Note: One of the great privileges of being part of the Casa Misericordia Domestic Violence Shelter board is to hear gifted authors speak at a fund raising event. I've had the privilege of introducing a couple of them.
This is from April 9, 2015
Orange is the New Black
Before we start – Let me take care of a couple of housekeeping items:
Cell phones - If yours goes off during Piper's talk you get to donate another $50 to Casa Misericordia.
Books - Piper has graciously agreed to sign books and take pictures. If you don't
already have a copy we may still have a few more for sale at the table.
Last May, Priya Vaswani called me. “Father, could you please read "Orange is the New Black". We want to invite the author, but Sister Rosemary wants your opinion.”
I confess I had heard the book title, and had seen an email from Netflix with the same title but that was all I knew. But I am obedient so I got the book that afternoon, started reading it that night, and finished it the next day. It is wonderfully written and a gripping story. But I couldn’t put it down because it rang a personal note.
In 1980 when my wife Anne and I were first married and on our honeymoon, one of our stops during our traveling through Colorado was to see one of my relatives who had been unable to attend our wedding. We drove to a place that isn’t usually on the tourist stops, to the state Penitentiary in Canyon City, Colorado. My relative spent almost a year in the state penitentiary and it was a sobering experience for him and for my family.
So much of the book resonated with me personally that I called Priya back and then called Sister Rosemary and said, “Yes, absolutely let’s see if she can come, I don’t care if anyone else is interested, I am!”
Most of you know that I'm a pastor, and if not the collar might give you that clue. Let me tell you about my boss.
I work for a guy who is someday going to ask me if I ever went to visit him when he was in prison. (If you don’t know what I am talking about search on Google for Matthew 25:36)
I am going to ask an audience question here, but please know that if you are uncomfortable, you do not have to answer. But if you are not too discomforted and are willing I would like you to raise your hand and keep it up if you have ever visited someone in a jail or prison? Thank you.
Piper Kerman’s story hooked me at the very start. Her gradual entry into the world of illegal heroin couriers and cash transport followed by a scare which brought her to her senses and led to a normal life and career, suddenly upended years later is painful.
I’m not going to name any names but my own, but self included, here in this room there are many of us whose youthful mistakes and bad decisions could have come back to haunt us years after we had left those mistakes behind.
Piper’s description of her almost 6 year lead up to her trial and prison sentence followed by the journal of her 15 months spent mostly in Danbury is sometimes painful and always engaging.
While reading I appreciated Piper’s honesty about her own crime and the damage it caused to her, to unknown others and to her family. She was willing to accept the culpability and punishment for her wrong. But in doing so, her experience gave her a platform to speak out and not hide the reality that much of our judicial and prison system is terribly unjust.
Orange is the New Black opens our eyes to how much of our prison system is based on attitudes and practices that are almost medieval, and to how damaging it can be to both prisoners and prison staff.
Piper’s stories of some other women in Danbury with her is moving. The women’s resilience and care for one another even while keeping certain emotional boundaries in place, moved me to tear up at times. And on other pages I got furious at some of the gross injustices inflicted on the author and others.
Her own willingness to forgive and let go of hurt and resentments and her struggle to keep her own humanity in an inhuman place is was the gift I treasured most.
I have been encouraged by Piper’s ongoing advocacy for all prisoners, both women and men, and her truth telling about the need to incarcerate far less people, and to find less draconian means to deal with non violent crimes and her call to change mandatory sentencing guidelines and to find better means of dealing with drug addiction and seek restorative justice and community solutions rather than more incarceration.
This is a gift of advocacy that we can all share. Her website gives you a chance to be part of several organizations working to change the systems that need changing. I encourage you to visit her website, buy the book, buy a Free Piper T-Shirt, and to support reform.
That said, please join me in welcoming Piper Kerman.