Hi reddit. My name is Piper Kerman, and I wrote the memoir that the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black is based on (http://piperkerman.com/). The book details the year I spent in federal prison. I'm here to take your questions so AMA.


Comments: 1767 • Responses: 30  • Date: 

powertalons1215 karma

1) What's the biggest difference between Piper Chapman and Piper Kerman?

2) The show's exploded -- do you think the popularity is helping to raise awareness about prison reform?

PiperKermanIsReal1343 karma

1) a big difference is that my family (& Larry's family) were amazing supports, and that I maintained strong ties to my friends & co-workers while I was in prison - this really reinforced that I was not alone. Those lifelines were everything to me, and to all prisoners. I made a lot of mistakes when I was locked up, but not quite along the lines of Chapman :)

2) I really hope so!

ephemerisms885 karma

Hey Piper! Part of the reason I love the show (haven't read the book), is because of the back stories. Each character is guilty of their crimes, but the circumstances they are in when they commit them are themes many women can relate to -- abortion, abusive relationships, jealousy, etc. It humanizes a a sector of women that I honestly never related to much. Is that something you are also working toward? Would love to know how women can support other women going through tough times, regardless of whether or not we're in prison.

PiperKermanIsReal1279 karma

The backstories are amazing, and the creation of Jenji and her team of writers - they are all fictional and not drawn from the book.

There are some distinct consistent factors for women who go into the criminal justice system:

1) 80% have experienced sexual or physical abuse in their lives 2) high incidence of mental illness 3) high incidence of substance abuse

Also most women in the CJ system are moms - more than 1.3 million kids with a mom in the system.

You can learn a lot more about the unique situation for women and girls in the CJ system here: www.wpaonline.org/about/serve.htm

Drunken_Economist778 karma

How did you manage to snag the handle @piper? Were you just a twitter early adopter, or did the original owner give it to you?

PiperKermanIsReal1201 karma

Early adopter - on twitter since 2006

KirbyFurbyLirbyDerby624 karma

Do you think it was harder finding a publisher for your story due to the lesbian (and other non-mainstream) themes? Being an amateur writer, it's the kind of thing I like to worry about instead of actually writing.

PiperKermanIsReal1243 karma

During one meeting with a publisher she said "We really like it, except for the lesbianism, and the crime." Huh?

I was very lucky to have an editor who really understood the book I wanted to write, and helped me write it. I think it's very important to tell a unique and surprising story in your writing, with an eye on how it connects back to a large number of people. In other words, a very unique story that yet has relevance to many others.

amisenko601 karma

Any plans to appear in the actual show, besides the opening credits?

PiperKermanIsReal793 karma

I haven't had my casting call yet!

Frajer468 karma

Has this whole ordeal changed your views on drug laws?

PiperKermanIsReal1156 karma

Our drug laws in the US are draconian, and are a big part of the reason that our prison population has grown from about 500,000 in 1980 to more than 2.3 million people in prison or jail today.

You can see some examples of drug law injustice here: www.aclu.org/living-death-sentenced-die-behind-bars-what and here: www.vice.com/read/these-non-violent-female-prisoners-have-been-rotting-in-prison-for-the-last-decade

PiperKermanIsReal379 karma

Thank you all so much for taking the time to come ask questions & talk about the book & the show! I really appreciate you taking the time and getting your take on OITNB. Come visit me at @Piper on twitter or http://piperkerman.com

reneearocco369 karma

I am amazed at how spot-on and accurate the show's portrayal of prison is - is there a consultant to ensure that or are they just that good?

PiperKermanIsReal554 karma

Sounds like you've been there? It's nice to hear your POV. I am a consultant on the show, which means I answer questions and provide feedback to Jenji. It is her decision whether to take it or leave it.

But the production team did a lot of other research as well, met with many other former prisoners (for example transgendered people who have been through the system) and they continue to do so.

uberlad355 karma

Hey Piper,

Your husband was nice enough to respond to me a week or two ago when I asked him what his best life advice was. So I'm going to ask you the same:

What's your very best life advice?

PiperKermanIsReal823 karma

My best life advice is to know that you can learn more from your failures than your successes.

J-Skippy332 karma

Hey Piper! What is one of the most pivotal unspoken rules in prison?

PiperKermanIsReal763 karma

You really don't ever ask someone what they're in for. Some people choose to talk about it, and some people never do.

namesmichele324 karma

Did it make you sad that Larry was portrayed as sort of a tool in the first season of the show? I'd be sad...

PiperKermanIsReal669 karma

The real Larry is a good sport about the not-real Larry. He knows that it is fiction.

aceplanet307 karma

How much different is the show from the book? Do they play a lot of the truth up to make it more dramatic?

