They may be backlist books, but with the Netflix series still going strong, I had to give these read- or in this case, a listen, since I got the audiobooks from Hoopla- to get the real story on the inspiration behind the show’s two main characters.
Kerman’s memoir, Orange is the New Black, was the bestseller catalyst that gave readers an understanding of what it was like being incarcerated in a women’s facility. Kerman was indicted with a 10-year old drug smuggling crime that landed her in FCI Danbury for 15 months. In her memoir, she shares stories of women from all walks of life, and how they influenced her own stay. The people in Kerman’s book are similar to those portrayed on the Netflix series, but there are some definitely “made for TV” moments in the series that don’t occur in the book- which is to be expected, as the series is a fictionalized version based partly on Kerman’s experiences. For example, the relationship between Piper and Alex, and Piper and Larry, are rather extreme differences. Also, and somewhat obviously, the novel provides less background on the other inmates that Kerman was acquainted with.
Despite the differences that I noticed between the two mediums, I still ate up the story. I liked that the book provides much more reflection, and you can see where Kerman gained a lot of perspective on the injustice within the penal system. Also, though I’m a fan of the show, I have many friends that are a little more conservative and dislike the gritty show series, making it a difficult to recommend. In the case of the book, I think it’s much cleaner, but still packs a punch. I’d certainly recommend it to those who struggle with the show series, but still want to understand why it’s so popular!
After listening to Orange is the New Black, I felt that the story of Kerman’s counterpart- Nora Jansen in the book, or Alex Vause in the series- was lacking. Then I learned about Out of Orange– a memoir from the woman who inspired those characters: Cleary Wolters.
Getting her side of the story, Wolters shares about how she got pulled into becoming a drug mule and then operating with a small group of drug trafficking friends and her sister. Her sister ended up dating a man who operated his own drug ring, and when he made an offer, the money was too tempting to resist, especially when she didn’t make much with her regular job. At first, it was exciting, being able to travel and spend money on fashionable clothes, cars, and apartments. However, the more jobs she did, the harder it was to get out- and her drug lord threatened too many important lives to Wolters. When the department of customs finally caught up to her, Wolters didn’t know what to do to protect her friends, which eventually landed them all in jail.
The action in Wolters’ account in exciting, although I have to admit, her voice on audiobook comes off as trying too hard to make everything exciting. I liked being able to hear about how her story compares to Kerman’s, and for the most part, they sound pretty amicable to me, and in reality, they spent very little time together when they were incarcerated so there wasn’t too much drama. I do have to also add, Wolters is a huge cat lady, and from one cat lady to another, I respect her adoration for her furkids… however, there was wayyy too much cat story in her tale.
Overall, I think reading both gave me a better insight on a seedy topic, and definitely better information on what the US penal system is like. If you had to choose though, Kerman’s book is more dynamic that Wolters, and better written in my opinion. I’d certainly recommend it to fans of the show who haven’t read the book yet (it won’t ruin anything, I promise), and to anyone who likes a good memoir every now and then to break up their reading routine!