Orange Is the New Black’s Piper Kerman Tells Her Real Story

by Solange Castellar

Trigger Warning: This post mentions sexual abuse within the prison system.

Spoiler Alert! If you’re not caught up with the whole season, avert your eyes!

It’s safe to say that Netflix’s Orange is The New Black has taken over my life. It’s okay; the first step is always admitting you have a problem, and I’m an OITNB addict. I’m at the point of wanting to read the real Piper Chapman’s (who’s actually Piper Kerman IRL) actual memoir, Orange is The New Black: My Year In A Women’s Prison, and possibly starting a book club amongst my friends.

As you may or may not know, Kerman was sentenced to a year in prison for carrying a suitcase of money for a West African drug lord back in 1993. It was joy to find NPR’s interview with the real Pipes, even though it meant  finding out that Laura Prepon won’t be regularly featured on Season 2 of OITNB. Major bummer, if you ask me! 

The interview with Kerman occurred on NPR’s Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. This made me as happy as when I found the actual New York Times “Modern Love” piece that Larry Smith wrote, the real Larry that Jason Biggs’ character is based off of. 

It was good to find out that some things from the show were pretty accurate, like Piper’s ex-lesbian international drug smuggling lover, the fact that she had beef with the prison’s chef (although she didn’t disclose if her name was really Red), and the idea of “tribalism” among members of different ethnicities in the Danbury, CT, Women’s prison in which the real Piper was incarcerated.

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman on OITNB

Because OITNB is a semi-fictional show, some of the plotlines were written in merely to keep the story’s flow. Like when Piper gets sent to “the shoe” (solitary confinement) for “lesbian activity,” that actually didn’t happen to Kerman in real life.

In the interview, Kerman said, “The television show is an adaptation, and there are tremendous liberties taken. What that means is that when you watch the show, you will see moments of my life sort of leap off the screen, such as, you know, Larry Bloom’s proposal to Piper Chapman is not so very different from the way that my husband, Larry Smith, proposed to me…There are other parts of the show which are tremendous departures, and you know, pure fiction dreamed up by Jenji Kohan and her remarkable team of writers.”

Some of the situations on the show, however, were much more serious and much more in line with Kerman’s experience. Kerman talked about the amount of sexual abuse that happens among prisoners and prison guards. Kerman said, “in a situation when a guard or staffer is accused of sexual abuse, they are not immediately removed from the prison.” This happens in OITNB when prisoner Daya Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and Corrections Officer Mendez (Pablo Schreiber) are caught having sex in a utilities closet. Although Daya was framing the C.O. “Pornstache,” Mendez wasn’t fired for what he did; he was merely suspended without pay.

One of the things that I found most surprising from the interview was the fact that Kerman actually had to share the same cell with her ex and her sister. While that doesn’t play out in OITNB, Piper does get cozy with her ex. While we don’t know what’s going to happen to the lovebirds in the show, since Prepon is leaving :’( , Kerman hasn’t had any contact with her ex since she completed her sentence.

For more Orange Is the New Black news, check out BUST‘s articles on Pornstache, tampon sandwiches, and why BUST is banned in Missouri’s department of corrections.

Thanks to The Hollywood Reporter, The New York Times, and NPR

Photos via NPR and Vulture

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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