Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Woman's Prison by Piper Kerman
Buzzfeed post, but am very glad I read it, all in all.
Ten years after leaving her drug-dealing lover, Kerman finds herself indicted on federal drug charges for having one time (ONE TIME!) internationally delivered a suitcase of drug money. If the indictment had come a year later, she would have been safe and free, happily living her life with her boyfriend Larry in New York. Imagine the shock her loved ones felt when they heard that Piper, a WASPy Ivy League-college graduate, was involved with drug trafficking--frustrated, not understanding how a 10-year-old infraction could put her in prison for anywhere between 15 months or more. Ok, so she made some really terrible choices in her youth and no one is arguing that she didn't, but 15 months in a federal prison seems like a terrifying amount. Kerman rails frequently on mandatory minimum drug sentencing and as her memoir progresses, it's clear that the majority of women in the prison on similar (but more often, much more serious) drug charges do not have their involvement in drugs behind them. It's also clear that the inmates are not gaining much serious help to avoid getting tangled back into their familiar webs once they've be released. Kerman has good things to go home to (a really excellent job, a supportive Larry, a new apartment) and many of her fellow inmates have none of this, moving into homeless shelters, entertaining no job prospects, and very often having lost custody of their children. Kerman builds strong bonds with many of these women, who become part of her salvation amid acclimation to prison culture, truly terrible treatment by prison personnel, and the loss of a family member.
Kerman's memoir is ultimately about finding peace and focusing on growth while facing a dark personal conflict; it's not voyeuristic and it certainly doesn't glorify prison life. It's fortifying, really, to read about her ability to make something good come of her experience and the statistics she spreads throughout the reading are shocking. You know the end of the story without reading it--Piper is no longer in prison and has written this very successful book while leading a duly successful career in the outside world. What I admire most is that she has become an advocate for the incarcerated and continues to use her once-embarrassing experience as a platform for change. It's available throughout the catalog as an ebook, audio download, CD book, and of course in print, and it comes highly recommended!
-Abby, Reference Librarian