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Prison & Justice Writing

For more than four decades, PEN America’s Prison Writing Program has amplified the writing of thousands of imprisoned writers by providing free resources, skilled mentors, and audiences for their writing. We are proud to share our deepening commitment to confronting our era of mass incarceration with the launch of the 2018 PEN America Writing For Justice Fellowship. Read below for more information about our initiatives.

For information on writing programs in prison across the United States, check out our living document database

 

Writing for Justice Fellowship

PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. Learn more about the 2018 Fellows »

 

Prison Writing Program

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.

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.

Request a copy »

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.

Find out more about the Mentorship Program »

 

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

grey fan on a small table

Round One

"When you're on the precarious road of life, whether you're in the free world or in prison, you pick up real friends along the way and discard the rest." More

person sitting in a window looking at the sea

My Co-Worker

"My co-worker makes parole. / No goodbyes. Just disappears one day." More

backlit silhouetter of a woman

Young Girl Twenty

"The type of chick that young thugs’ll wait on, / and older catz lose they weight on / Modestly fly, sour chicks couldn’t play Dawn" More

Ravenous

"I always run toward the sound of shouting, metal crunching / and glass shattering" More

black and white image of a forest

The Week

"Besides, wasn’t life full of these exciting moments, something fresh and novel every day, now that we were adults?" More

broken glass with a blue sky in the background

The Thaw

"You had to have something you wanted from life before you came to prison." More

Triple Sessions

"I grew up at perhaps the tail end of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” generation, so violence was normalized and mitigated with life lessons." More