Here’s How ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Characters Differ From Their Real-World Counterparts
Although Orange Is the New Black is loosely based on Piper Kerman’s memoir about her 13 months behind bars, people don’t expect it to be completely loyal to the book now that it’s entering its sixth season.
After all, we’ve had murders, break outs, and prison riots since the modest first season aired, and many real inmates have criticized the show for being an inaccurate depiction of the prison experience.
However, Piper really did serve 13 months behind bars, and met a colorful assortment of women who would inspire the characters on the show during her time there. But, of course, since this is a Netflix TV show, and every episode must be binge-able, the characters became very different from their real-world counterparts.
Here’s a look at each OITNB character and how they differ from their depiction in the book. (Warning: spoilers!)
Piper Chapman, the main character on the show, is similar to the real Piper in a lot of ways. She did go to prison, smuggle drug money for her girlfriend when she was 22, and befriend a cast of diverse female inmates while locked up at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. However, the real Piper wasn’t quite as naive as her TV counterpart.
The real Piper didn’t own an indulgent soap-making business, nor did she ever get furlough or thrown into solitary confinement. In fact, Piper’s 13 months in prison were surprisingly drama-free. But we all know that doesn’t make for good TV, so the writers took a ton of artistic liberties with her character. No surprises there.
Piper’s ex-girlfriend was called “Nora” in the book, but her real name is Cleary Wolters. It’s true that she was part of an international drug smuggling gang, but she and Piper were never in prison together at the same time. Instead, they brushed paths briefly during a five-week stay at a Chicago detention center, but that was it. And no, there was no prison romance.
“We did not have sex in prison,” Cleary told Vanity Fair back in 2014. “Not even a little bit.”
Cleary also said that she and Piper weren’t girlfriends, although Piper strongly denied this.
“We were friends with benefits,” Cleary said. “I was not the older sexy, glamorous lesbian who snatched her from her pristine Smith College cradle.”
Cleary finally had a chance to tell her side of the story when she released her memoir, Out of Orange, in 2016.
On the show, Larry, Piper’s fiancé, is a whiny, insecure cheater. Fortunately, the real Larry is completely different (and definitely not a loser).
In the book, Larry stands by and supports Piper, and in real life, they’re still together today. Of course, a happy marriage is hardly interesting enough for television, so the show turned him into fans’ most-hated character.
“If you ever meet me,” he said in 2014, “I hope you’ll discover I am neither the saint of Piper’s book, nor the schmuck of a hit show.”
Red, ruler of the kitchen, might’ve been a major adversary to Piper during the first season, but the real Red, who was called “Pop” in the book, was hardly as vengeful. Although Piper did insult her food once, Red simply gave her a stern warning instead of starving her out of the kitchen. According to the book, she told Piper:
“Listen, honey, I know you just got here, so I know that you don’t understand what’s what. I’m gonna tell you this once. There’s something here called “inciting a riot,” and that kind of sh-t you’re talking about… you can get in big trouble for that… so take a tip from me, and watch what you say.”
After heeding Pop’s warning, Piper began to look up to Pop as a mother figure, and the two became friends. Piper even dedicated the memoir to her.
On the show, Lorna is a friendly, albeit crazy, inmate who wears a lot of makeup and obsesses over a pretend wedding. The character is actually a combination of two women Piper describes in her book, Minetta and Rosemarie. She describes Minetta as a friendly woman who “wore make-up and little gold hoops in her ears, and she looked like she could be a nice Italian-American lady called Ro from New Jersey.” But in the book, Minetta leaves prison to attend a halfway house. Later, the book introduces Rosemarie, a woman who’s obsessed with weddings.
To protect the identities of the women who were in prison, real Piper used fake names in her memoir, and the show used her depictions to create fictionalized characters. But if “Minetta” or “Rosemarie” ever watched the show, they would pretty much certainly know that Lorna was loosely based on them.
It’s scary to think about, but yep, Pornstache, the creepy, inappropriate guard, was based on a real person. In real life, the inmates nicknamed him “Gay Pornstar,” and even nice Larry hated him.
