piper kerman and book cover on top of a prison cell

Author speaks on prison reform

Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, is the Spring 2019 Walter R. Smith Visiting Scholar. She will speak about mass incarceration, mandatory minimum sentencing, and restorative justice. Her presentation will be offered at the Corning Museum of Glass on April 9, 2019.

Kerman’s bestselling memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison chronicles her “crucible experience”—the 13 months she spent in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, after a brief involvement with drug trafficking sent her to prison on money laundering charges. In her compelling, moving, and deeply funny book, Kerman explores the experience of incarceration and the lives of the women she met in prison: their friendships and families, mental illnesses, and substance abuse issues, cliques, and codes of behavior.

What struck her the most about her experience, Kerman says, is the power of women’s communities: “the incredible ability of women to step up for each other, and to be resilient and to share their resiliency with other people.” Kerman’s memoir also raises provocative questions about the state of criminal justice in America, and how incarceration affects individuals and communities throughout the nation. Dave Eggers calls Orange is the New Black “a serious and bighearted book that depicts life in a women’s prison with great detail and—crucially—with empathy and respect for Piper Kerman’s fellow prisoners, most of whom did not and do not have her advantages and options… Expert reporting and humane, clear-eyed storytelling.”

Kerman has spoken at the White House on re-entry and employment as a Champion of Change, as well as on the importance of the arts in prisons and the unique challenges faced by women in the criminal justice system. In 2014 she was awarded the Justice Trailblazer Award from John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime & Justice and the Constitutional Commentary Award from the Constitution Project; the Equal Justice Initiative recognized her as a Champion of Justice in 2015.

Kerman speaks frequently to students of law, criminology, gender and women’s studies, sociology, and creative writing, as well as groups including the International Association of Women Judges, the American Correctional Association’s Disproportionate Minority Confinement Task Force, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Criminal Justice Association, federal probation officers, public defenders, justice reform advocates and volunteers, and formerly and currently incarcerated people.

Kerman is a graduate of Smith College. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family, and teaches writing in two state prisons as an Affiliate Instructor with Otterbein University.