Her name is Piper Chapman on Orange is the New Black, but the real name of the show’s main character — and the woman who wrote Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison — is named Piper Kerman. If you’re wondering how the book is different from the series (and there are quite a few differences), here’s a good start in what really happened to Kerman, and what was written by OITNB show writers.
Piper did not break up with Larry to pursue a lesbian relationship while at Litchfield.
On the show, her boyfriend Larry (Jason Biggs) wrote a New York Times article and was interviewed on a talk radio show about Piper. As you can imagine, the secretive Piper was furious with him, and it set the tone for their relationship while she was on the inside.
In real life, Piper was incredibly supportive of Larry’s feature article (A Life to Live, This Side of the Bars, March 25, 2010). Not only did she stay with him throughout her stay in Litchfield, but they’re still married. In a 2015 interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Kerman confirmed that they’re happy, healthy, and she’s teaching writing classes at several women’s prisons in the Ohio area.
This naturally leads us to Piper becoming romantically involved with any of her fellow inmates.
On the show, Piper is reunited with her girlfriend-in-crime, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), the flame between the two is relit, and things get very hot and serious before they sour on each other. This goes the same for the other inmates –- on the show, there are a lot of sexual relationships in Litchfield — in the chapel, in bunks, in storage closets – anywhere inmates could find a spot without guards around. (Of course, sometimes a guard was part of the illegal activity – we’re looking at you, Pornstache.)
In real life, Piper Kerman never hooked up with Alex (real name, Nora Jansen). As a matter of fact, they weren’t even in the same prison, and only time the two saw each other was during the two weeks they testified in a joint court case. Kerman also admits that there wasn’t much sex in prison at all – lots of schoolgirl crushes, but nothing serious. If Kerman hooked up with anyone during her stay, she didn’t put it in the book.
Piper did not make artisanal bath soap for a living.
On the show, early into the series when we’re introduced to Piper Chapman, we find out that she makes fancy, handcrafted soap for people who don’t know what to do with their money. She and her partner-in-soap even get their product into Barneys. Much more interesting than what the real Piper did for a living.
In real life, Piper Kerman was a creative consultant who worked with large, stuffy corporations and their internet presence. As she said in her memoir, “I needed money to pay my huge ongoing legal fees, so I worked with the clients my hipster colleagues found unsexy and unpalatable — big telecom, big petrochemicals, and big shadowy holding companies.”
Piper didn’t make enemies in Litchfield, and the inmates were very welcoming.
On the show, Piper gets in hot water fairly fast. She says the wrong things to the wrong people, and soon she has a target on her back. Eventually, she has ongoing beef with Alex, Pennsatucky, Stella, and Ruiz. Even Sam Healy, corrections officer and inmate counselor, butt heads a bit.
In real life, inmates were much friendlier and helpful with each other.
As in OITNB and in real prisons, racial groups stuck together, as Kerman explained it in the memoir, it was more about taking care of the newbies. “When a new person arrived, their tribe — white, black, Latino, or the few and far between ‘others’ — would immediately make note of their situation, get them settled, and steer them through their arrival.” Kerman says quite a few white inmates loaded her up with toiletries and goodies to make her feel at home. She stresses that it wasn’t a racial tradition — she had inmate friends from every race, that’s just how it was done where she did her time.
Piper’s relationship with Red was not nearly as threatening in real life as we see in the series.
On the show, Red (Hitchfield’s in-house head chef) and Piper were instant adversaries. In the first episode of the first season, the upper-crust Piper insulted Red’s food, and Red served her a bloody tampon in her sandwich for lunch, and then things got really tense. Eventually, the two became friendly, but for a while, Red wanted to bury Piper.
In real life, Red was referred to as Pop in the book, and not nearly as threatening as she’s portrayed in the series. Pop even gives Piper advice, as we read in her memoir: “Listen, honey, I know you just got here, so I know that you don’t understand what’s what. I’m gonna tell you this once. There’s something here called “inciting a riot,” and that kind of s*** you’re talking about… you can get in big trouble for that… so take a tip from me, and watch what you say.” Piper and Pop actually got along and formed a long bond. Piper even dedicated her Orange memoir to her. (Also, Pop never served up bloody tampons.)
Piper Kerman served 13 months of a 15-month sentence. There’s seems to be no end for Chapman.
On the show (for the first half of Season 1), Piper was a meek, good girl who did what was told and stayed out of trouble. She’s sentenced to 15 months, but it’s unclear if it was extended for perjury when she lies at Kubra’s trial. In other words, who know how long Piper will be behind bars. It all depends on how the show’s producers want to stretch time.
In real life, Piper did her 13 months of a 15-month sentence at FCI Danbury (a minimum security prison located in Danbury, Connecticut) with good behavior. She’s now an advocate for women’s rights in American prisons, frequently speaks on their behalf at hearings, lectures, and symposiums.