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'Orange is the New Black' author Piper Kerman speaks at SSU

  • Piper Kerman, author of "Orange is the New Black," speaks about her experiences at Sonoma State University on Monday. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

About eight years ago, Piper Kerman emerged from a 26-story federal penitentiary in Chicago and onto the street where her fiancé was waiting for her.

The best-selling memoirist and ex-con on Monday told 900 people in a third-floor ballroom at Sonoma State University's new student center that she chronicled her 13-month term in federal penitentiaries to show the complex and compelling life histories of her fellow prisoners.

“I wanted people to see prisoners as human ... worthy of coming back to our communities,” Kerman said.

Author Piper Kerman At SSU

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Kerman's best-selling memoir “Orange is the New Black: My Year in Women's Prison” inspired the popular Netflix show of the same name. The widely praised show depicts the rich and sometimes raunchy daily life of women prisoners navigating the personalities and monotony of life in prison.

She didn't know it at the time, but the day Kerman, then in her early 20s, lugged drug money from Chicago to Brussels was among her worst days.

“The consequences of our actions are always going to come back to us in one form or another,” Kerman said. “For me, that came as a knock on the door.”

Kerman served 13 months in two federal penitentiaries and was released in 2005, and her book was published five years later.

Kerman has since become involved in advocating for better public defense programs, reform of juvenile sentencing guidelines and other issues surrounding incarceration.

About 700,000 people are released each year from jails and prisons and into communities across the United States, which has the world's largest incarcerated population. Kerman said she wants society to find better ways of welcoming them home.

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