Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative and transformative possibilities of writing. We provide hundreds of imprisoned writers across the country with free writing resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their work. Our program supports free expression, and encourages the use of the written word as a legitimate form of power. We strive towards an increasingly integrative approach, aiming to amplify the voices and writing of imprisoned people to expand beyond the silo of prison, and identity of prisoner. 

Click here to download a printable PDF copy of our offerings.

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 writer. Each year, thousands of free copies are sent to incarcerated men and women.

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Annual Prison Writing Contest

Every year hundreds of imprisoned writers 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.

Read guidelines »
Visit winner archive »

Mentorship Program

Consisting of more than 250 mentors working with close to 250 incarcerated writers, PEN America’s Prison Writing 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


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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