Steven Perez was awarded the Fielding Dawson Prize in Nonfiction Memoir in the 2022 Prison Writing Contest.

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people 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.


I remember my grandmother dying on a hospital bed. I can still hear the life support machine beeping. The smell of antiseptics permeated the hospital. It was the year 2000. I was twenty-one.

She had a fistful of tubes connected to her body. One came out of her mouth from inside her lungs. It was as thick as a quarter is round. She had all kinds of smaller tubes poked into her veins and connected to an IV. She fought hard.

I think about this all the time. My worst fear is that my mother will have to go through that without me there with her. While I’m in here. In prison. She doesn’t deserve that.

I remember how much Mom loved my grandmother. Every house we moved to, Mom had Grandma there with us. Mom would give Grandma her insulin shots every day. She’d take Grandma to Mass every Sunday. Ever since I was a little boy.

I remember when I was twelve I went crabbing with my friend Nat and his father. His father had a square cage big enough to fit a chihuahua into.

To finish reading this, as well as the works of all other contributors, purchase Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology here.