Since its release last month, Netflix’s original series Orange is the New Black has won over millions of fans with its unique depiction of life in a women’s prison. Most compellingly, the heart of the brilliantly scripted show is a true story.
“The experience of incarceration is trial by fire and you have a unique perspective and relationship to one another that people on the outside don’t always understand,” said Piper Kerman in an interview with National Post. Now a part-time consultant for the show, she authored a book of the same name about her experience in a women’s prison.
The on-screen portrayal of Piper’s time behind bars sticks pretty close to the story she told in the original book. The basic setting is accurate: Just as in the show, Piper landed in prison after being convicted for drug smuggling and money laundering that took place 10 years earlier. She had been in a lesbian relationship, but was engaged to a man named Larry at the time of her incarceration. She also experienced many of the same challenges and triumphs as her character in the show.
^The real Piper Kerman and her husband, Larry Smith, at the time of her release in 2005.
Then there are some notable differences. One glaring example is that Piper and her former lover/co-conspirator were not in the same prison.
“The show’s an adaptation and I think that’s really reflected in many, many different storylines,” Piper told Hey U Guys. “A really faithful docudrama would not have been as interesting as what Jenji and her team have produced.”
Piper said she willingly gave the show’s producers creative license so they could expand upon the themes of her book.
“It’s created completely new characters, characters who don’t exist in the book,” she told HuffPost Live. “It’s changed and adapted many, many different things from the book. But, I think that is really stayed true to the spirit of the book.”
The show’s creator, Jenji Kohan, has referred to Piper’s book as her “gateway drug.” Taylor Schilling, the actress who portrays Piper, confirmed to Hey U Guys that creative license was also extended to the show’s actors.
“What Jenji Kohan, the creator of the show, set up for me is that we’re creating our own world,” Taylor explained. “So, it’s inspired by Piper’s story, but our Piper is a character.”
The result is a fantastic blend of truths only privy to those with real prison experience as well as the theatrical flair that makes for good TV. So, even if you know how the real Piper’s story unfolded, Orange is the New Black is certainly worth watching.