Reading: Prisons & OITNB


Prisons & Justice?

Reading the memoir “OITNB. My Time in a Women’s Prison” by Piper Kerman Abacus 2013, 344 pages, 18 chapters.

Chapter 1 (Resource): How to work on the vocabulary of the first three chapters: OITNB_chapter 01 (4 pdf pages) (latest version: Oct 7, 2014)


Crime & Punishment WORKSHOP (7 pages, Nov 2014 – to review before giving out) – Prisons in Spain + Working on vocabulary related to Crime and Justice.

Listening to Angela Davis’s “How Gender Structures the Prison System” read by your teacher. From the collection of essays and articles, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Listen to Angela Davis

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY: when we set a date, you will be expected to share something from what you learned/learnt while reading the memoir or any of the materials I’ve put together for you all. You can share some vocabulary highlights, read out a passage, share your insight on something, review the book, anything you can fit into 3-5 minutes, which involves you speaking English. You can also bring materials to share: a handout (which I can make copies of that day), a power point presentation, a listening or reading activity you designed… After everybody has spoken, we will have discussions in small groups or plenary.

In class: Reading the script of the Pilot episode? TV Series (65 pages) – ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK – pilot 16 pages – we will read out episode 1, to learn vocabulary, expressions, and info about prisons, crimes, and justice. We will watch episode 2. You will look for reviews to learn how to speak about the series: “The Bottom Line. A woman who goes to jail, a decade after the fact, for being an “inadvertent” drug mule, has a hard time coping in prison. As one does. But her journey and the inmates she meets along the way make up one of television’s finest dramas.” The memoir is over 300 pages, so I won’t be asking you to read it. But if someone wants to, it’d be great!

Or… In class: Watching episode 2, season 1.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS – for you to pick one for Orange Is… Day or for everybody to discuss that day. (Source: A Reader’s Guide to Orange Is…)

Justice Reform Resources

In 1980 there were approximately 500,000 people in prison in the United States. Today there are 2.3 million, and, according to the 2008 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, a total of over 7 million people are on parole or probation or locked up. A great number of these people have committed nonviolent offenses, and this dramatic change is due to laws and sentencing guidelines related to the “war on drugs,” which has not reduced rates of drug addiction or abuse in this country. Overincarceratin in America destabilizes families and communities, making life outside the mainstream more like by limiting opportunities for change. We have a racially biased justice system that overpunishes , fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.

Fortunately, there are many people around the country who are working to change our criminal justice system so that we’ll have fewer Americans in prison without compromising public safety. [For more info on this, check out] and

QUESTION. Many crimes related to the sale of illegal drugs are nonviolent crimes; how do they compare with the sale of legal products that are unhealthy or dangerous, like cigarettes or guns? Nonviolent drug offenses are the reason the majority of the women in the book are in prison; should low-level nonviolent drug offenders be put in prison?

Teacher’s question: Considering prejudices among many in Spain agaist gypsies (pueblo gitano), can you find any information about gypsies and prisons?



About Piper Kerman

Read this article: White Chick in Jail, by Yasmin Nair.

Yasmin: “I think there’s a larger kind of meta-critical discussion to be had perhaps about the extent to which such shows can and/or should be seen as in any way tools with which to think about or through or against the Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC).

My own sense is that it’s dangerous to think that a mainstream show, which exists to boost ratings, can in any way point us in the direction of ending the PIC or even to think critically about it. But, also, that we tend to consequently erase a lot of the very critical work that has been done about and around the PIC, work that comes out of grassroots communities like, for instance, Project NIA in Chicago or Chicago Freedom School, work that actively resists and notes the growth of the PIC.

We also risk erasing the existence of non-mainstream representations of the PIC and its harmful effects, in favor of glossy and more palatable renditions like OITNB. I’m thinking here especially of films like Criminal Queers, made by my friends Chris Vargas and Eric Stanley, which stars Angela Davis, and which render a very thorough representation and critique of the PIC (and with trans actors and characters in abundance) but which circulate with much less support.

Mostly, my point is: It’s okay that OITNB is a deeply flawed representation of women and the PIC, it’s okay to think it’s great or even perfect, and it’s okay to take great pleasure in watching it—we can hold all hold all those facts in the air at once. But let’s not pretend that it’s anything but a multimillion-dollar production by an industry that has no real interest in any social issues, and let’s just treat it, critically, in a nuanced way, and without overly fetishizing it, as a piece of cultural production.” (from a roundtable she attended)

Are Prisons Obsolete? (65! pages) by Angela Davis. We’ll read the introduction in class, and then we’ll see if there is anyone interested in reading on.



12 thoughts on “Reading: Prisons & OITNB

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