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 these pieces in book form by purchasing As I Hear the Rain, our 2019 Prison Writing Awards Anthology. 



First Place

Jevon Jackson, “All of Us, In Prison

Second Place

David A. Pickett, “Time Reversal Invariance

Third Place

Caroline Ashby, “Ravenous


Honorable Mentions

Peter Dunne,Self-Portrait as State Property

Edward Ji,My Co-Worker

Douglas Weed, “As I Hear the Rain



First Place

Kevin R. Schaeffer, “First World Problems

Second Place

Sam Jenkins,The Last Time I Saw Chet

Third Place

David A. Pickett,Geode


Honorable Mentions

James Philip Beavers, “Tetris

Brendan Rao, “Two Birds, One Stone

Antonio Bowie-Rivera, “Rogers Park: Area 52



First Place

Michael Kaiser, “Thorazine, Haldol & Coffee: My Life in a Prison Mental Health Ward

Second Place

Richard Sean Gross, “Death by Incarceration: Cruel and Unusual

Third Place

Santonio D. Murff, “Mass Incarceration: The Shame of a Nation



First Place

William Myrl Smitherman,”Where the Wild Things Are

Second Place

Michael Johnson, “The Week

Third Place

Raylan Gilford, “Round One


Nonfiction Honorable Mentions

Christiana Justice, “Under the Bridge

Kyle Hedquist, “Confessions of a Penitentiary Death Dealer

Michael Willie, “Murderers’ Ball

Daniel Pirkel, “Parole Reform

Kevin Sawyer, “Triple Sessions

Daniel Whitlow, “Lexie’s Books



First Place

Derek Trumbo, “The Thaw

Second Place

Ashley Starling Thomas, “Time

Third Place

Larry Stromberg, “I’m Here for You


Honorable Mentions

Benjamin Frandsen, “Tiny General

Mike Phillips, “Outcasts

John Benjamin, “Never 2 Late



Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Poetry

Vaughn Walker,Young Girl Twenty

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Fiction

David Webb, “Fireside: or Immaterial Burns

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Nonfiction

Heather C. Jarvis, “Poker Face

Fielding A. Dawson Prize in Drama

Chris Dankovich, “King of Infinite Space


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

We are thrilled to share that the newly named PEN America/Edward Bunker Prize in Fiction has been made possible by the legacy of Edward Bunker and the gift of his family.