On July 11, Netflix launched its newest original drama, “Orange is the New Black”, following quickly upon the heels of its Emmy nominated “House of Cards” and Season 4 of “Arrested Development”. Even though “Orange is the New Black” is only airing through the Netflix subscription service, it is quickly becoming this summer’s breakout hit, scoring points with viewers and critics alike. You can check out the opening credits, featuring the song written especially for the show, “You’ve Got Time” by Regina Spektor here.
The 13 episode first season follows the journey of Piper, an upper middle-class woman who is convicted of transporting drug money across international borders and faces 15 months in a federal women’s prison. The series is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name. In real life Ms. Kerman served 13 months out of a 15 month sentence for money laundering and drug trafficking in 2004. Netflix had so much confidence in this show that they already greenlit a second season before the first one was posted. My wife and I watched all 13 episodes over a week, and quickly got all wrapped up in all the characters, main and supporting, and their various storylines.
If you’ve read the memoir or seen the show and are looking for additional “prison themed” material, why not check out some of these?
British novelist and politician Jeffrey Archer went to jail in August 2001 after being convicted of perjury during an earlier 1987 libel trail. He wrote about his time in prison and these journal entries were eventually published as three books, subtitled “Hell-Belmarsh”, “Purgatory-Wayland” and “Heaven-North Sea Camp” each one based on a different prison. He was released two years later, serving half of his original four-year sentence.
Mr. Steinberg wrote a wonderfully insightful and hilarious account of his experiences as a prison librarian in Boston. He was a recent graduate from Harvard and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next and actually just answered an ad on Craigslist for the job. When I read this book last year, his style felt like one part Hunter S. Thompson and one part David Sedaris, and I really enjoyed it. His lack of librarianship and lack of knowledge of prison protocol gets him into all kinds of dicey situations, but you also get to know many of the people he encounters through the prison library and get a unique perspective of prison life filtered through the prison library.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was a professional middleweight boxer from 1961 to 1966, but his career was cut short when he was arrested and convicted of a triple homicide in Paterson New Jersey. He spent nearly 2 decades in prison. Half of that time was spent in solitary due to his disobedience of prison rules to demonstrate his innocence. A group of Canadians who believed in his innocence worked tirelessly for years on his appeal, and the result was his release in 1985. “Hurricane” Carter’s story was retold in pop culture in Bob Dylan’s song, “Hurricane” and Norman Jewison’s 1999 film, “Hurricane”, starring Denzel Washington.
e.e. cummings may be best remembered for his distaste of capital letters and his unconventional use of grammar and word placement. He also wrote a memoir of the four months he spent as a prisoner during WWI in France. He was arrested by the French for having anti-war sentiments. The room in the title refers to the large quarters which he shared with thirty of his fellow prisoners, but also refers to the concept of his own mind and imagination.
I didn’t think I could make a list without including at least one fiction title on here. A lot of people don’t realize that the critically acclaimed movie starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins was originally a short novella found in Stephen King’s “Different Seasons” collection. The story follows Andy Dufresne, who is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and is given a life sentence in Shawshank Penitentiary. A classic in the “innocent man sent to prison” genre, and one of the rare examples of the movie being just as good, if not better, than its source material. I love them both, and have been known to spontaneously break into my “Morgan Freeman” impression with quotations from this story. Fair warning.