Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Orange is the New Black

I have to admit, I watched the TV show first. After the first few episodes I was hooked. I loved the portrayal of each woman as a unique individual, made up of so much more than just the actions that wound up putting her in prison. I think it's easy to see only the crime and not the whole person- especially with the women in this story.

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That same tone and approach carried through the book as well. Obviously not all of the people and the stories are the same as what was portrayed on the TV show, but there's so much heart in each of them. I was struck by the need for belonging that everyone had. Whether you're known mostly by your name or a number, you're still a human being with all the same needs and desires. It came across through the book as though the most frightening aspect of prison is the prospect of losing that humanity. It can't be an easy experience, and I won't insult anyone who's been through it by trying to pretend that I understand.

Now that's not to say that I disagree with the need for some sort of system that punishes those who commit crimes. I think consequences are important. I also think they need to be the right consequences. Some of the women in the prison, and arguably the author herself, weren't given the right consequences for their crimes. I think it's difficult to know what is the right consequence in each case, but I do think that the system should be built more on rehabilitation and providing the tools necessary so that no one becomes a repeat offender.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the myriad of ways these women were forgotten. Whether it was by their friends and family, or in most cases by the system itself, there was a striking lack of attention paid to providing the services and the resources that the women needed. So many things that most of us take for granted are so hard to find. Things like education, proper training, mentoring, guidance and counseling were just not available. Or the version that was available was so subpar it may as well not have been offered. That's part of why so many inmates, men and women alike, find themselves back in the system in some way after they're released.

I definitely enjoyed this book, and I was impressed with all the resources listed at the end for those who want to contribute and make a difference for inmates. It's more than just a memoir in that aspect.

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