With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years ago. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187-424—one of the millions of women who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules, where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there.
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Relying on the kindness of strangers during her year's stint at the minimum security correctional facility in Danbury, Conn., Kerman, now a nonprofit communications executive, found that federal prison wasn't all that bad. In fact, she made good friends doing her time among the other women, many street-hardened drug users with little education and facing much longer sentences than Kerman's original 15 months. Convicted of drug smuggling and money laundering in 2003 for a scheme she got tangled up in 10 years earlier when she had just graduated from Smith College, Kerman, at 34, was a “self-surrender” at the prison: quickly she had to learn the endless rules, like frequent humiliating strip searches and head counts; navigate relationships with the other “campers” and unnerving guards; and concoct ways to fill the endless days by working as an electrician and running on the track. She was not a typical prisoner, as she was white, blue-eyed, and blonde (nicknamed “the All-American Girl”), well educated, and the lucky recipient of literature daily from her fiancé, Larry, and family and friends. Kerman's account radiates warmly from her skillful depiction of the personalities she befriended in prison, such as the Russian gangster's wife who ruled the kitchen; Pop, the Spanish mami; lovelorn lesbians like Crazy Eyes; and the aged pacifist, Sister Platte. Kerman's ordeal indeed proved life altering. (Apr.)