PiperKermanIsReal803 karma

Readers of the book will probably agree that there is a lot of internal conflict depicted there - and that I definitely avoided conflicts with COs and other prisoners (as is only sensible).

TV really needs external conflict, and that's one of the big differences (other than storyline differences) you'll see between the book and the show. A show that was very introspective would be boring to watch. A book with as much conflict as a TV show has would be unreadable.

kathrynbigelow270 karma

First of all, I have to say that I love that show, and love the book. But I have one big question. Do you think a women of color at Danbury would have had the opportunity to write a book & turn it into a successful TV show like you did?

PiperKermanIsReal674 karma

I think inequality and white privilege are one of the big topics of the book. Racism is on stark display in the criminal justice system, whether you are talking about policing, prosecution, sentencing, or what happens to people during incarceration. Andrea James has written a book about her own experience in the same prison I was held in: www.amazon.com/Upper-Bunkies-Unite-Thoughts-Incarceration/dp/0988759306

I also think this is true in terms of how mass media functions in the U.S. Jenji Kohan has described the character of Piper Chapman as her "Trojan horse", saying that she could not have successfully pitched a show about women of color, old women, poor women to any major media corporation. I'm not an expert on Hollywood, but that's her POV

It's my hope that the response to the show, and most especially to the range of characters, is evidence that there is a great deal of interest and appetite for much more diversity in media.

ClearEyesxFullHearts253 karma

Who is your favourite character on the show that's not based on a person from your memoir?

PiperKermanIsReal471 karma

It is very hard to pick favorites - but I really like Gloria, who is not based on anything in my book.

jurassic_snark227 karma

Hi Piper!

Thank you so much for doing this AMA. As someone who went to Smith I have to know: Were there any striking or surprising similarities between a women's college and women's prison?

PiperKermanIsReal517 karma

Food obsessions.

LilConner2005219 karma

A friend of mine loves your book but can't watch your show because it reminds her too much of her own time in prison. She says she recognizes people she met in most of the characters. Did you intend watching this show/reading your book to be a cathartic experience for women who have been incarcerated?

PiperKermanIsReal254 karma

I didn't think about seeking catharsis when I decided to write the book, but it definitely was. The thing that is striking/surprising about the response to both book & show from folks who have been in prison (including men) is that even though different types of facilities are different (prison vs. jail, high vs. low security) there are some strong throughlines for folks.

enjo13188 karma

Hi Piper, I watched your Ted talk:


You talked about what you learned from your friends in prison. Do you still keep in touch with those friends?

PiperKermanIsReal220 karma

Absolutely - I treasure those friendships.

BadIdeaSociety187 karma

I had read in an interview with Jenji Kohan where she suggested that your story was a way for her to tell a story of female suffering from the perspective of women who are rarely portrayed in TV.

Since Chapman's sentence would reasonably only last a couple of seasons, are you comfortable with Chapman getting written out of the series or are you more interested in finding ways to keep her incarcerated indefinitely to keep the original protagonist on the show?

PiperKermanIsReal278 karma

I would be totally comfortable with that. From my POV the show does not have to be about Chapman. It's ultimately Jenji's decision what will happen next.

an0malie163 karma

Hey Piper, did anyone actually throw their pie for you?

PiperKermanIsReal295 karma

The pie-throwing is brilliant, and fictional. I did come across a few folks who might have been willing to throw their pie...but it never came to that.

the_forbidden_garden135 karma

1)Did you ever think your memoir would get a show deal?

2)How did it come about? Were you approached or did you approach them?

PiperKermanIsReal242 karma

I met Jenji Kohan in 2010 when the book was published. She loved it and wanted to take it on as her next project. Later, after we agreed, Netflix came into the picture and the project moved forward. I feel incredibly lucky to have creative smart people take up the material of the book and adapt it to another medium.

ale-x-is116 karma

Hello Piper,

Enjoyed the show, LOVED the book, it was truly revealing and very impactful, thanks so much for reliving the memories for the sake of it. Two questions if you don't mind:

1)Have you had any feedback from your friends in prison about the book/show? Have they been positive or negative (so like do they agree with the portrayal of the characters and the system or not)?

2) I don't know how much involvement you have in the show but (and I'm trying not to spoil anything here) do you know if their going to play up the stuff that happened near the end of the book? Because I found that to be the most eye opening and frankly horrifying part that revealed so much about the system, it would be a shame not to show it.

EDIT: Grammar

PiperKermanIsReal180 karma

Hi there, thank you!

