‘Orange is the New Black’ inspired by Danbury prison memoir

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Chances are you’ve heard about “Orange Is The New Black” — the new Netflix phenomenon that has been captivating viewers with its fish-out-of-water look inside a women’s prison. You may have even watched the entire series (maybe even in a single day) by now.

What you may not know is that “Orange Is The New Black” has a connection to Danbury.

The show, which began airing in its entirety on July 11, is based on the 2010 best-selling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. In the book, Kerman chronicles her 13-month imprisonment in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution — a sentence she faced after being indicted for trafficking drug money for her then lover, an international drug smuggler named Nora.

At the time she broke the law, Kerman was a 24-year-old Smith College graduate who had fallen in with a crowd of drug dealers. She came to regret the path she had taken, however, and, one day, cut ties with Nora and booked a one-way flight to San Francisco. It was there that Kerman began a new life, working two jobs and falling in love with Larry, a magazine editor. She eventually moved with him to New York City.

Kerman thought she had gotten away with her crime. But 10 years later, her past came back to haunt her. Kerman related the experience in a 2010 piece in Marie Claire:

“One warm May afternoon, as I worked from home in my pajamas, the doorbell rang. Within minutes, two customs officers were standing in my living room, informing me that I’d been indicted in federal court in Chicago on charges of drug smuggling and money laundering, and that I’d have to appear in court within the month or be taken into custody. The veins in my temples suddenly pounded as if I had run miles at top speed. I had put my past behind me, had kept it secret from just about everyone, even Larry. But that was over. I was shocked at how physical my fear was.”

From there, Kerman began “a long, torturous expedition through the labyrinth of the U.S. criminal justice system.”

Although Kerman was frightened by the idea of landing behind bars, the experience, as she told the Huffington Post recently, was nothing like she had expected:

“The first day in prison I was very frightened. And women began to approach me and I was scared, really scared. And they said things like, ‘Do you need some shower shoes? Do you need a cup of coffee? Do you need some shampoo? This is a really tough day Kerman, but it’s going to get a little bit easier tomorrow.’”

For more, you’re going to have to read the book and/or watch the show. Just make sure to set aside some time — it has the power to consume several hours of your day.

“Orange Is The New Black” stars Taylor Schilling as Kerman, Laura Prepon as Alex Vause (Piper’s former girlfriend who is serving time in the same prison as Piper) and Jason Biggs as Larry. The cast is rounded out Kate Mulgrew, Michael J. Harney and Michelle Hurst. “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan is the executive producer.

Check out the trailer for “Orange Is The New Black,” below, and listen to a podcast of Piper speaking at the Greenwich Library in 2010 here.

Scott Gargan

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