Last week I watched Orange is the New Black the Netflix original television show based on Piper Kerman’s book of the same name.
This review will contain spoilers, but first – a caveat:
If you read the book and you hated it, and you haven’t watched the show you SHOULD. Because the show is brilliant.
If you watched the show and haven’t read the book, um. Don’t.
Wading into the history of the justice system as it relates to women is something that I haven’t done in a long time. I studied forensics and forensic psychology in my first year of college, thinking that I might want to study forensics and attend Quantico. Turns out being blind doesn’t really help you accomplish that goal, but I did learn a lot.
My first visit to a prison was fascinating. We were searched, went through metal detectors, and then were given a tour of the prison. The first thing that struck me about both the real prison I went to, and the television show is that ambient noise never goes away in prison. You hear announcements in the background during dialogue, the scuffling of terrible shoes on a hard surface. It is never fully silent.
The television show tells a much better story than the book because it is empathetic in a way that the narrator of the book is not. It is not the story of Piper Chapman, brilliant college girl who deigns to help her fellow inmates, but is about the stories of women in prison. The book is actually a disappointment after watching the series, simply because the series is told with such a deft hand and the book is well… a narcissistic festival of narration.
Another reason that I am very fond of the film version is that the character of Sophia.
Sophia is a transgendered woman in prison and she is played by transgendered actress Laverne Cox. Her story was told with such compassion that I cried when watching many of the scenes play out on the screen. In contrast, I felt like the descriptions of the transgendered woman in the book were less than gracious. Stereotypical. Somewhat mean.
I wanted to be reading the compassionately told story of Sophia, but instead I got uneducated bullshit. Perhaps the Sophia of real life was all that the author described, but somehow I doubt it.
These are stories that should be told. The justice system does not do right by the women in custody, and watching the series reminded me that we need to hear those stories, because without hearing them, we can be entirely silent and unknowing.
I try to think about the lives of women at all times, I try to parse the lives of disabled women, of religious women, of transgendered women, but sometimes I forget about those women who are incarcerated. I shouldn’t.
The book prompted me to look into whether or not women who choose to wear hijab as part of their religious practice are allowed to in prison. Research indicates that it is not presently allowed. CAIR is presently working on American Prisons to have a more hijab friendly policy in place. (Source here)
So, really, the review is this: Watch the show, don’t read the book.
Because the show is infinitely more compassionate towards its subjects, and tells stories we should be watching with our freedom.