Piper Kerman, author of 'Orange is the New Black,' speaks about her experiences at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., on November 18, 2013. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

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

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.

She contrasted her experience with that of those around her, some of whom never had visitors, could not see their children and were serving much longer terms. Unlike most inmates, Kerman had a job waiting for her when she was released.

"That sense that there are people outside who are pulling for you, that means the world," Kerman said.

Kerman told the audience at SSU that the disparities in the quality of legal counsel became clear when she met women serving hefty terms for nonviolent drug offenses, in contrast to her own sentence.

During the talk, Kerman asked if anyone could recite the Miranda Rights said during an arrest to notify a person of his or her right to an attorney.

French major Alejandro Tapia, 21, stood from his chair in the audience and recited the phrases from memory.

After the talk, Tapia said he thought Kerman's book and the show were compelling because they "portray a human view of prison."

Tapia said his father was incarcerated for nine months when he was a toddler for public urination.

"My Dad told me that after he was involved in a fight, he was given the option of serving one extra month (in the general population) or nine days in solitary confinement. He opted for the extra month," Tapia said.

For Joni Gawronski of Terra Linda, who came to the talk with her daughter, who is a junior at SSU, Kerman's experience was her first critical view into the country's prison system.

Liberal studies student Gloria Maldonado, 54, of Petaluma chose Kerman's talk to fulfill an assignment, an easy choice because she had devoured the book and Netflix series.

"It is totally the opposite of what you see on the channels about men's prisons, which are shown as violent places," Maldonado said.

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