21 questions

Piper Kerman Didn’t Drink the Prison Hooch

Photo: Bryan Bowen Smith

Name: Piper Kerman
Park Slope
Communications consultant with Spitfire Strategies, a public interest firm that works with nonprofits and foundations. Author, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which was made into a series now streaming on Netflix.

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Bella Abzug — I’m too young to have much personal recollection of Bella’s time on the national stage, but I admire a feminist trailblazer who said of her time in Congress, ”I spend all day figuring out how to beat the machine and knock the crap out of the political power structure.” We need more elected officials like her.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York?
The night I came home from prison, Larry and I got slices from Pino’s pizzeria on Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn and ate them on our couch with a glass of Champagne.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
Think and talk about language choices and stories that are going to help change our criminal justice system for the better.

What was your first job in New York?
I was the writer/producer of Jets Insider, a half-hour show about the New York Jets. This was 1998, the year they went to the AFC Championship with Vinny Testaverde. It was really fun and exciting and saved my sanity when I was indicted — I threw myself into my work interviewing rookies, Keyshawn Johnson, and players’ wives.

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway?
The last play I saw was The Revisionist at the Cherry Lane, which was thrilling to see Vanessa Redgrave in such an intimate space. Broadway, I think it was Book of Mormon … or maybe Stickfly.

Do you give money to panhandlers?

What’s your drink?
Bourbon — I’m not so picky about brands; I drink it on the rocks or neat if it’s really fancy. I’m no longer a big drinker and never tried the hooch in prison — not so appealing when you know the ingredients/process, which involves storage in a dark place … though the wonderful women’s prison novella Low Bite by Sin Soracco has a great hooch story line.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
Three to four times a week, I like to cook. But my only significant accomplishment in prison cookery was the cheesecake, which I did master to the point that folks would commission one for their friends’ birthdays. My bunkie would sometimes make amazing roti, and she would feed me — that’s when I started to feel like I belonged, when I got fed.

What’s your favorite medication?

What’s hanging above your sofa?
A gargoyle — it’s made out of slightly nasty scrap metal, and I picked it up in Nashville on a road trip in 2001.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
My old friend Noah Hatton cuts my hair, and I buy him a nice dinner. I like a barter economy.

When’s bedtime?
Around midnight. I read in bed and lose track of the time.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I moved to NYC in 1998, and the old Times Square was already a thing of the past. It’s not my favorite part of town.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
I think male vanity is entertaining, until it’s not.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
I love living in N.Y. I’m grateful for it most days, even when it’s smelly and hot. It beats prison.

Who is your mortal enemy?
Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, A.Z. I actually have never met the notorious Sheriff Joe, but his regime of racist terrorism puts some of the worst abuses of the criminal justice system on stark display.

When’s the last time you drove a car?
Fourth of July weekend. I went to Massachusetts, and I am an excellent driver, as recognized by the BOP (Bureau of Prisons), which put me on the snowplow crew.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
It deepened my skepticism about our current criminal justice system treating Americans equally; very few prosecutions for the richest, relentlessly punitive toward the poorest.

Times, Post, or Daily News?

Where do you go to be alone?
Up on the roof.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Confidence. That and the subway.