Orange Is The New Black should probably really be called Orange Is The New Crack, because it seems we’re all so hooked on binge watching this popular Netflix Series. For two seasons, with a third recently announced, we just can’t get enough. To get an extra fix, binge read the best selling memoir upon which the series was based, Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman. You don’t need to stay glued to your couch to read this book. While many episodes and characters are taken directly from the book, there’s still a lot you probably don’t know about the real Piper. And yes, this article contains spoilers about the second season, so if you haven’t seen the show yet, you’ve now been warned.
10. Piper And Alex Were In Prison Together, But Only For Five Weeks
Alex Vause is based on Piper’s ex-girlfriend, Catherine Cleary Wolters, who is shown above. While a significant plot point for the show, the sexual relationship in prison between Piper and Alex is entirely fictional. Piper and Catherine did not have sexual relations in prison, nor were they even tempted to. The lines between reality and fiction are blurred during the second season opening, when Piper flies to Chicago to stand trail against a co-conspirator. That was the only time the two were in custody together and not any time before. On the real flight, Piper was seated with Catherine, but refused to communicate with her. Then, for five weeks, they were housed in the same prison, along with Catherine’s sister. It was only then when Piper became friendly with Catherine again and the two made their peace.
9. Piper Was Under Federal Supervision For Five Years Prior To Her Sentence
In 1998, Federal agents showed up at Piper’s door to indict her for money laundering and drug trafficking. She then pled guilty in October of the same year. However, her sentence was delayed over five years because Alaji, the West African drug kingpin to whom Piper had to testify against, was arrested in London. The US government tried for over five years to extradite him and failed. During this period, Piper lived under Federal Supervision and reported monthly to a “pretrial supervisor.” During these meetings, she was occasionally drug tested, but passed every test. Despite the great pressure that loomed over her, Piper kept her status a secret from employers, colleagues and many friends. Over ten years after committing the crime, Piper self-surrendered to prison and severed thirteen months of a fifteen month sentence, which is the mandatory minimum.
8. Piper Was An Out Lesbian Before She Was Engaged To Larry
While the series implies that Piper was straight before meeting Alex, it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Piper was already an out lesbian. She wasn’t the first woman Piper dated and she certainly wasn’t the last. Larry and Piper were best friends for years before they fell in love. Piper doesn’t say if Larry is the only man she dated, but she does say that Larry was the only man she ever called her “boyfriend” and now, her husband. Like his character in the series, Larry is a writer in real life, although he is more successful than his seemingly directionless fictional counterpart.
7. Piper Actually Remained Faithful To Larry While In Prison
Like on the show, Piper was engaged to Larry during the time she was incarcerated. This is a direct contradiction to one of the most significant story lines on the show. Also, Larry never had an affair with Piper’s best friend in real life. The couple remained faithful to each other for the entirety of Piper’s sentence. In an interview, Piper said “[remaining faithful] wasn’t difficult for that year,” she says. “I knew I had a strong bond outside, but people are sexual beings, even if you lock them in a cage. If I had to do 10 years, I’m sure I’d have all sorts of crazy romances.” While her fellow prisoners knew about Larry, Kerman never revealed her previous sexual status.
6. The Real Piper Kerman Didn’t Own An Artisanal Bath Product Company.
On the first season of the show, we learn Piper and her best friend Polly, start an artisanal bath product business. Their products even get into the famed upscale department store, Barney’s New York. In real life, Piper’s career path was far less glamorous because she had big legal fees to pay for. She was a Creative Director who developed marketing campaigns and built websites, for mostly telecommunication companies. Prior to that, she produced sports television and commercials for companies such as Murad skin care and Select Comfort mattresses. After her release from prison, Kerman became a non-profit strategist. Not surprisingly, one of her clients is the Criminal Justice Fund.
5. You Can Still Visit Piper’s Original, Although Inactive Website, The Pipe Bomb
While the Netflix series takes place in the present day, the real Piper went to prison in 2004. Prior to her sentence, Piper and Larry set up a website, The Pipe Bomb for their friends and family. Even years after her release, the website remains online, but inactive. Its design and information are like a voyeuristic time capsule. There is a wealth of Piper related info, including logistical information about visiting her in prison and rules for the mail. There are blog entries with articles related to justice, as well as a recipe for prison cheesecake. Piper provides a humorous FAQ about why she is in prison, as well as the care and feeding of Larry.
4. Larry Actually Wrote A “Modern Love” Column
On the first season of the show, Larry writes an article for The New York Times and he also speaks on a This American Life type radio show, both of which prove to be disastrous for Piper and their relationship. In real life, Larry wrote a Modern Love column for The New York Times, but it was actually published in 2010, five years after Piper’s release. In his real column, he gives some back story about why Piper is in prison, but doesn’t talk at all about Piper’s life in prison. Larry writes about how her sentence affects him on a day to day basis. He paints a picture of the ritual of visiting Piper every weekend. The real Larry is very likable and a far cry from the Jason Biggs character.
3. Larry’s Father Is An Attorney, But He Wasn’t Piper’s Attorney
In both the series and in real life, Larry’s father is an attorney. However, Larry’s father was not Piper’s lawyer. In his Modern Love essay, Larry talks about Piper’s attorney: “[Her] lawyer told her that if the case went to trial she would be as good a defendant as they come, having lived a model life since her brief period of recklessness. He also told her that if she lost — and she never claimed to be framed, just young and stupid — she could easily serve seven years or more.” Piper Kerman ended up serving thirteen months of a fifteen-month sentence.
2. While Many Storylines Are Conceived By The Writing Staff, The Show Doesn’t Deviate From The Book Entirely
Some of the characters on the show are based on real people, such as Yoga Jones, who is called Yoga Janet in the book. Red is based on Pop, whom the book is partially dedicated to. Sophia is based on a real person, whom Piper called Vanessa in the book. Surprisingly, Pornstache is also based on a real person. Piper was also in prison with someone named Crazy Eyes, but her character is mostly a creation of the writing staff. More importantly, while the series has viewers believe that Chapman was the only Upper Middle Class white woman in prison, in reality, that wasn’t true, there were several women like Piper serving their time while she was there, including a former bank president.
1. Piper Is Now An Advocate For Prisoner’s Rights
While Piper works as a consultant on the series, she also works as a non-profit strategist for justice related organizations. She gives speeches to various groups of people from prisoners to politicians. On February 25, 2014, Kerman testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to urge them to reassess solitary confinement policies. She also gave a TED Talk in 2013 about the prison system. In addition, Kerman serves as a board member for the Women’s Prison Association. In 2014, she received The Justice Trailblazer Award from the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime & Justice.
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