, Kerman shared a story of a prison warden who is also a Netflix fan. The warden loves the show because these popular characters, like Crazy Eyes or Pennsatucky, reminded her of her own inmates. Kerman told fans of the show, “If you feel passionately about any of those characters [you must also] remember those characters are grounded in reality, ‘Orange is the New Black’ is not just entertainment, it’s reality.”
Kerman’s speech was followed by a fifteen-minute Q-and-A and book signing. Her memoir “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” is currently available at the KU bookstore for $16.