stack of notebooks
     Photo by John-Mark Kuznietsov

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned writers 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. Manuscripts come to the Prison Writing Program in a variety of forms: Some are handwritten, some are typed, some are written in the margins of legal documents. Prizes of $250, $150, $100, $50, and $25 are awarded for first, second, third place, the Dawson Prize, and honorable mentions, respectively, in each of the following categories. Read our winning manuscripts by clicking on each title below!



First Place

Matthew Mendoza, “Grace Notes

Second Place

Sean J. White, “discovery after twenty years in prison

Third Place

Elizabeth Hawes, “The Glitter Squirrel in Me


Honorable Mentions

Gary K. Farlow, “Fragment of a Dream: a prison passage

Edward Ji, “The Storm

Geneva J. Phillips, “Five Haiku Plus Two



First Place

William Myrl Smitherman, “Richard

Second Place

Peter Dunne, “An Ungodly, Godlike Man

Third Place

John Cephas Young, “My Penal Vacation


Honorable Mentions

John Corley, “The Bizarre Conclusion of Walter Germany

Anna Vanderford, “Double Time/ Borrowed Time/ Time’s Up

Marcos Celis, “God’s Coins

Burl N. Corbett,The Named and the Nameless



First Place

Saint James Harris Wood, “The Swallow War

Second Place

Sterling Cunio, “Going Forward with Gus

Third Place

Michael Lambrix, “Execution Day—Involuntary Witness to Murder



First Place

James Anderson, “Sophia

Second Place

George T. Wilkerson, “Limp Gray Fur

Third Place

Danner Darcleight, “Albert and Me


Nonfiction Honorable Mentions

Branton Noojin, “Solitary Confinement

William Anderson, “Conflagration

Mark Altenhofen, “On a Railroad

Annamarie Harris-Romero, “Regret’s Tragic Romance



First Place

Jesus Alvarez, Viorel Capraru, Jason Christner, Sterling Cunio, Key Davis, Ben Pervish, Troy Ramsey, Phil Stockton, “The Bucket

Second Place

Matthew Mendoza, “Freedom Feather

Third Place

Gordon Bowers, “Somewhere, Kansas


Honorable Mentions

Benjamin Frandsen, “Symantyx

Paul Swehla, “The Dystopian Hermit Monk

Esau A. Strawberry, “The Golden Veneer



Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Poetry

M. Ophelia Vaughn, “Insanity

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Fiction

Antonio Williams, “Rusted

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Nonfiction

Derick McCarthy, “The Box

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Drama

Elizabeth Hawes, “Univision


The Prison Writing Contest Prizes are sponsored by the generous support of the Greenburger Center for Social & Criminal Justice.