memoir “Orange is the New Black” is a lot less scary than
the Netflix showit inspired, but one part of Piper Kerman’s year in prison sounds terrifying and surreal — the time she had to fly on “
Unlike her TV alter ego Piper Chapman, Kerman makes the best of having to do time for a 10-year-old drug offence. It’s not so bad in prison, aside from some very creepy groping.
But then she has to be transported from Danbury, Conn. to Chicago’s more unpleasant federal jail to testify against another drug defendant. To get there, she had to fly on the “Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System,” otherwise known as Con Air.
Air travel via the Federal Bureau of Prisons has a bad reputation among prisoners.
“Oh, baby, the airlift,” her friend Pop told her, referring to Con Air, which transports prisoners who have court appearances or are moving to another prison. “The airlift is nothing nice.”
Kerman was never handcuffed once at her low-security Connecticut prison. (“I had never been cuffed in my life outside my boudoir,” she writes.) But to ride on Con Air, she had to be completely shackled with chains around her waist, handcuffs secured to the chain, and ankle cuffs linked by yet another chain.
Then she rode a bus to what looked like a huge, empty industrial lot. Here’s what happened when the plane got there:
And then quite suddenly an enormous 747 landed, taxied briefly, and pulled up among the vehicles. In a moment, I recognised that I was in the midst of the most clichéd action thriller, as jackbooted marshals with submachine guns and high-powered rifles swarmed the tarmac — and I was one of the villains.
On top of dealing with the guys with submachine guns, Kerman had to fly on a plane with cat-calling male convicts who likely hadn’t been around women for a while. One of those guys stood up at one point to say he needed the bathroom.
Marshals tasered him right away, Kerman writes, and he “flopped around like a fish.”
If this all sounds unpleasant, consider that before Con Air was created in the mid-1980s prisoners often had to take epic bus rides with many stops to get to out-of-town court appearances.
“It was not uncommon to be in and out of county jails for a two- or three-week period while being transferred,” then-acting U.S. Marshal William Brookhart told The Los Angeles Times back in 1993. “I don’t think there’s anybody that likes to be shifted from one county jail to another to another to another.”
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