'Orange Is the New Black' author Piper Kerman to speak at Chatham

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Piper Kerman was 24 years old in 1993, the year she began laundering money for a West African drug lord.

As she writes in her book, "Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison," her criminal involvement lasted months. It evolved from her relationship with girlfriend Nora Jansen, a pseudonym for the hip, young woman she met after graduation from Smith College.

She was indicted in 1998, surprised by a visit from federal authorities after believing she'd put that part of her life in the distant past. Ms. Kerman was sentenced to 15 months and in 2004 began serving her sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn. Today, she is a communications consultant for nonprofits and other organizations serving the public interest.

Ms. Kerman, whose book is the basis for the critically acclaimed Netflix series of the same name, will be speaking at Chatham University Thursday. The program begins at 7 p.m. in the Chapel -- at the top of the hill on campus -- and is free to the public.

The event is part of Chatham's celebration of Women's History Month.

Ms. Kerman also is an activist for women's prison reform and serves on the board of the Women's Prison Association. She frequently speaks about the lack of programs for women in transition after their sentences have ended.

There are a number of key differences between the events of her life, as chronicled in the book, and the Netflix series. The show's protagonist is Piper Chapman, and a few of the characters are loosely based on people she met in Danbury.

But a team of writers, led by "Orange" creator and showrunner Jenji Kohan, are spinning new stories for the residents of fictitious Litchfield Penitentiary. All 13 Season 2 episodes will be available June 6.

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