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2015 Vivian R. Shaw Lecture with Piper Kermann. "Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
4:00 AM
Rackham Auditorium

Based on the 13 months she spent in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut on money laundering charges, Kerman’s memoir, Orange is the New Black, explores the experience of incarceration and the intersection of her life with the lives of the women she met while in prison: their friendships and families, mental illnesses and substance abuse issues, cliques and codes of behavior. The book also raises provocative questions about the state of criminal justice in America, and how incarceration affects the individual and communities throughout the nation. The memoir was adapted into a critically-acclaimed Netflix series of the same name by Jenji Kohan.

Since her release, Kerman has worked to promote the cause of prison and criminal justice reform. She serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association, which provides preventative services for at-risk women, works to create alternatives to incarceration, advocates against practices like shackling during childbirth and offers programs to aid reentry into society.

“We have the biggest prison population in the world,” Kerman says. “We have the biggest prison population in human history here in the United States…Our prison population has grown from 500,000 in 1980 to 2.4 million today. It's been massive growth. The fastest-growing segment of our criminal justice system and that prison population has been women. Female incarceration has risen by 800 percent in this country…I believe that we've reached a point in this country where most people are questioning whether we have made the best choices.”

Kerman has spoken at the White House on reentry and employment to help honor Champions of Change in the field. She has been called as a witness by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to testify on solitary confinement and women prisoners.

Cosponsors: Department of Women's Studies, U-M Law School, Department of Sociology, Screen Arts & Cultures, the School of Social Work, and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Established in 1997, the Vivian R. Shaw Lecture is presented biennially by the Women’s Studies Department and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Guest speakers address “real world” issues affecting women and/or gender.


Piper Kerman