"Orange is the New Black" is a memoir by an upper-middle class young adult about the year she spent in a women's prison in the United States. She made a friend in university who made some bad decisions, and then asked the author to do her "one favour" in a desperate situation. The favour was illegal, although seemingly harmless. The author agreed to the deed, performed the task, realized what a monumental mistake it was, and then moved across the country, cutting all ties with her friend. Then, five years later and completely reformed, the police caught up with her. The result was a 15 month sentence in a minimum security prison.
The first astonishing thing about this story is that this girl could have been me, or any of my friends. By all accounts, she had been raised well, loved much, and was a "good kid." One spur of the moment wrong decision was all it took to turn her life upside down. That got me thinking about my own life, and how in an instant everything could be turned on its head. It could be a decision I make, a decision someone else makes, or even something completely random. It could be an accident, an illness, a moment of weakness or fright or ignorance. I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or maybe there is nothing I could have done to prevent it.
The leading question then becomes: in what have I placed my securities? Do I feel safe and secure because of my husband's good job and income? Because of the house in which we live? The life we lead? Do I feel secure because of my family or my friends, or the country in which I dwell? Am I safe because of my own intelligence and abilities, or that of my husband? When you look at all these things, they are things that could be snatched away in an instant.
I have spent a lot of time throughout my life thinking of such instances. A bus would drive by and I would think "what if it hit me?" At night I would lie my baby down to sleep and think "what if he didn't wake up in the morning?" James leaves in his car every day for work, "what if he was killed in a car accident?" "What if one in my immediate family was diagnosed with a terminal illness?" "What if our business went bankrupt?" "What if war broke out and James was enlisted?" "What if there was a terror attack here in my own country, or city?" "What if I made a mistake and went to prison for a year?"
As a religious person, I of course came to the conclusion that my security can only be in my God. Because God abides forever, because God is unchanging, because God is omnipotent, He is the only one I can always be safe and secure with.
The second thing I have been mulling over after reading this book is about people - do I open my mind to people not like me? The author found herself living among drug addicts and people who lived in the slums of America. She seemingly had nothing in common with the women in the cells next to her. Over that year, her eyes became open to the beauty of many of her new friends and the challenges they faced. The author's preconceived notions were dashed to pieces as her very survival depended on coming to know, value and like these women with lives so foreign to her own.
In my life, my friends are fairly like carbon copies of myself. We may have different interests, ideas and opinions, but our lives all look very similar. I would be afraid to approach someone so vastly different than I. What would we talk about? Are they just different or possibly dangerous? Would they ridicule me? Would they resent my sympathy? It is a difficult thing for an introvert like me to consider expanding my circle of friends and acquaintances, and yet I know how important such an action is to improving our current society.
Anyway, food for thought. It's a great book, which I highly recommend to anyone even remotely piqued by these thoughts. Her thoughts are well written and her ideas intriguing. And it's a look into a side of life I knew absolutely nothing about until now.