Burl Corbett was awarded 1st Place 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 woke this morning to yet another gloomy, rainy day. My “home” prison rests at the edge of the Lake Erie “snow belt”, and the same meteorological “lake effect” that strengthens the winter blizzards can also enhance the force and duration of our rainstorms, too. Stormfronts seem to linger, as if restrained, spitting their annoyance from the lowering banks of angry clouds scudding off the lake.

The wide expanses of dandelion-studded grass between the cell blocks of our “modern” prison were designed to separate potential rioters, not to gratify the aesthetic preferences of country boys like me. Upon the interlaced webbing of the concrete walkways, guards and inmates alike plod endlessly about, their daily routines made even drearier by the days upon days of bleak weather. Last winter, from the end of September, to the beginning of April, I recorded 119 totally overcast days out of 183, a “depression factor” of 65%. The “doldrum tally” the year before reached 71%, a degree of misery high enough to put the ever-cheerful Tele-Tubbies into a mindless funk.

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.