Culture

“Orange Is The New Black,” indeed: Piper Kerman gives a TEDx Talk on life in prison

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Many of us in the TED office have been in Orange Is the New Black withdrawal. We inhaled the first season of the Netflix series, and have been waiting ever since for the new season to come out. If, like us, the mere mention of the show sends Regina Spektor’s “You’ve Got Time” blasting through your head, then you will want to watch this TEDx talk from Piper Kerman, the woman whose memoir inspired the show.

In the talk, Kerman tells the story of how, at age 34, she was sent to federal prison for delivering drug money a decade earlier. She shares the lessons she learned on the inside — lessons about prison survival, lessons about a broken justice system, and larger lessons about life.

This talk is especially powerful because it was given at TEDxMarionCorrectional, an event held inside a prison in Ohio  that features talks from inmates and employees of the prison system. (Watch three talks from it in 2012.) Event organizers Jo Dee Davis and Jordan Edelheit shared with the TED Blog their rationale for inviting Kerman to speak. “The men who curate and attend the TEDxMarionCorrectional repeatedly asked if we thought inviting her would bring the issue [of prisons] up to people who normally wouldn’t give it a thought,” they said. “Prison and prisoners are much hidden and unknown. There is a mystery about things that happen in the dark and behind bars and fences. This real story fills in the gaps and answers some questions.”

While telling her story, Kerman makes a plea to the inmates in the audience: talk about your experience. “There are 700,000 people coming home from prison and jail every single year in this country,” she says. “When people know the real stories of real people, they will recognize that our incarceration mania is a real problem.”

Note: This story originally posted on October 24, 2013. It was updated on June 4, 2014.