M. Ophelia Vaughn was awarded the Dawson Prize for Poetry in the 2018 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. On September 13, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading at the Brooklyn Book Festival, Break Out: Voices from the Inside.


Purple mountains rise in the distance,
Disrupted by coils of razor wire
Freedom only time can purchase
Brought here, branded a liar.
Medication helped me love my cage
Bottled up, three times daily rage
Fishing for a sweet relief,
It floats down like autumn leaves
My ankles and wrist hurt so fucking bad
Cuffs and Shackles too tight
Calluses turn to bloody scabs
Too many cops to fight
Regret does not burn when the doors lock
Go to war with myself til the taser shock.
Hate, Hate, Hate
I got nothing but time to contemplate
I’d do that and more
Given the chance, I’m a felony whore
Stab me, Kill me, Shoot me, feel me
My own heart beats me.