Piper’s Jail Intake Process in Orange is the New Black

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What is the jail intake process like? Does Piper Kerman explain this process in her memoir Orange Is the New Black?

In Orange Is the New Black, Piper explains the humiliating jail intake process when she first arrives at Danbury prison.

Read more about Piper’s jail intake process below.

Welcome to Danbury: The Beginning of the Jail Intake Process

Piper self-surrendered in February 2004, reporting to Danbury with Larry. They sat in the waiting room of the correctional facility for hours as they waited for her paperwork to be processed—an early introduction to the red tape and bureaucratic inefficiency that would define so much of her prison experience and the beginning of the jail intake process.

While waiting, Piper munched on a foie gras sandwich that Larry had packed her the night before, a glaring symbol of her wealth and privilege. In a prison whose inmate population was disproportionately poor women of color, eating a gourmet sandwich made of fattened duck liver reminded Piper of just how different she was from these other inmates who were about to become her neighbors and daily companions. She mused to herself that this had to have been the only time in the history of the American penal system that someone was eating foie gras in the waiting room.

Prison Intake

At last, Piper was asked to leave the waiting room and enter the prison to begin the intake process. Larry was not allowed to accompany her beyond this point. Piper said her tearful, painful goodbye to her fiancé, during which Larry told Piper that he would call her and come back to visit her as soon as he possibly could. She watched as he left the waiting room and looked out the window as he crossed the parking lot, got into his car, and drove off out of her sight. She was now truly alone and about to start the prison intake process.

After Larry was gone, Piper was brusquely told by the female guard performing her prison intake process that she might not have the opportunity to see Larry for weeks. It would take time for her paperwork to be processed—until it was, her friends and family were not cleared to visit her. Every inmate had an approved and vetted visitor list; if a visitor wasn’t on the list or a correctional officer failed to complete the paperwork to get a visitor on the list (which, Piper learned, was an all-too-common occurrence), the visit would not be approved. This was devastating news for Piper, who desperately needed to see Larry immediately and couldn’t bear the notion of an indefinite separation. 

Worse still, they told her that the money in her commissary account (the prison commissary was where inmates could purchase various food, clothing, and personal hygiene items that were not issued by the prison) would have to go through a circuitous process before it was processed and available for use. This, too, she was told, might not be done for weeks. The prison intake process was already going poorly.

As she went through the various security checks and moved further and further into the bowels of the prison (and further away from her former life), she was intimidated by the harshness and severity of the prison’s maze of concrete walls, as well as the coarseness of the guards. All throughout the dehumanizing jail intake process, her jailors barked orders at her and treated her with minimal human dignity and respect. Even worse was the strip search. In an effort to find potential contraband or drugs smuggled into the prison, Piper was forced to strip, bend over, squat, and cough, while the correctional officer (CO) performed a cavity search.

The female CO grilled Piper when she saw that she had some photos of friends and family. The CO demanded to know if Piper was smuggling in nude pictures during the jail intake process (or “Nudie Judies” as she called them), which was strictly against prison rules. Piper said she was not, and was allowed to take the photos in. Capping off the bewildering process, Piper was finally issued her prisoner number. She was no longer Piper Kerman; she was now federal inmate #11187-424. It was a new identity for a new life.

The jail intake process was just the beginning of Piper’s new life at Danbury, but it would not be the end of the degradation she faced.

Piper’s Jail Intake Process in Orange is the New Black

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  • The real, more nuanced story behind the hit TV show
  • How upper-class Piper Kerman landed in prison on drug charges
  • The key lessons Kerman learned about society and herself

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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