Going Beyond Orange Is the New Black

Prison cells
Source: Tim (Timothy) Pearce, Flickr

If Orange Is the New Black, the latest series from Netflix, has you wondering what’s true to prison life and what’s made for TV, sentence yourself to some great reading. These nonfiction picks offer a range of perspectives from women prisoners.

Of course there’s the book Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman, which the series is based on. Television being television, the show takes departures from Kerman’s experience spending a year in a federal prison for her role in a drug ring. Get the story straight from Kerman as she learns the rules, navigates the social structure and comes to terms with her crime.

Women prisoners reflect on crime, the legal system and prison life, as well as childhood, family and school, in Couldn’t Keep It to Myself and its followup, I’ll Fly Away. These essays, edited by novelist Wally Lamb, who teaches a writing workshop at a women’s prison in Connecticut, depict multifaceted women who are more than the sum of their crimes and speak to the power of finding your voice.

In A World Apart, journalist Cristina Rathbone recounts the experiences of several women as part of an investigation of the oldest operating women’s prison in the United States. Through their stories, Rathbone provides a compassionate report on women and the prison system, including a historical perspective, that does not oversimplify the weighty, complicated questions.