On February 25, 2014, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman testified at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement in Washington, DC. Unlike her fictional character, Kerman was never placed in solitary confinement. But she testified about the many women incarcerated alongside her who had:
While I was in prison, I saw many women sent to the SHU for minor infractions such as moving around a housing unit during a count, refusing an order from a correctional officer, and possession of low-level contraband like small amounts of cash (which is largely useless in prison) or having women’s underwear from the outside rather than prison-issued underwear. All of these infractions drew at least 30 days in solitary. Sometimes women are sent to the SHU immediately upon their arrival in prison because there aren’t any open beds.
Most politicians would rather ignore the reality of the problems with the prison system than address them head-on and risk being seen as “soft on crime.”Orange is the New Black—and Kerman’s determined attempt to link the peoples’ interest in the fictional story to real women’s suffering—has helped get Americans talking about prison in a way few pieces of pop culture have. It’s also a way to get people talking about women in the prison system rather than focusing the conversations around men. It’s also a sad truth that politicians and Americans in general are more likely to listen to a celebrity telling them about prison conditions than someone who didn’t become famous after being incarcerated. To her credit, Kerman (unlike some other celebrities who have experienced short stints behind bars) has been using her platform to advocate for change.
Read the article: Can “Orange is the New Black” Change the Way Congress Thinks About Prisons?