It’s possible I’m the last person I know to read Orange is the New Black. It’s a smart, first-hand account on the need for prison reform in the U.S., but it surprised me by reinforcing some of the lessons from Viktor Frankel’s account of his time in a concentration camp — specifically our freedom to choose an honorable path even when all other freedoms are removed.
The best parts of Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman:
In my travels I had encountered all kinds of people whose dignity seemed to have a price – widely variable – and I thought that next time I had better set my price higher than anyone would pay.
We now lock up one out of every hundred adults, far more than any other country in the world.
I was getting wet, and it was cold. Still, I was curious about these two. “Kinda crap weather out here.”
At this they looked at each other. “We ain’t felt the rain for two years,” said Jae, the black woman.
“In Brooklyn there’s a little rec deck they take us up on, but it’s covered over, barbed wire and shit, and you don’t really see the sky,” she explained. “So we don’t mind the rain. We love it.” And she put her head back again, face up, as close to the sky as it could get.
In Danbury I had learned to hasten the days by chasing the enjoyment in them, no matter how elusive. Some people on the outside look for what is amiss in every interaction, every relationship, and every meal; they are always tying to hang their mortality on improvement. It was incredibly liberating to instead tackle the trick of making each day fly more quickly.
Prison is quite literally a ghetto in the most classic sense of the word, a place where the U.S. government now puts not only the dangerous but also the inconvenient – people who are mentally ill, people who are addicts, people who are poor and uneducated and unskilled.
Rose, chatting in the midst of a pedicure one day, told me what she had learned from her faith; I thought later that hers were the most powerful words a person could utter, “I’ve got a lot to give.”
It’s not easy to sacrifice your anger, your sense of being wronged.
Now here, in my third prison, I perceived an odd truth that held for each: no one ran them… for the prisoners, the people who lived in those prisons day in and day out, the captain’s chair was vacant, and the wheel was spinning while the sails flapped… The leadership vacuum was total.
What is the point, what is the reason, to lock people away for years, when it seems to mean so very little, even to the jailers who hold the key? How can a prisoner understand their punishment to have been worthwhile to anyone, when it’s dealt in a way so offhand and indifferent?
“she let that girl know what time it was” — clocked her, hit her
“feeling some kind of way” – feeling down, not yourself