‘Orange is the New Black’ Author Piper Kerman On Where the Show Diverges from Reality

Piper KermanRob Kim/Getty

Before the huge success of the Netflix original series, Piper Kerman had to live Orange is the New Black.  Kerman wrote the memoir upon which the show is based, and she’s the inspiration for Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), the star of the show. In her Reddit AMA, Kerman answered many questions about her experiences on the set of the show and in prison.

The difference between onscreen Piper and herself: 
“…a big difference is that my family (& Larry’s family) were amazing supports, and that I maintained strong ties to my friends & co-workers while I was in prison – this really reinforced that I was not alone. Those lifelines were everything to me, and to all prisoners. I made a lot of mistakes when I was locked up, but not quite along the lines of Chapman :)”

Her favorite original character from the TV series: 
“It is very hard to pick favorites – but I really like Gloria, who is not based on anything in my book.”

An unspoken prison rule: 
“You really don’t ever ask someone what they’re in for. Some people choose to talk about it, and some people never do.”

On prison reform: 
“I am optimistic. If you look at polling numbers, [many] Americans say that we have too many people in prison, and more and more people support specific ways to change that (reduce drug sentencing, public health approaches to addiction, public defense reform, etc). more and more people now know that 40-60% of people in prison are there for non-violent offenses. I think when people remember that the 2.3 million prisoners in this country are people just like them, we are more likely to see reform.”

On the back stories on the show: 
“The backstories are amazing, and the creation of Jenji and her team of writers – they are all fictional and not drawn from the book.”

On the differences between the show and the book: 
“Readers of the book will probably agree that there is a lot of internal conflict depicted there – and that I definitely avoided conflicts with COs and other prisoners (as is only sensible). TV really needs external conflict, and that’s one of the big differences (other than storyline differences) you’ll see between the book and the show. A show that was very introspective would be boring to watch. A book with as much conflict as a TV show has would be unreadable.”

The similarity between women’s college and women’s prison: 
“Food obsessions.”

On the accuracy of the show’s portrayal of prison: 
“I am a consultant on the show, which means I answer questions and provide feedback to Jenji. It is her decision whether to take it or leave it. But the production team did a lot of other research as well, met with many other former prisoners (for example transgendered people who have been through the system) and they continue to do so.”

Some life advice: 
“My best life advice is to know that you can learn more from your failures than your successes.”

On the show’s portrayal of her fiancé Larry (Jason Biggs): 
“The real Larry is a good sport about the not-real Larry. He knows that it is fiction.”

On the difficulties of publishing a book with lesbian and criminal themes: 
“During one meeting with a publisher she said ‘We really like it, except for the lesbianism, and the crime.’ Huh? I was very lucky to have an editor who really understood the book I wanted to write, and helped me write it. I think it’s very important to tell a unique and surprising story in your writing, with an eye on how it connects back to a large number of people. In other words, a very unique story that yet has relevance to many others.”

On the possibility of Piper being written off the show: 
“I would be totally comfortable with that. From my POV the show does not have to be about Chapman. It’s ultimately Jenji’s decision what will happen next.”

Read the rest of her AMA here