“Orange Is the New Black” Producers Use Books from Jersey City Free Books

Jersey City Free Books (297 Griffith Street) is a community book exchange located in the Jersey City Heights. According to owner Anthony Olszewksi, who also runs a computer repair business out of the space, “Jersey City Free Book’s motto is from each according to ability, to each according to need. You’re welcome to take anything for your reasonable personal use. If you represent a charity or institution, please do let us know.”

Anyone can drop off and pick up books, no questions asked, during business hours: 12 to 5 pm from Monday to Wednesday, 12 to 8 pm on Thursday and Friday, and 10 am to 6 pm on Saturday.

Recently, Olszewski announced that the producers of the original NetFlix series Orange Is the New Black had been taking books to use on set. First airing in July of this year, Orange Is the New Black is based on a memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman. The story documents Kerman’s 15 months as an inmate in a New York federal prison. The main character in the television adaptation, Piper Chapman, is an educated young woman who enjoys literature. In one scene Chapman receives a care package with books, including one by contemporary American fiction writer and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Nicholson Baker.

Orange Is the New Black — with a light touch — opens the doors of a prison and brings millions inside for a brief visit. The human spirit shines through with the humor, but the situation’s reality is not disguised. And maybe, hopefully, viewers will continue to think at the end of each episode about the Country and the times in which they live,” said Olszewski.

Olszewski first became involved with the produces of Orange Is the New Black when they reached out to him via e-mail. He can’t provide any examples of books that they’ve taken because he doesn’t keep record or note of the books that anyone takes. As recently as Tuesday, Assistant Set Director Sean Haines stopped by Jersey City Free Books with a truck and driver.

“Sean spent some time selecting books, taking 500,” said Olszewski.

Olszewski’s Uncle Gus was once jailed for running a gambling operation.

“Domestic pigeons — as shown in On The Waterfront — once were metaphors for freedom in Hudson County,” said Olszewski. “My uncle was an avid pigeon fancier.  When he was jailed for running a gambling operation, I gave him books on pigeons. Books are like the wings crafted by Daedelus. (And the great crafter of books crowned himself Dedalus.)  When the mind is free, physical captivity can be overcome.  When the mind is not free, physical liberty is irrelevant.  The role of books inside is the same as it is outside.”

Laryssa Wirstiuk

is a writer who teaches creative writing at Rutgers University. Born and raised in the suburbs of northern New Jersey, Laryssa moved to Jersey City because she was curious about the city where her mother was raised. Check her blog Craft Your Drafts.