Piper Kerman’s story begins shortly after her graduation from Smith College. At loose ends and not sure what she wants to do with her life, she starts hanging out with the wrong crowd. In the middle of a four month stint traveling to exotic locations with her drug-smuggling girlfriend, she agrees to pick up a suitcase full of drug money at the Brussels airport.
Yes, it is stupid, but I can somewhat understand. I distinctly remember thinking that traveling around with the Hell’s Angels for the summer before starting college might be a fun way to get out of the house and see the country. Thankfully, I never acted on this incredibly naïve idea, but she’s not the first young woman whose immaturity and feeling of invulnerability led her to do something criminal.
When the police knock on her door five years later, Piper is working as a website developer and living a comfortable middle class life with her long-time boyfriend. After being indicted in federal court on charges of drug smuggling (later dropped) and money laundering, she spends the next six years waiting to go to trial. By the time she is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, over a decade has passed since she committed her crime.
Piper’s account of her time in federal prison is fascinating. Her fear slowly turns to boredom as she learns to navigate the prison’s alien culture and even make a few friends. Then instead of serving out her time at the Danbury Correctional Institution, she is forced to spend her last two months in absolutely horrific conditions in Chicago so she can be called to testify against someone she doesn’t know. Piper endures these indignities with grace, making her story impossible to put down.