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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, click here to access our living document database

 

Writing for Justice Fellowship

The PEN America Writing For Justice Fellowship will commission six writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. Applications open on April 15. Learn more »

 

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. 

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.

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 »

 

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

Laying Roots

I wake from my sleep stiff and groggy. When I try to lift my head, it feels heavy, too heavy. My neck is sore. I lay flat on my… More

Judgment Walk

My adolescent years are the most vivid of my memories. Maybe because they were the most intense and shaky of my life experiences. Back then nothing seemed normal.… More

Chatat

Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age. —Genesis 6:9 Who can say when evil begins? Perhaps it starts with sibilant whispers, reptilian suggestion, something… More

Juvenile Adults

When it comes to our criminal justice system, policies are too often incoherent and irrational. One of the most glaring examples of this is also one of the least… More

The Ring

Adoption is a cold, sterile thing. No pomp. No ceremony. A child is born, a paper is signed, and lives are changed forever. Sixteen years ago, in police… More

Sabrina

Sabrina is a waxy, white-complected woman of 27 years. If we are to live together in an 8 x 11-foot jail cell, she feels that it would be only… More

A Fine, Fine Day

I It was too late for the Avenue so I headed downtown to the corner of Jones and Eddy. There, the sidewalk is stain’d with the lives of the… More

Silent Chatter

John woke one rainy morning and discovered the writing in the floor. When his bare feet touched the cold concrete, he looked down to locate his slippers and… More

Criminal Injustice

Many important lessons were taught by Hurricane Katrina, which demolished a large area along the gulf coast and killed more than one thousand people in Louisiana and Mississippi in… More

Jesusland

1 My name is Jesus. And I’m back. I always wanted to say that. “I’m back.” Like the Austrian Oak, what’s his name, the governor of California. Schwarzenegger, Arnold—if you’re into… More

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