She may be known as Piper Chapman on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, but her real name is Piper Kerman, and her 2010 memoir, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, served as the basis for the now hit show. If you’ve been wondering how the book compares to the series, here are the most noticeable differences:
1. Piper was not in the same prison as her drug-dealing ex-girlfriend.
This was one of the more dubious plot points of the TV version—that two convicts involved in the same crime (with a previous romantic relationship, too) would be placed in the same prison. Of course, the conflict between Piper and “Alex” (who is named as Nora in the book) made for great TV.
In Kerman’s memoir, she does eventually cross paths with Nora, but under very different circumstances. (It’s one of the best parts of the book, so I won’t spoil it.)
2. Less lesbian stuff.
Even if Piper had been placed in the same prison as her ex-girlfriend, it seems unlikely that the two would rekindle their romance. In the show, there’s very much an tortured love thing happening between them. But Kerman’s descriptions of her time with Alex/Nora don’t come packaged with the same type of emotional struggle. On their life together before prison:
We lived a life of relentless tension, yet it was also often crushingly boring. I had little to do, other than keep Nora company while she dealt with her “mules.” …I was scared and miserable, reatreating into almost constant silence as we all moved from Belgium to Switzerland.
And while in prison, Piper doesn’t see much lesbian action:
The next day was Valentine’s Day, my first holiday in prison. Upon arrival in Danbury, I was struck by the fact that there did not seem to be any lesbian activity… A lot of the romantic relationships I observed were more like schoolgirl crushes, and it was rare for a couple to last more than a month or two.
If Piper engaged in any sexual activities or relationships during her stay, she doesn’t include it in the book.
3. Piper did not make artisanal bath products for a living.
When TV Piper arrives in prison, she’s automatically labeled as the Rich White Girl, and her “profession” — part of a two-man operation selling fancy, homemade soaps — doesn’t do her any favors in that area. Especially when you’re constantly quipping, “We got into Barneys!”
During the time leading up to her surrender, Piper Kerman was a creative who helped corporations with their Internet properties:
I worked hard at forgetting what loomed ahead, pouring my energies into working as a creative director for Web companies… I needed money to pay my huge ongoing legal fees, so I worked with the clients my hipster colleagues found unsexy and unpalatable — big telecom, big petrochemicals, and big shadowy holding companies.
4. In the book, Piper didn’t step on as many toes; inmates were extremely welcoming.
True, racial groups stick together in Kerman’s memoir. But once you arrive, she explains, you’re immediately accepted and taken care of. Here, a passage describing Piper’s first few days:
I avoided eye contact. Nonetheless women periodically accosted me: “You’re new? How are you doing, honey? Are you okay?” Most of them were white. This was a tribal ritual that I would see play out hudered of times in the future. When a new person arrived, their tribe — white, black, Latino, or the few and far between ‘others’ — would immediately make note of their situation, get them settled, and steer them through their arrival… The other white women brought me a bar of soap, a real toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, some stamps and writing materials, some instant coffee, Cremora, a plastic mug, and perhaps most important, shower shoes to avoid terrible foot fungi…
A short while later, Kerman praises her peers’ kindness:
Had I ever been so completely at the mercy of the kindness of strangers? And yet they were kind.
5. Piper’s conflict with “Red” (known as Pop in the book) was not nearly as threatening.
Piper may have insulted Red/Pop’s food, however Pop didn’t punish her for it as she did in the show. Pop may have fixed “a ferocious glare,” but her actions toward Piper are far less harsh. Pop’s advice to Piper:
Listen, honey, I know you just got here, so I know that you don’t understand what’s what. I’m gonna tell you this once. There’s something here called “inciting a riot,” and that kind of shit you’re talking about… you can get in big trouble for that… so take a tip from me, and watch what you say.
Piper and Pop eventually get along and create a strong bond. The book, in fact, is dedicated to her (as well as her parents and Larry).
6. In the book, Piper’s relationship with her fiancé Larry is far less turbulent.
After watching the show, you actually get the impression that Kerman may have avoided writing too much about Larry. True, it’s not easy for either of them, but as you’re reading, you don’t get the impression that these two are headed for disaster.
Of course, the TV show pushed this angle. It’s Larry’s New York Times article and radio appearances that begin to drive a wedge between them, while in the book, Larry’s “Modern Love” essay brings them closer together. Referring to the experience of reading Larry’s column in prison, Piper says, “Even here, without him, I couldn’t imagine any sweeter Christmas present.”
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