PEN America’s Prison and Justice Writing Mentorship Program has paired incarcerated writers with skilled writing mentors in prisons all over the U.S. for nearly 50 years. Separated from the outside world, incarcerated writers face unique challenges to their emergence as writers, journalists, and artists whose contributions are valued and whose work is fairly compensated. Our program aims to fill this gap by matching an incarcerated writer with a writer who has volunteered to read and respond to submitted work—a relationship similar to that of a professional writer and editor. Through these pairings, writers are able to receive written feedback on new or existing work, support with crafting a writing practice and process, and, most importantly, a tether to the literary community outside the prison walls.  Our program aims for the following impact:

  • Celebrating Different Perspectives

  • Improving Craft

  • Encouraging Experimentation

  • Developing a Practice

  • Familiarization with Literary Landscape

We recognize this exchange as a connective experience where reciprocal learning occurs. As much as we rely on our mentors’ expertise to help deepen the self-expression and literary skills of our mentees, we also believe in the positive, often transformative, impact of the mentee’s work, ideas and correspondence on the mentor.

The majority of mentees join the program through our annual writing contest, either as winners or by recommendation of our judging committee. Mentees complete an onboarding form and pre-survey  detailing their relationship to writing and what they’d like to work on in the mentorship. Our program requires a minimum of four exchanges of writing between mentees and mentors. These initial four exchanges are meant to be an introduction to each other, your respective work, writing process, and goals. This will be a guided process, with our program staff providing benchmarks and support throughout.

After the four correspondences, each pair collaborates to create a map detailing the specific project they would like to support with, what they are aiming to accomplish, and how the pair will achieve this together. Each map should reflect the skills, capacity, and commitment of each pair including how long they anticipate it will take to achieve the state goals. After the mentorship concludes, each pair will complete a post-mentorship reflection and receive a certificate of recognition.

 Pairs are free to continue corresponding after they have officially completed the program. Mentors can also request to be added to the next pairing cycle’s list if they would like to work with a new mentee but please note that the cycles are months apart (it may take quite a while to receive another pairing) and a new pairing is not guaranteed.

Mentors submit letters to an online form and our staff handles all printing and mailing in-office. All mentee letters are sent directly to PEN America’s SoHo office where our team scans and electronically sends files to mentors. Mentors are not required to share their address to participate in our program and are identified to their mentees by first name only (unless we are informed otherwise by you). 

Tentative Timeline for 2022 Summer/Fall Cohort:

  • July 15th: Mentor application opens

  • August 1st: Mentor application closes

  • August 1st: Sept 1st: PEN staff conducts pairing process 

  • September 1st: Selected mentors informed of pairings

  • September 1st – 15th: Orientation and onboarding (mentors attend trainings, mentees are sent onboarding materials via mail)

  • October 1st: First mentor letters due to PEN staff