The Austin Chronicle

Piper Kerman to Speak at CARY Benefit

Memoirist will relay 'the real story' of her year in a women's federal penitentiary

By Amy Smith, April 25, 2014, News

Piper Kerman may be better known for the commercial success of her prison memoir, Orange Is the New Black, than for her activism. But Kerman has leveraged her newfound acclaim to advocate for prison reform, and she's taking her message to audiences across the country, including D.C., where she testified before a congressional committee on the ills of solitary confinement.

On May 7, she'll appear in Austin to keynote a benefit for Austin's Council on At-Risk Youth, or CARY – an organization that works to keep troubled kids out of prison by putting them on a path to success.

Kerman will speak about "the real story" of her year in a women's federal penitentiary for a drug trafficking crime she had committed 10 years earlier. Her Orange memoir has since been adapted into a Netflix series that's due to begin its second season in June.

CARY benefit organizers are thrilled they were able to book a high-demand speaker, and recently got to spend some time on the phone with her, describing the organization's goals and some of its prevention and early intervention programs. One of CARY's more successful efforts is its PeaceRox Pro­gram, which targets middle-school students who have demonstrated aggressive behavior at school. "We're using a proven curriculum called aggression replacement training that involves coaching [the students] on social skills, anger control, empathy, role playing, and lots of counseling," explained Development Director Heidi Gibbons. The students complete the program by working on a community-oriented project. "We try to work with their parents, which is hard because it's often a single parent who's working a couple of jobs," Gibbons said. But the program's track record speaks for itself: "What we are doing here in Austin will reduce the prison population – keeping kids in school, helping them get through school, have a life, and not make bad choices."

The CARY benefit takes place Wednesday, May 7, 6-9pm, at the AT&T Conference Center on the UT campus, 1900 University Ave. For ticket info or to RSVP, go to or call 512/451-4592.

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