“Gay Porn Star was the worst, but he wasn’t the only guard who played a role in our relationship,” Larry said. “They controlled the inmates’ lives, and, on visiting days, they controlled our lives, too. We acted stupidly pleasant—what I always imagined a lobotomy would feel like—as if it would somehow help us curry favor with the guards. It doesn’t work at the DMV, and it doesn’t work at the BOP.”
Even though “Gay Pornstar” was a jerk, he didn’t get stuck in the middle of a love triangle with a fellow inmate, like on the show, so at least there’s that. But speaking of love triangles…
During season one, we watched as Daya and John had a forbidden love affair. On the show, their relationship was romanticized, but the real story wasn’t quite as warm and cuddly. In the book, Piper described an instance where an officer was rumored to be having a thing with an inmate named Cormorant. After Cormorant’s bunkmate revealed that the two had been passing love notes secretly to each other, Cormorant was sent to solitary confinement and the officer quit the department. Hardly romantic.
However, according to Beatrice Codianni, a former inmate who served time at Danbury Federal Correctional Institute at the same as Piper, officers-inmate relationships were disturbingly common. So really, Daya and John’s story could be about anyone’s.
In the book, Janae is called “Little Janet,” a young 20-year-old woman from Brooklyn who arrives at the prison with Piper. Although that part was left unchanged on the show, the rest of her character’s story was entirely fictionalized. In reality, Piper and Janet were best pals, but after going through orientation together, Janet got an early release from prison.
Obviously, the TV version of Janet needed to be more interesting. On the show, she’s feisty, combative, and frequently bumps heads with Piper — the complete opposite of the person she was based on.
The real Crazy Eyes didn’t pee on the floor of Piper’s bunk, but she did have wonky eyes and made numerous calculated passes at Piper (much to the annoyance of Piper’s roommate, Miss Natalie (who’s called Miss Claudette on the show).
“Crazy Eyes was not black,” Beatrice told Vice back in 2015. She was familiar with many of the characters Piper wrote about in her memoir. “She was gay, and yes, she was weird. But she wasn’t following people. I mean, I never saw it. She’s doing well.”
Out of all the characters in the memoir, Sister Jane Ingalls, whose real name is Sister Ardeth Platte, was the only person to give Piper permission to have her real name published in the book. Although on the show she was locked up for handcuffing herself to a flagpole to protest nuclear testing, the real Sister Ingalls actually broke into a missile silo and poured her own blood everywhere to protest against war. Doesn’t get any more hardcore than that.
The delightful yoga instructor was inspired by a real woman called Yoga Janet in the book. She and Piper were close friends, although on the show, the characters are more like distant acquaintances. I guess watching Piper peacefully do yoga every morning just isn’t as thrilling as library sex.
According to Beatrice, the real Yoga Jones thinks the actress who plays her “is a poor yoga instructor.”
The lovable and fun Taystee is based on an equally fun character called “Delicious” in the book. Although the real Taystee did comment on Piper’s “perky breasts,” the rest of her actions on the show are purely fictionalized.
Although her character has evolved the most throughout the past five seasons, the Pennsatucky of season one was pretty similar to the Pennsatucky in the book. In the memoir, Piper described her as “a young woman from western Pennsylvania who proudly called herself a redneck.” The real Pennsatucky was loud and abrasive like her TV counterpart, but she wasn’t Piper’s enemy. In fact, they were actually friends! And no, she didn’t try to kill Piper either.
On the show, she’s a transgender woman who commits credit card fraud to pay for a sex change. In the book, Piper describes a glamorous transgender woman who lives next to her bunk named Vanessa. Like Sophia, Vanessa was also denied her hormone pills while in prison, which made life behind bars difficult. However, the rest of TV-Sophia’s story was purely fictionalized.
Nicky, the lovable drug addict and one of Red’s henchmen, is mostly fictional. However, in the book, Piper describes a woman named Nina who, along with Minetta, was part of Pop’s loyal posse. But her character doesn’t last long in the memoir, as she’s later transferred to a drug treatment program. Like the majority of the characters taken from the book, the show embellished her life to make it more appropriate for TV.
But hey, that’s why people are still watching six seasons later.