Orange Is The New Black began with Piper (Taylor Schilling) starting her prison sentence at Litchfield, so it only seems right that it ends with her re-entering the world as a free woman. When OITNB’s seventh and final season kicks off on the 26th July, Piper is out and living with her brother, Cal, and his wife (and their baby), and is forced to find a job to satisfy her parole requirements. But why is Piper out of prison on OITNB? Isn’t it... kind of early?
Initially, Piper was sentenced to 15 months in prison after being convicted of drug trafficking charges tied to Alex’s (Laura Prepon) conviction and their involvement with Kubra. Later, she got six months added after the riot in season 5, but in the end, she didn’t end up serving all of it (and the real Piper Kerman got out of prison early, too).
At the end of season 6, budget cuts led to a new system where the prisoners were ranked based on their behaviour to help determine who could potentially be eligible for early release. After Badison (Amanda Fuller) tried to plant drugs on Piper to lengthen her sentence, Piper told CO Hopper (Hunter Emery), and Hopper put her at the top of the list to be released. It wasn’t because he wanted to protect her, though — it was more about protecting himself, since he was the one who was smuggling the drugs into the prison in the first place, and Piper being out would help keep him from getting caught.
This led Piper and Alex to have a prison wedding before her release to solidify their relationship, and then, Cal (Michael Chernus) came to pick Piper up from Litchfield. Time is a little murky in the OITNB universe, so it’s hard to say exactly how much of her sentence she ended up serving, but it’s fair to say that she didn’t complete it all.
"Jenji knew that she wanted to get Piper out at the end of this season coming into season six," OITNB writer Brian Chamberlayne told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018. "She liked the surprise of it, and she wanted to be able to tell stories about post-prison. It wasn’t just a season-six end, it was partially about getting into the arc of where Piper goes. It’s about what is significant about the criminal justice system and what is significant about Piper’s story and journey, so there’s plenty to be told."
That totally ended up being true. In season 7, Piper truly struggles with life on the outside, especially keeping up with her expenses, the jobs she’s allowed to work now that she has a record, and coping with the fact that she and Alex’s relationship has to change since she had to leave her behind at Litchfield. After only knowing Piper as a prisoner for so long, it's a refreshing change to see how she deals with her life now that she’s been reunited with her family and everything else that comes with being a free woman. Of course, since this is OITNB things get a little dark and twisty, but you'll have to see how Piper's life on the outside turns out for yourself when the final season drops on Netflix.