April 10, 2014

Piper Kerman Goes Back to Prison

Posted in Commentary, Events, Kids-A-Part, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services tagged , , , , , , at 7:27 am by Lund

When Piper Kerman came to Vermont last month to speak at UVM about her book ‘Orange is the New Black’ and her experience of incarceration she didn’t just swing on to campus and leave four hours later and she also didn’t spend her time shopping on Church Street and eating Ben and Jerry’s, she visited the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility not just once, but twice.  Piper’s life might be very different than many of the women at CRCF but she really is putting her words about being a spokesperson for women in prison into action.   It must be hard to walk back into a facility after you have been incarcerated but it seems as if this is quite a common occurrence for Piper.  While in the facility she spoke to around 100 women about her experience and offered advice.   “She told them to really form an alternative story in their minds of their return home and to hold on to it.  To be prepared for people to pull you back into the lifetsyle that led to incarceration but to have concrete plans in place so the temptation to fall back into life as it was is decreased,”  says Jo Berger of Kids-A-Part who attended the talk.    Kids-A-Part is Lund’s program that works with incarcerated mothers and their children and caregivers in the community.

Women in the facility had heard of the book and of Piper Kerman though few had seen the TV show as Netflix is not shown inside the facility.   One woman spoke up and told Piper that she had had a copy of the book when she was in segregation and that it had really helped her, that she felt like Piper was in the cell with her.  Perhaps this was why Piper returned to CRCF the next morning with a tall stacks of copies of ‘Orange is the New Black’ to distribute.

Piper Kerman’s talk at UVM did little to address the larger problems leading to women’s incarceration – poverty, abuse, the position of women in society, addiction – but that wasn’t really her purpose.  She wanted to tell her story and to remind everyone listening to her in that privileged academic setting that they themselves were only one or two steps away from a very different life.  In the correctional facility she wanted to show the same thing.   She was once in the shoes of the women she was talking to and that they also were only one or two steps away from a very different life.  One that they could reach if they had firm goals and took advantage of resources available.  Piper has a foot in both worlds and she is using that unique position for good inside and out.

Crystal Fisher and Jess Kell of Kids-A-Part with Piper Kerman in the Kids-A-Part space at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

Crystal Fisher and Jess Kell of Kids-A-Part with Piper Kerman in the Kids-A-Part space at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility

 

 

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