Winning Manuscripts of PEN America’s 2017 Prison Writing Contest

Every year, hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. Manuscripts come to the Prison Writing Program in a variety of forms: Some are handwritten, some are typed, some are written in the margins of legal documents. We are pleased to share here a collection of these winning works.

On November 28, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading, Breakout: Voices from the Inside. Participants including 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award-winner Lisa Ko and 2010 National Book Award-winner Terrance Hayes will read from the prize-winning manuscripts.

Poetry

This is Where

I’m from where silence is normal and / punitive. / Hugs are warm and forced Catholicism still / weighs heavy on my mother’s shoulders. / At 73—the burden has… More

Glimpse: Year 26, 2016

There’s a lot of gray / in what’s left of my hair— / my George Jefferson tonsure / monks somewhere still wear / ... / Styling changes I spied… More

Run Chile Run

I don't like this place / Locks on the cabinets / And cable cords strapped around da refrigerator's waist / She doesn't like my face / Even, when I’m... More

Fiction

La Cadena

Angel figured his only chance was to pivot and run back in the opposite direction. But it was far too late. The sights had been trained upon him all… More

metal button

33 Days

He turned around and looked out into the empty hallway. No clocks, of course. Inside it was always the eternal sunshine of the fluorescent tube. More

Essay

camera

House of the Interpreter

Moyet, our interpreter, quietly translates to him what is being said, unconsciously keeping his hand to his throat, with steady eyes focusing on the dead girls. More

Wounded For My Own Transgressions

Now I’m back in prison. The nurses are treating me more like a medical monkey than a medical miracle. The “administration” and the like all want to see the… More

Memoir

How to Kill Someone

You had no knowledge of receiving homes, group homes, incarceration, life on the streets, or the State as anything other than a beneficent social structure. I know because you… More

radio

600 Days of Silence

What I most like to talk about with Wilson is music. He has an extensive knowledge about all genres. I enjoy these conversations the most because they lift my… More

Drama

darth vader

Vader’s Redemption

You know what I liked about that movie? More than the first one? It wasn’t the big reveal—but it was—big! It was the fact that Luke wasn’t mad that… More

Gun Show

I can see a day when we won’t have no more victims. I can see a day when we’ll have somethin’ like smart guns. No, not them fingerprint identification… More

We don’t want to remember December 14, 2017 as the day the internet began to go dark.

PEN America has been at the forefront of petitioning, protesting and pressing to keep the internet open. We have only just begun to fight—the next battlegrounds will be in Congress and the Court.

We won’t stop until a free and open internet has been secured for everyone who thinks, explores, and creates.

Support us as we double down for digital freedom.