For those of you who aren’t aware, Orange is the New Black is loosely based on the real life experiences of Piper Kerman, whose memoir by the same name recounts her time in a women’s prison for drug trafficking. Catherine Cleary Wolters, who was the inspiration for the character of Alex Vause, gave a fascinating interview with Vanity Fair about her relationship with the real Piper and how much of what you see on the Netflix series is representative of the series of events that actually took place.
Apparently? Not much of it is.
For one thing, Wolters states that she and Kerman did not have sex in prison at all whatsoever, and that their meeting was in no way by chance. In fact, they actually only spent five weeks in a detention facility together — to testify against a co-conspirator in their case. They were even transferred to Chicago on the same con air, although at the time Kerman refused to even speak to Wolters:
“We were ghosts of the humans we had once been, milling about amongst hundreds of other human ghosts, shackled and chained, prodded through transport centers at gunpoint, moved through holding facilities,” says Wolters from her mother’s house in Ohio. These days, Wolters is just shy of a PhD in information technology, assurance, and security, and exhibits a flair for the philosophical.
“Praying is about the most intimate thing two people can do in some places, not sex,” Wolters says. “We made some mean dinners together, though, out of cans of cheese, corn chips, and chili, and Piper learned how to communicate effectively through a toilet—a little something you’ll never pick up at Smith.”
Additionally, Wolters, who met Kerman in Northampton, Massachusetts shortly after Kerman graduated from Smith, denies that the two women ever had a serious relationship together — and that they were both involved in illegal activities before anything romantic happened between them:
“I was not Piper’s first, and I certainly did not seduce her,” Wolters says, contrary to the show’s first episode meet-cute, which gives way to the fictional Piper’s dalliance as a cash mule.
Wolters and Kerman drank and went clubbing together. Kerman took care of Wolters’s cats when she traveled and shared in her tales of adventure, or served as a shoulder to cry on, when she returned. In her version, she and Kerman did not become romantically involved until after they had trafficked either heroin or money, for a network run by the alleged Nigerian drug kingpin Buruji Kashamu.
“When we were traveling together I started developing a crush on her. And eventually that turned into a crazy mad love affair,” Wolters says. “But that was after she had already done the deed that made her complicit.”
“We weren’t girlfriends,” Wolters adds for good measure. “We were friends with benefits . . . I was not the older sexy, glamorous lesbian who snatched her from her pristine Smith College cradle.”
The whole thing is really a fascinating read, if you’re a fan of the show or even just the thought of prison wives who apparently look like Jennifer Lawrence — I’d encourage you to head over to Vanity Fair to read the whole thing.
OITNB returns on June 6th.