John Adams was awarded an Honorable Mention 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.


Momma used to say that Daddy was a good man before he went to Vietnam, but I never believed her. It was easy to doubt Momma; she lied to herself as much as anyone. Not malicious lies, never those, just the little gray lies it took to keep her sanity.

She said he came home from Vietnam sick, but he never looked sick to me. I’d been sick, so sick I couldn’t even drink water without barfing. If Daddy was sick, it sure didn’t affect his appetite none, he ate his meals like a starved pig. How sick could he be? Momma said it was a different kind of sick, that it was hurting his head, making him mean. Said we needed to forgive him when he hurt us and keep on loving him no matter what, but I couldn’t. I’d never loved him to begin with. They say a five year old child doesn’t know right from wrong, doesn’t know how to hate. Yet I went down on my knees in earnest prayer every night, pleading with God to take Daddy away, but not with golden wings to Heaven…That was for nice people and nice people don’t hit.

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.