1) there are many friends from prison who I am still friends with, and many other folks I've heard from sporadically when the book & then the show came out. Everyone I've heard from really loved the book, and I've also gotten great feedback to the show. Women say things like "Flashback", and the folks who prefer the book (because it is truth not fiction) also say that the show is important.

2) I can't give any Season 2 spoilers! But Jenji Kohan, who is the creator of the show, says that Season 1 covers about 3-4 months. So there is plenty of material in the book for them to draw on.

sphere51185106 karma

Post-prison have you ever run into any of your former guards or prison staff? If so how did it go, and did any of them take issue with your depictions?

PiperKermanIsReal194 karma

I have not heard directly from any of the BOP staff that I encountered. I have been surprised at how many people who work in corrections/law enforcement who tell me they like the book or the show.

The world of prisons & jails is very intentionally hidden from view, and I think that on a deep level no-one wants to be invisible. This is especially true for prisoners, but I think also true for the people who work in prisons.

Steph_WaHoo102 karma

Hi Piper! Thank you so much for doing this AMA. While I haven't read the book yet, I love the show! How "real" are some of the secondary characters in the show? I'm thinking especially of the more stand-out prisoners like "Crazy Eyes" and "Pennsatucky". Are they based off of people you met in prison or are they entirely fictional, or a mix of both?

PiperKermanIsReal198 karma

There are real people called "Crazy Eyes" and "Pennsatucky" in my book. But they are very different from the characters in the show. This is a good example of the process of adaptation - Jenji Kohan takes things that she likes from the book and then changes them, sometimes substantially - to suit the storylines that she wants to create in the show.

LaFemmeChiquita66 karma


PiperKermanIsReal108 karma

Thank you for your kind words.

One thing we can all do easily is contact elected reps and let them know you want a smarter, more functional criminal justice system. US congress people & state folks (governors & legislators & even county folks) really need to hear from constituents that the status quo is not OK.

Another thing that many people can do is volunteer some of your time. Whether this is going into a local prison or jail (& there is one in almost every community) and volunteering, or spending some time with at-risk youth, it makes an enormous difference.

liarandathief64 karma

Do you have any creative control over the show?

PiperKermanIsReal124 karma

I don't. The show is created by Jenji Kohan, the woman who created Weeds.

havoksmr60 karma

Hello, thanks for doing this. I haven’t read the book (I didn’t know the show was based on a true story until I saw this AMA), but I would like to know how true the show is to what it was really like. Are most of the events in the show based on your real life experiences in prison? Do you still stay in contact with any of your fellow inmates? Thanks!

PiperKermanIsReal83 karma

The show is a fictional adaptation of the book. Jenji Kohan and her writers draw from the true events in the book and the setting, and then they take enormous license with creating new storylines. So there are moments in the show, like the scene in episode 1 when Chapman first arrives in the cell she will sleep in with five other women, which are incredibly close to the actual events.

But there are many characters and storylines that don't exist in the book at all, and are the creation of Jenji and her writers.

I do still stay in touch with friends from Danbury FCP.

kriegerehre59 karma

Not really sure if you're still AMAing but I just wanted to say I read your book while I was in medical holding for the military and the similarities where beyond wild. It was like living right out of your book the way they treated us. (Med hold for bmt is like trainee limbo.) there were kids who were stuck there for months we all agreed after reading your book it shared a lot of similarities. Anyways, if i ever had the chance I wanted you to know how much your book meant to me as well as the others who were stuck there. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I left the book behind for others to read along with my other collection of books I received the month I spent there.

PiperKermanIsReal72 karma

I think the experience of institutionalization is one that resonates for a lot of people, although the institutions vary.

liquidcourage151 karma

PIPER!! Thanks for doing this. My question regards prison reform in general. It seems things are getting worse instead of better. So onto my question:

Do you think that any real reform will be tough due to the general public's lack of knowledge?

To add to that, it seems easier for most people to not care about those inside since they think they deserve everything they get, yet not realizing they are only one bad choice away from being there themselves.

PiperKermanIsReal100 karma

I am optimistic. If you look at polling numbers, about # of Americans say that we have too many people in prison, and more and more people support specific ways to change that (reduce drug sentencing, public health approaches to addiction, public defense reform, etc). more and more people now know that 40-60% of people in prison are there for non-violent offenses.

I think when people remember that the 2.3 million prisoners in this country are people just like them, we are more likely to see reform.

BadGirlSneer45 karma

Do you bond with Laverne Cox on social justice issues?

PiperKermanIsReal82 karma

I love Laverne - she is inspirational!

LoudlyRenowned44 karma

Hey Piper! Did you have any input on the opening theme they used for the show?

PiperKermanIsReal104 karma

No, but I love it! By Regina Spektor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9_isl1jjHc