PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Many people love the Netflix TV show "Orange Is The New Black." But they may not know it's based on the experience of a real person, Piper Kerman, who really did serve a year in a women's prison.
BILL KURTIS: We interviewed Ms. Kerman near Cleveland, where she had been working teaching writing in Ohio prisons. Peter asked her if the authorities knew her whereabouts.
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PIPER KERMAN: I am not on the lam. And yeah, I've been living here in Ohio for almost five years. It's been fantastic.
SAGAL: I feel - I mean, I, of course, believe that everybody knows your story. But - and so we should say that the book, obviously, is a memoir. It's nonfiction. But they took some liberties with the TV series.
KERMAN: The book is a true story. And the show takes the book, puts it in a blender and puts a lot of other ingredients in there.
KERMAN: And isn't that fantastic?
KERMAN: It's fantastic. Yeah.
SAGAL: So are you a fan of the TV show?
KERMAN: I am a fan of the show...
KERMAN: ...For sure - and all the people - all the wonderful people who make it.
SAGAL: So you're back in prison, although now you are doing it as an instructor. And so what are you doing, exactly?
KERMAN: I teach a true story writing class. I teach a class in which students come in and write true stories from their own life - essentially, memoir writing class.
SAGAL: Do you ever teach them any of your famous prison recipes?
KERMAN: They were very interested in the cheesecake recipe, actually, at the men's facility. The women all knew how to do it.
SAGAL: I was actually amazed to read this in the book - that all this cooking went on...
SAGAL: ...Which I did not think was the thing that happened in prison.
SAGAL: But apparently, it does.
KERMAN: As it turns out, the food in the chow hall is pretty bad.
KERMAN: So the skills of the prisoners are much better. The materials are kind of rough to work with...
SAGAL: All right. So...
KERMAN: But you do what you can.
SAGAL: Well, first of all, I did notice that you said that in the - the food was so bad, and since exercise was one of the few things you could do to spend your time, you ended up at least at first looking pretty great, you said.
KERMAN: I ran a half-marathon when I was in prison. That's how...
KERMAN: ...Boring it is to do time.
SAGAL: Where did you - how do you run a half-marathon in prison?
KERMAN: You run a half-marathon around a quarter-mile gravel track.
SAGAL: Good Lord.
KERMAN: That is a lot of left turns.
MO ROCCA: You must get dizzy.
SAGAL: Wow. So you - but as you say, the chow in the food hall was terrible, so you started cooking for yourselves. How do you make a cheesecake in prison?
KERMAN: To make a cheesecake in prison, you need a Tupperware bowl. You have to have that after you purchased it from the commissary or borrow it. You make a crust out of either smashed-up graham crackers or Oreo, depending on your proclivities. Yes?
ROCCA: Hold on. Hold on. I'm writing this down.
ROCCA: You never know.
KERMAN: Got it. You need some margarine that you've stolen from the chow hall. That is the only stolen ingredient in this recipe, which makes it novel and notable. And then for the filling, you take those kinds of cheeses that don't have to be refrigerated. You need about a half a cup of pudding. You can usually get some pudding somewhere. And you sort of beat those things viciously together until they're creamy. And then you...
SAGAL: You lay a beating on it.
KERMAN: You lay a beat-down on the pudding and the cheese. And you also start to add an entire thing of Cremora about yea tall. I'm making...
KERMAN: I'm putting my hands about eight to 10 inches...
SAGAL: Cremora is the powdered...
SAGAL: ...Cream substitute for coffee.
KERMAN: ...Non-dairy creamer.
KERMAN: Yes. You put that in there - the whole container. You try not to think about...
KERMAN: ...What's going - what's in there...
KERMAN: ...Right? And you mix, and you mix. And then actually what you have is kind of a soupy mess.
SAGAL: Right. Yes, well...
KERMAN: Then you take the plastic squeeze lemon, and you put - I would use really most of the lemon. And you start to squeeze that into the mix, and it tightens up. I attribute whatever mysterious things are contained in non-dairy creamer.
KERMAN: But it's remarkably like the texture of a New York cheesecake.
ROCCA: Oh, my God.
KERMAN: And the taste - or so it seems if you're in prison.
MAEVE HIGGINS: Oh, wow. Wow.
ROCCA: You have got to get a Food Network show.
SAGAL: I know.
ROCCA: This is so great.
SAGAL: Well, Piper Kerman, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game that we're calling...
KURTIS: Launder This.
SAGAL: So you were busted and, as we've discussed, served time for money laundering, which made us wonder how much you know about the more traditional kind of laundering.
SAGAL: Answer two out of three questions about what they call clothing laundering, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - the voice of anyone they might like on our show on their voicemail. Bill, who is Piper Kerman playing for?
KURTIS: Sophia Casa (ph) of Ohio, who's here with her family today.
SAGAL: All right. This is for Sophia.
KERMAN: For Sophia.
SAGAL: You ready to do this?
KERMAN: I am.
SAGAL: Yes. Here's your first question. American pioneers had a very inventive way of dealing with dirty clothes. What was it? A, sticking them in the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone and waiting for it to erupt; B, shooting their laundry with, quote, "soap-shot;" or C, just standing near a buffalo and blaming the animal for the stink.
KERMAN: I'm going to go with Old Faithful.
SAGAL: You're exactly right.
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KURTIS: That is (laughter)...
SAGAL: According to an account left by explorers, they say they would just stick their laundry in the geyser, wait for it to go up. The laundry would blow out in the air. They'd pick it up, it'd be clean.
KERMAN: That's what I would do.
SAGAL: Absolutely. Next question - while he was writing "Walden," Henry David Thoreau, of course, shut himself off from civilization. That made getting his clothes clean difficult. What clever technique did Thoreau use to get his clothes clean during his year living at Walden Pond? A, coat his clothes in honey and let the bears lick them clean...
SAGAL: ...B, he used his philosophical insights to convince the clothes to turn away from dirt...
SAGAL: ...Or C, he walked the mile into town and had his mom do it for him.
KERMAN: This is so easy. (Laughter) C.
SAGAL: You are a mom. Yes.
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KERMAN: Yeah (laughter).
SAGAL: Walden isn't that far out of town. They also brought food for him. All right. Last question. Nowadays, things, of course, in laundry as with everything else, it's all high-tech. Astronauts on the International Space Station do their laundry how? A, by laser; B, hanging them on a line outside...
SAGAL: ...Or C, loading their dirty laundry into a cargo spaceship and letting it burn up on reentry.
KERMAN: I think it's basically a version of disposable underwear. I'm going to go with C.
SAGAL: You're exactly right.
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SAGAL: There's no water up there.
SAGAL: It's much easier to bring up clean laundry in a cargo ship, put the old laundry in the ship and let it burn up on reentry. You're exactly right. Bill, how did Piper do on our quiz?
KURTIS: She got all three right...
KURTIS: ...And that's a good job.
SAGAL: Piper Kerman, very well done.
That's it for our special Thanksgiving listen-to-us-rather-than-your-relatives edition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.