Ela Mazumdar, Transcript Reporter
Piper Kerman, author of Orange is The New Black, visited Ohio Wesleyan University on Jan. 20 to talk about the issue of mass incarceration.
Kerman came to speak at OWU’s Gray Chapel, sponsored by the Delaware County District Library.
The room was quickly flooded with Ohio Wesleyan students, faculty and staff and a large number of Delaware residents, eager to hear about time in prison from someone with firsthand experience.
Kerman introduced herself and her experiences in a comedic yet relatable manner, providing ease to the audience.
She then talked about meeting her significant other at a brewery, which led her into the prison system.
“Rather than run in the other direction as common sense might have suggested, I instead followed her around the globe,” Kerman said.
She discussed in detail her fears when she ended up helping her significant other travel with drug money.
“She was scared. I could tell she was scared and I was scared, too, so I did it. I carried that bag of money. I had crossed a line I couldn’t uncross.”
Kerman continued with her story, saying that eventually “our consequences catch up with us.”
She then did a statistical walk-through about U.S. incarceration and layered these facts with her initial experience in the prison in terms of surroundings, clothing and the other inmates she encountered.
“The last thing I expected to experience in prison was kindness at the hands of the other prisoners, yet that was exactly what I experienced,” Kerman said.
She went on to talk about Star, a woman in her dorm who had made her a name tag as a welcome, which was a powerful signal that gave a Kerman a sense of community.
After these personal anecdotes, Kerman discussed the impact of incarceration on people in terms of losing a parent and mental health. She also told everyone the meaning behind her novel and the reason she wrote it.
Bob Gitter, professor of economics at OWU, said Piper Kerman did an excellent job of making the case that we do indeed put too many people in prison in the U.S. In terms of cost, families and recidivism, she shows that locking up non-violent criminals is not the way to go.
“I hoped that by talking about what I experienced, people would get a better understanding of who was in prison and why they were there and what goes on behind prison walls,” Kerman said.
She ended with her favorite scene from her Netflix series and ended with questions from the audience and a book signing where fans could get up close and personal.
Freshman Natalie Campbell, an attendee at the event, said, “I thought the event was eye-opening about the problems within the U.S. prison system. It was interesting to hear Kerman’s plan of action to help reduce the amount of people, especially women, who are incarcerated every year.”