Orange is the New Black author visits campus
Illustration by Liz DiSabatino ‘16 and Izzy Goetze ’16
Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, seamlessly connected jails and kitten stickers during her visit to campus last week.
Convicted on drug trafficking charges, Kerman spent 13 months in a federal correctional facility. Kerman’s experiences formed the basis of her memoir and Netflix series of the same name. Peppered with personal anecdotes and brief moments of humor, Kerman’s talk focused on the broader experience of women in the criminal justice system.
“[Kerman] really opened my eyes to the reality of those who have been incarcerated face once they are released and the effect of a mother being incarcerated on the family,” Elizabeth Sulc ‘17 said.
Constituting the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison system, the number of incarcerated women has risen by 800% since 1980. Kerman attributes this dramatic rise in prisoners partially to the War on Drugs.
Kerman proved the issues she raises aren’t simply “women’s issues” but national problems that need to be dealt with. Over one million children have a mother in the criminal justice system, and one-fifth of those children are put into foster care. Kerman said that younger-generations are suffering due to federal policy failures.
In the audience were prisoners from an Easton correctional facility who shared these sentiments. A current inmate named Deborah described Kerman as “inspirational.”
“It gives me hope. It makes me want to move forward and feel like I’m still a part of the society,” she said.
On a larger scale, Kerman’s personal stories returned a human face to a population that she said is systemically dehumanized every day. Kerman spoke of small but meaningful gestures, like baking cheesecake and giving aforementioned kitten stickers, that prisoners use to care for one another.
“I think the most interesting part was about the empathy the prisoners have towards each other,” Danielle Moore ‘17 said.
This very empathy has driven Lafayette students to advocate for change. On a federal level, change is on the horizon. The Smarter Sentencing Act, endorsed by Kerman, is moving through both houses of Congress.
On a local level, the Journey Home aims to provide a creative outlet for women in Easton’s criminal justice system. Katie Graziano ‘15, who facilitates the program, encourages students to become involved.
“The Women and Gender Studies department offers a couple of classes that focus on this issue,” Graziano said. “We used to have GED tutoring in the prison that we can look into starting that back up.” For time-pressed students, Graziano said “keeping yourself informed and talking to different people about the issue and sharing the information can go a really long way.”
Orange is the New Black is Kerman’s story, and an example of how Netflix binging can actually inspire social activism.