Piper Kerman, whose memoir cum Netflix series Orange Is the New Black detailed her experience in a women’s prison, shared some tips on surviving incarceration when we ran into her backstage at an Amnesty International “Art for Amnesty” event in Brooklyn this past weekend. Although she says she wasn’t able to swap any prison stories with Martha Stewart when they met (the two were released from prison the same day), Kerman’s advice to those facing time behind bars is as straightforward as a Martha Stewart recipe: Shut up, and look out.
“The very first piece of advice that I would give to anyone who is unfortunate enough to be sent to prison is to, in general, keep their mouth shut and their eyes open when they first arrive. That means everything from keeping your mouth shut in terms of being respectful and not asking too many questions, even though you have a million questions.”
The same goes for privacy.
“Respecting other people’s privacy and also guarding your own privacy rather carefully. And eyes open obviously because you need to learn as much as you can about the context you’re now going to live in.”
Information is gold.
“Information is the single most valuable currency in prison by far. Obviously, prisoners aren’t supposed to touch money. There are other things like cigarettes or something that might function like currency, but information is the single most important and most valuable currency if you’re incarcerated.”
Kerman says she sought advice from another woman who was released from prison before she entered.
“She gave me a lot of really basic advice about just, like, how to take care of your body and your health, which is a really big problem. Get together health-wise because you cannot count on adequate medical care while you are incarcerated. You should do everything you can possibly do to be physically healthy both before you go to prison and while you’re incarcerated.”
And once you’re inside, get creative.
“In every single women’s prison, maxi pads are a big deal. We used them as a dish sponge, dust magnet, mattress pad, toilet-seat guard. Crazy.”