The untold, real-life story of the prison in ‘Orange is the New Black’

The Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., is the prison made famous by Piper Kerman’s memoir-turned-Netflix-show “Orange is the New Black.” It’s also where the real-life group Families for Justice as Healing got its start.

In the fall of 2010, at a table in Danbury’s prison yard, five women decided that incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women needed to be part of the process of drafting and advocating for legislation that affects their lives and freedom. They decided to start to form such a group, modeling it after a very effective — if otherwise utterly opposite — organization: the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC brings together state legislators and corporations to draft model legislation, such as Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant legislation SB1070 and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

“I couldn’t think of an existing organization like this that mass-produced legislation working on the side of the people,” wrote Families for Justice as Healing co-founder Andrea James in her prison memoir Upper Bunkies Unite. In a phone interview, she elaborated, “We wanted to be a legislative advocacy group on the left, to be a clearinghouse of information from states that have been doing better [in terms of criminal justice policies] for states that aren’t.”

Thus, Families for Justice as Healing was born. And over the last four years, it has grown into an increasingly powerful force for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women to shape the laws and policies that affect them most.

Read my entire story on Waging NonViolence.