Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book #12: Orange Is the New Black

The bottom line is that there wasn't a chance I was going to finish the book I meant to write about this week in time.

(In my defense, it is technically a trilogy. That's the only clue I'm going to give. You'll have to wait until next Sunday to find out what it is.)

So I pulled this week's selection from the "I read most of the book when I first got it, but somehow I got distracted and didn't finish it" stack (which is, in fact, embarrassingly high).

In the case of Orange Is the New Black, I read most of it when I was on vacation in Wisconsin after my sister gave it to me for my birthday last summer, but then I spent three days in the car driving home, and, well, yeah.

Also I must confess that I have never seen the Netflix series based on the book. I don't have a Netflix account. I'd like to watch it, though. I think Piper Kerman has written an insightful and complex account of her time in the federal prison system. And she did it with a great sense of humor, which I always appreciate.

Anyway, I picked up where I left off. Kerman was getting close to the end of her sentence and was sent to re-entry classes, which felt, all humor aside, like a joke. No real respect for what many of the inmates were up against upon release.

Because teaching re-entry classes for jail inmates is actually exactly what I do, I read her critique carefully.

Hopefully she exaggerated how clueless the instructors were about transitioning to the outs for the sake of writing an entertaining narrative. But I doubt she exaggerated much. While I constantly tweak the way I teach my classes to be as relevant and helpful as possible, I also know that what I do is hardly enough.

We are missing key pieces in the system, both structural and cultural.

I'm encouraged by a criminal justice reform bill recently passed by our state legislature that focuses in part on developing better structural re-entry support as a means of reducing recidivism. As with anything politicians do, the risk of it all just being lip service is high, but I will do my best to leverage it into something concrete and effective, at least in my little corner of the world.

And near the end of the book, Kerman absolutely nails the cultural shift we need: "Lack of empathy lies at the heart of every crime--certainly my own," she writes. "Yet empathy is the key to bringing a former prisoner back into the fold of society."

No comments: