The doors opened at 7 p.m. I arrived at 7:03, and I was ushered to the balcony as the floor level was already full. I hadn’t expected a crowd of this magnitude, even if the speaker does happen to have a Netflix series spinoff of her memoir. At 7:30 on the dot, after the obligatory introductions and thank yous, Piper Kerman walked onto the stage to a roar of applause and palpable excitement. The fact that the trailer for the second season of Orange is the New Black debuted only hours before likely propelled some of this fervor.
As Piper began to speak, however, the tone of the room began to slowly change. Those, for instance, who had perhaps come to hear surprise season spoilers or for the star quality of it all were to be disappointed. Yes, Piper discussed her New York Times bestselling memoir, the process of it transitioning to the TV show, etc., but that was not the focus of the evening.
Instead, she spoke with passion and poise about the criminal justice system, prison reform and her own incarceration. More importantly, she discussed in great depth the importance of empathy and humanity. Expertly, she intertwined her personal narrative with the stories of thousands of other women serving time across the country. Her speech was punctuated with intriguing fact and figures as well, many of which were met with either sounds of surprise, outrage or both from the earnest audience.
Time passed quickly as she presented. Her voice was clear, her tone heartfelt and her mannerisms effective. As the talk concluded, there was a respectful round of applause that followed. It was clear that many in the audience were still digesting what news had just been delivered to them; after all, it isn’t everyday that one considers the lives and conditions of those in prison.
A Q&A followed the talk and then it was time for the book signing. As I exited the balcony, I sighed in expectation of what awaited me downstairs. The line to meet Piper, get your book signed and maybe snap a quick photo had already all but formed. A line that was at least 300 people deep snaked around the main entrance. I was quite literally the last in line.
For two hours, as I patiently waited to have my copy signed, I read Piper’s memoir. By the time I was next in line to meet her, I was 1/3 of the way through the book and craving more.
As I approached, she smiled and beckoned me forward. It was 11:01 p.m. She looked tired but kind and more than happy to talk to me, despite the late hour. When I asked her if she was going to write another book, she smiled again and answered a quick yes. It wouldn’t be another memoir but rather a more in-depth look at men’s prisons in the U.S. I told her she should and that I had become a fan of her writing while standing in line. She laughed, said she was glad and we bid one another adieu after she handed me back my copy of her book.
As I walked back to my car, my brain was still processing the evening’s events. I, nor I expect anyone else, had quite expected the evening to turn out the way it did. The hype surrounding the event came from Piper’s celebrity, not the impulse to discuss prison reform. Yet, I would hasten a bet that those in attendance left the auditorium with something more than an overwhelming desire to binge-watch Orange is the New Black. Instead, the evening provided those in attendance with an informative look at a little-discussed topic. For that, I think we were all grateful.
What are your impressions of Piper Kerman? Tell us in the comments below.
(Photo on the homepage: Courtesy of Spiegel & Grau)
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