Frank Kensaku Saragosa was awarded 1st Place in Nonfiction Essay 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.


Mexican drug cartels and the United States federal courts are distinct and separate institutions, sitting at different ends of a social and legal spectrum, with aims that widely divergent, and often directly opposed. One is a vast and brutal criminal organization that profits from the trade in drugs and trafficking of humans, while the other wields the power and authority of the United States of America to prosecute such activity and enforce American laws. There is ample room between these two organizations, and most Americans steer clear fairly easily of involvement with either. I am among the poor, often homeless, drug addicts in San Diego who have managed to get entangled in both.

I am a recovering addict and I’ve struggled with addiction for my entire adult life. I lost my home in 2017 and spent a year bouncing between drug treatment programs, sober living homes and the streets before finally giving up. I have been homeless in downtown San Diego since 2018, and for the next two years, I lived either on the streets or in county jail.

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.