Sentenced to 15 months in a minimum-security women's prison for a decade-old drug offense was the last thing Piper Kerman, a Smith College graduate and "nice blonde lady," ever expected. But it happened. Then she culled her experiences into a best-selling memoir, Orange Is The New Black, which was adapted by Weeds' Jenji Kohan into a hit Netflix series of the same title.
In the book, Kerman tells of how she navigated her way through the prison social structure and expounds on both the challenges and joys of communal female living. As she told Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg when she joined the show at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kerman made friends by being helpful. She became handy while working in the prison's electrical shop. After accidentally insulting the food in front of Pop, the head cook, Kerman ingratiated herself to Pop by fixing her bed—and Pop went on to become Kerman's "prison mama." In fact, food played an important role in prison life, as women bonded over cooking for one another using contraband items, microwaves, and whatever ingredients they could find.
Piper herself mastered the recipe for "prison cheesecake," which she would make for other inmates' birthdays and going-away parties. (Check out the recipe on this page.) Inspired by the creative, DIY nature of her cheesecake, we put Kerman in the puzzle hot seat for an Ask Me Another Challenge about other innovative dishes, using "reconstituted" potato chips, Ramen noodles, hot sauce, and more.
In the video below, Piper recounts what she learned in prison—from her experience, her friends and her prison mama, Pop.