Orange is the New Black was a smash hit for Netflix that happened to be based on a true story. The background for the show came from the book Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman. The Jenji Kohan-created show went on for seven years, meaning that it eventually strayed from its original source material. But the book provided a strong foundation for what became one of Netflix’s longest-running series.
Kerman published the memoir in 2010. It follows the aftermath of getting involved in drug trafficking and money laundering with her ex-girlfriend, played onscreen by That ’70s Show star Laura Prepon. After that period of time, she attempted to get her life back together. But six years later, she ended up being sentenced to 15 months in prison for those crimes. The rest of the book discusses how prison changed her life. Her novel was well received and subsequently adapted into the Netflix show. It followed Piper Chapman, who is based on Kerman, after her past entanglement with drugs catches up to her. She’s sentenced to 15 months in jail, only to be put in the same prison as the ex-girlfriend (Laura Prepon) who led to her imprisonment.
The real Piper’s story was pretty crazy, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the television show. The hookups, adversaries, and more were blown out of proportion for the Netflix original show. Despite the changes from page to screen, both the fictional and real Piper’s stories had the same message — women’s prisons in the US are in major need of some significant reforms.
The real Piper did actually fall for a woman in a drug ring and was sent to jail because of it. In the show, Piper’s prison reunion with the ex-girlfriend who got her involved is a huge focus of the show. But as TV Time reports, Piper actually was not at the same prison as her ex. The two only saw each other during their trial. In fact, most relationships and interactions with other inmates were embellished for the show. OITNB, which ended after season 7, showed Piper constantly feuding with other inmates, including Red right off the bat. But as TV Time says, Kerman said the inmates she interacted with in prison were actually incredibly welcoming. Iterations of many of those women she met made it into the show. For example, Den of Geek reported that a glamourous transgender woman referred to as Vanessa became Sophia in the show and the Russian maternal figured referred to as Pop became Red in OITNB.
Both versions of Piper were sentenced to 15 months in prison. Kerman only served 13 months of that sentence, as she was released early for good behavior. But in both real life and the Netflix original series, it’s clear that prison changed Piper. In the Orange is the New Black series finale, it’s revealed that Piper has begun taking civil procedure courses. After Kerman got out of prison in real life, she became a fierce advocate for women’s rights in the American prison system, often speaking out on their behalf at hearings and lectures. Both the fictional and real versions of Piper had a life-changing experience in prison that they used to make other women’s lives better.