Mistakes inevitable, hold judgment

A few weeks ago, Piper Kerman, the author of “Orange is the New Black,” spoke in the Illini Union to University students about her experience in a woman’s prison.

Though the talk happened some time ago, her points are still relevant to college-age students.

Naturally, Kerman spoke largely about changes that need to be made in our criminal justice system.

But, after attending the talk, I started thinking about how her various points were applicable to students at the University, even if these students do not have any direct ties to the prison system.

Mainly, she made it clear that mistakes happen, sometimes mistakes that are big enough to lead a person to prison.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

So, I gathered two ideas from that statement. First, students need to be careful about mistakes in such a pivotal moment in our lives. And secondly, because mistakes happen, we should attempt to fully understand the people who make them.

In the talk, Kerman was clear that there are always consequences for any action, no matter what, and that’s something to try and take into consideration before making any decision.

Kerman experienced that cycle after she once carried a suitcase of drug money.

Therefore, she became implicated in an international drug circle. She was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison for the crime.

Interestingly, Kerman had only recently graduated from college when she became implicated, just as we too will soon graduate.

Yes, of course, she made a terrible mistake. But the thing to remember is that we all have made mistakes before.

I don’t say that in an attempt to belittle her actions. Instead, it’s a reminder that we are all capable of horrible mistakes.  

Don’t assume that you are Superman or that you are invincible. Don’t assume that your moral compass is so strong that you would never succumb to terrible mistakes or that you are smart enough to get away with it.

It’s probably not that easy. Or else, no one would make mistakes.

So often, we think of ourselves as strong, moral, smart and young. And that’s great, because we are.

But, we also have the potential to be weak, deviant, stupid and young.

We need to internalize how easy it is to make mistakes. And we need to understand that those mistakes could easily and severely alter the course of our lives, or the lives of our families and people who depend on us, just like the one mistake of Kerman’s altered the course of her life.

And, upon realizing this, we should consider treading more carefully.

Students at the University are in a pivotal moment. We are trying to make ourselves employable and trying to get ready for complete independence.

We need to keep that responsibility in mind when making decisions from this point forward.

Deeply consider how it could reflect if you were caught plagiarizing, stealing, cheating, driving under the influence, etcetera.

It would reflect terribly. But, unfortunately, these are mistakes that can often be commonplace among college students.

According to a survey conducted at Rutgers University by Donald McCabe, published in 2005, 43 percent of undergraduates admitted to cheating on tests or written work. And over 2 million college students 18 to 24 years old drove under the influence according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 

Shifting to a different angle, if we understand that everyone makes mistakes, we should also try to better understand those who have made them.

Toward the end of her talk, Kerman took the time to speak about understanding people in a multidimensional manner. She talked about people that have broken the law and ended up in prison and are therefore thought of primarily as criminals.

It can be easy to assume that those people committed some crime that was bad enough to warrant a punishment in prison. And it is further convenient to think of prisoners solely as criminals.  

Kerman reminded us, correctly, that thinking that way is oversimplified because no one is identifiable by just one characteristic. Any person in any situation is multifaceted with desires, dreams and experiences that are complicated and important.

This kind of thinking is applicable to University students because this thinking should apply to all people, not just criminals.

It’s necessary to understand that no one can be represented by only one characteristic.

She implored her audience not to judge people for their worst actions, but instead to try to understand people in a complete sense. And to judge people also for what their best actions could be.

Overall, her points were highly applicable to students in that everyone makes mistakes, and consequently that we need to be both more careful and more understanding regarding these mistakes.

Alex is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].