Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of imprisoned writers across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for these writers 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 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. You may also request or purchase one on behalf of an incarcerated person.

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. 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 incarcerated writers, 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

Monster in the Playground

This story is dedicated to all the children in this world who suffer abuse in whatever form, and to my step-mom, Dorothy. Dorothy’s prayerful hopes for me gave me… More

Walk Like a Man

Who’s Your Daddy? My birth mother’s name was Lula Mae. After her death my two sisters, three brothers, and I were taken in by various relatives. Melvin, the… More

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

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