Suffolk University will present “The Real Women of Orange is the New Black,” a conversation with two women who served time with Piper Kerman, author of the book on which the hit Netflix series is based. They will be joined by a former attorney from Roxbury who was later incarcerated in the same prison, where she founded an organization to help imprisoned mothers and their children.

The discussion revealing the reality of prison life for the women portrayed in Orange is the New Black is free and open to the public and will take place at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at Suffolk University’s C Walsh Theatre, 55 Temple St., Boston.

Speakers

  • Beatrice Codianni, who served 15 years in prison, where she spent her time advocating for other women; she became friends with author Kerman and is referred to as “Esposito" in the book
  • Carol Soto (aka Yoga Jones), who served time in the Federal Correctional Institution-Danbury alongside Kerman and the other women depicted in the television show’s “Litchfield Prison”
  • Andrea James, author and lawyer who founded the organization Families for Justice as Healing while inside the Danbury federal prison for women

Codianni, a political/community activist for more than 40 years, has been a part of many diverse social justice movements. Before her incarceration she was certified in community mediation and HIV/AIDS outreach education. As a leader of the Latin Kings, she worked extensively creating and implementing programs in the areas of education, employment, mental and physical health, and violence reduction for disenfranchised youths. She taught an AIDS education course at Danbury and used her Literacy Volunteers of America training to help teach reading skills to women in prison. She is now the managing editor of Reentry Central, a national website for information and resources pertaining to reintegration and criminal justice reform.

James, author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration, has worked within the criminal justice system for more than 25 years from her days as a youth worker to a career as a criminal defense attorney. She dedicated her time and resources to providing zealous representation to families within her Roxbury community. In 2009 Andrea was sentenced to serve a 24-month federal prison sentence. Even after a lifetime of work seeking justice on behalf of disenfranchised people, she was stunned at what she encountered upon entering the federal prison system.

She writes: “During my incarceration I was deeply affected by the great number of women who are in prison. Most of these women are serving very long mandatory minimum or guideline sentences for minor participation in drug possession or sales. Most of them are mothers. Their sentences are unreasonably long, the average being ten years. They have been in prison long after what should be considered fair sentences. They are provided limited educational opportunities. The women have managed to hold it together while psychologically and physically enduring such long sentences. They remain positive and hopeful amidst a torrent of regret, heartache, remorse, alienation, loneliness and a host of other problems mostly related to being warehoused in prison while their children struggle to survive.”

“The Real Women of Orange is the New Black,” conversation is sponsored by Suffolk University’s Departments of Sociology and Communication & Journalism, Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research, Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, Women’s Center and Gender Studies program, and the College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office.