Piper Kerman Of “Orange Is The New Black” Testifies On Prison Reform

In the midst of America’s disgusting white supremacist prison system, women currently make up the fastest growing prison population. In lieu of that, equally loved and criticized Orange is The New Black author Piper Kerman stood in front of Congress yesterday to speak on the deadly realities facing women behind bars.

When we think of systemic prison-traps we most often hear about the school-to-prison pipeline, but Kerman chose instead to highlight the “sexual-abuse-to-prison-pipeline,” which affects all genders, but more intensely and consistently permeates the lives of women and LGBT/gender-nonconforming people.

In a study in Oregon it was estimate that up to 93 percent of the girls and women in prison had been sexually assaulted, and a large cause of the steady increase in the imprisonment of women includes criminalization for underage sex work (often initially involuntary), and arrests for smaller and smaller misdemeanors, many in retaliation to abuse (running away, drug use, missing school, etc).

Kerman also touched on the fact that it’s not just these cycles of abuse, but punishment for not behaving as the “perfect victim” that also increases the likelihood of re-entry in prison.

Due to a combination of economic inequality and aggressive racial profiling, the “sexual-abuse-to-prison-pipeline” largely affects women of color (especially LGBTQ), as one in 18 black women, one in 45 Latina women, and only 1 in 111 white women will be incarcerated

On this, Kerman said:

“One of the things that was so striking to me the very first day that I spent in prison was that so many of the women that I was incarcerated with, who I would spend a great deal of time with, were serving much harsher sentences than I was. In fact, the only conclusion I could draw was that they had been treated much more harshly by the American criminal justice system…in some cases because of the color of their skin.”

It’s necessary and good that she’s speaking out in directly political ways about these issues, especially since she’s profited off her personal experience by way of the viral popularity of “Orange Is The New Black.” But there’s still a sad irony that lies in the fact that as a white, cis, upper-middle class woman, she is the demographic of women least affected by these cycles, and yet is the one handed a platform to speak on it.

White supremacy (and classism) prove their own existence even through the methods we’re allowed to employ to critique and dismantle them. Piper Kerman has pointed this out in the past, recognizing the irony of the fame and reception to her story, a story that affects non-white and LGBTQ women heavily, and with greater frequency.

She ended her speech by referencing the need for prison abolition (yes!), which hopefully drove deep fear into the scared hearts of Congress, as they imagined a swift revolution of The People, ready to tear down this bigoted hellhole and rebuild something livable, something human, with subsidized gummy bears for everyone.

In conclusion, I hope that Piper will keep speaking up as she plans to, I like her 800 more times as an actual human than the intentionally uptight character on “Orange Is The New Black” (no offense Taylor Schilling, who plays her perfectly)!

Catch her speech/testimony here.