The story behind 'Orange Is the New Black'

'Orange Is the New Black' is now available on Netflix.

Netflix's newest original series is based on author Piper Kerman's real-life ordeal behind bars.

The new Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black" is based on the true story of a woman whose plan to launch a line of artisanal lotions is interrupted after she's arrested and later imprisoned over a five-year-old drug charge. The series, which the Washington Post calls "thoroughly engrossing" is based on author Piper Kerman's best-selling memoir of the same name.

In 1993, Kerman was a bright-eyed graduate of Smith College, a women's college in Massachusetts. Five years later, in 1998, two police officers knocked on her door, telling her she'd been indicted for a "brief but fateful involvement in a drug-trafficking operation years earlier," according to the Los Angeles Times.

As a prisoner integrated into the "general population," Kerman recalls, "The first day in prison I was very frightened. And women began to approach me and I was scared, really scared. And they said things like, 'Do you need some shower shoes? Do you need a cup of coffee? Do you need some shampoo? This is a really tough day Kerman, but it's going to get a little bit easier tomorrow,'" according to the Huffington Post.

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Once she was released in 2005, Kerman was deluged with questions about her imprisonment. "I think people are fascinated by prison. And the very dramatic fact of transgression and punishment is engrossing, regardless of whether it's men or women," she said in an interview with her husband's publication, SMITH Magazine.

Kerman's book quickly became a bestseller. This week Netflix began streaming the series based on the book. In what seems like a natural fit, the series is written by Jenji Kohan, best known as the creator of another series with an outlaw female protagonist, Showtime's "Weeds."

In a Q&A with the LA Times, Kerman said, "More than pitching me, [Kohan] asked me questions. She had this hunger to know even more than what was contained in the book. That was much more compelling to me than some of the other meetings where people were like, 'This is how we see it.'"

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While it's based on her book, like many shows, the series is not a straight recounting of the author's experience. In an interview with the British website Hey U Guys, Kerman explained, "The show's an adaptation and I think that's really reflected in many, many different storylines. ... A really faithful docudrama would not have been as interesting as what Jenji and her team have produced."

One of the many differences between Piper Kerman, the author, and Piper Chapman, the protagonist, is spurred by the need to make compelling TV. "I made many mistakes when I was locked up," Kerman told the LA Times, "but she makes some real doozies."


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