Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for inmates to express themselves freely and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power.

Handbook for Writers in Prison

PEN’s Handbook for Writers in Prison features detailed guides on the art of writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays—an invaluable resource for any incarcerated writer. Each year, thousands of free copies of the Handbook for Writers in Prison are sent to incarcerated men and women who request a copy. Request your copy of the handbook or purchase one on behalf of an incarcerated person.

Annual Prison Writing Contest

Every year hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. Manuscripts come to us in a variety of forms: some are handwritten, some are typed, some are written in the margins of legal documents.

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Mentorship Program

Consisting of more than seventy mentors working with close to one hundred inmates, PEN America Mentorships continues to be the most interactive and engaging project in the Prison Writing Program.

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

Programming for PEN America’s Prison Writing Program is made possible in part by generous funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

 

Read Award-Winning Works from the PEN Prison Writing Contest

darth vader

Vader’s Redemption

You know what I liked about that movie? More than the first one? It wasn’t the big reveal—but it was—big! It was the fact that Luke wasn’t mad that… More

Gun Show

I can see a day when we won’t have no more victims. I can see a day when we’ll have somethin’ like smart guns. No, not them fingerprint identification… More

radio

600 Days of Silence

What I most like to talk about with Wilson is music. He has an extensive knowledge about all genres. I enjoy these conversations the most because they lift my… More

How to Kill Someone

You had no knowledge of receiving homes, group homes, incarceration, life on the streets, or the State as anything other than a beneficent social structure. I know because you… More

La Cadena

Angel figured his only chance was to pivot and run back in the opposite direction. But it was far too late. The sights had been trained upon him all… More

Wounded For My Own Transgressions

Now I’m back in prison. The nurses are treating me more like a medical monkey than a medical miracle. The “administration” and the like all want to see the… More

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