After becoming an avid fan of the Netflix Original series adaptation of the book, I decided when I came across the actual book in a small bookshop that I’d have to buy it and see the real story.
The book is actually, above all, not just a book about prison but a book about women. It does not directly advertise itself as a feminist book, nor (I guess) does it fall into that category, but from reading the book I have seen how being in a women’s prison brings out the solidarity, strength, friendship and power of the women in there.
Throughout the book, Piper talks a lot about the qualities of the female prisoners that she admires. Particularly Miss Natalie Malcolm (in the series, this is Miss Claudette) who is one of the most respected and dignified prisoners. As you may know, Piper is Miss Claudette’s bunkie for a time, and discusses the kindness and stoicism of Miss Claudette that shows Piper that it is possible to survive prison and that she is not alone.
A phrase used a lot in the book, when describing the rare days in the prison when the prisoners come together to celebrate an inmate’s departure, birthday or achievement in passing college courses or getting their sentence reduced, is ‘concentrated happiness.’ This phrase really spoke to me as I read the book because it showed me how no matter the harshness of a situation, nor the unbearable despair you may feel at being powerless at the hands of the powers that be and your own decisions, you can still find happiness and acceptance from those who understand.
The book is an amazing display of female character, charting the immense strength and bravery these women in prison have to deal with. Navigating separation from their children who they watch grow up from behind bars, helping pregnant women in prison deliver their babies, using maxi pads to clean their bunks for inspection, the book gives a true insight to the abilities of women (and humans in general) to overcome adversity and deal with their actions and their consequences together.
All in all, it’s a great book and should be read by all fans of the series. I must warn you though, the events in the book are different to the ones in the series. There’s no Alex Vause in prison with Piper!