Review: Piper Kerman at Unique Lives

The acclaimed author of Orange Is the New Black rates public policy over Netflix

May 6, 2015

Let’s be clear from the get-go: Piper Kerman and Piper Chapman are two very different people. Though the real Piper Kerman and actor Taylor Schilling share a look (blond, tall, slim), the novelist proved to be a much more intellectual character than one might expect. An accomplished public speaker, the Ohio-based Kerman lectured as part of the Unique Lives speaker series, focusing more on the unbridled rise in U.S. female incarceration—650% in the last two decades— than the Netflix adaptation of her life (which she took with good humour).

Stressing the value of the Elizabeth Fry foundation in working with both imprisoned and newly released females in the Greater Vancouver area, Kerman highlighted the implications that incarcerating a mother for a nonviolent crime have on her children: without a support system in B.C., children of a female offender has a 60% chance of being incarcerated themselves. The foundation offers both support and education for women trying to start a new life — a necessity, says Kerman, referring to her own release from jail. (She was pushed out the door 800 miles from her home, with only $28 in hand.)

Encouraging attendees to donate any old literature to prison library services, the inmate turned institutional creative writing teacher explained the importance of contributing to local communities in need: “Inequality becomes intolerable when bonds are formed.” Indeed, of all the educational programs offered in B.C. prisons, a report from the Auditor General in January of this year found only one that reduces the likelihood of re-offending. The takeaway from the evening came in her concluding statement: “Judge others by their best day, not by their worst.”

Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black debuts on Netflix June 12.

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