Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Piper Power

Okay. So I've finally read the memoir (2011) that started the movement that changed fashion beyond recognition to the point that before long, surely, prisoners around the globe are going to be wearing black instead of orange... and I, for one, couldn't be more pleased.

Piper Kerman, memoirist and prison/fashion activist, is my new hero. Her book is the Netflix series without all the salacious, silly, sensational and seedy stuff, and instead with the bare bones of real life as we don't know it exposed in all its brilliant beauty and beastly brainlessness.

That's probably to throw a few too many adjectives at the thing, but when I feel strongly about something I get wordy - call me old-fashioned. But PK's memoir is worth shouting about. It's pioneering stuff on the feminist front especially, but also on just about all other fronts of social complexity, confusion and conflict.

As I've said before, and PK says much more poignantly, if indirectly, in her memoir, when you correct the way we see and treat women to something approximating fairness, you begin to fix everything's that wrong with the world. In prison, especially in women's prisons it seems, we do the exact opposite of this.

Thanks to Reagan's 'war on drugs' since the 1980s, and organised religion since forever, we have done almost everything possible to denigrate womankind, compounding men's natural urge to think themselves better than and in charge of women, from whence an awful lot of the world's pain, suffering and stupidity comes.

Just so, the totally pointless and brainless 'war on drugs' in the US was devised by a bunch of rich white, right-wing, 'Christian' men who thought they knew everything but in fact knew nothing, least of all about women, and in thirty years quadrupled the US prison population, ensuring far more people are imprisoned today for drug offences than for violent offending, with most of the increases being in the number of women imprisoned. Most of these women have children, which has also meant that a significant percentage of the present young generation of American children have been raised with their mothers in prison. Excellent job, boys; Jesus would be pleased.

Moreover, most of the women Piper met inside were poor and had committed minor drug offences resulting in major sentences of several years, according to a male-devised penal system of absurdly punitive mandatory minimum sentences, while operating as coerced, often beaten, assistants of some man or other.

That these women overwhelmingly kept their humanity inside and did not descend into self-pitying, if entirely justifiable 'victimhood', but pulled together and supported each other across race, religion, class and age, is one of the most humbling and inspiring examples of true sisterhood ever demonstrated and all power to Piper Kerman and her pen for bringing it to the public eye. I hope Hillary Clinton reads it - and weeps - as I did, and then puts her rare privilege to work to undo the mistakes her male predecessors, including her husband, have made.    




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