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.

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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. 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

Julia Iskowitz: Untitled

Untitled A voice that’s tinted with the hint of memory. I can hear myself not say the words, I can taste the salt of the tears you would not cry. And our intentions… More

Black Settlement Photo: Circa 1867

Twelve ancestor souls have been preserved In sepia tones one hundred forty years deep. Still uncomfortable in their two-year-old freedom. It’s a pseudo-freedom, the kind that pinches Expressions tight… More

Knotty Dreams

Knotty Dreams Staccato bursts unravel my thoughts Woodpeckers hammer at a camera tower oddly pleased with each aluminum notch they leave behind Somewhere a sparrow mends her nest in the city dome’s framework tugging at frayed wire and steel shavings I crouch… More

A Chair Full of Ashes

Of all the ways to lose a person, death is the kindest. —Emerson When I was six, my father inherited some money. With it, he bought some property and built… More

Not Guilty

FADE IN: EXT. A BLUE SKY - MORNING 7:02 A.M. Flying over an isolated campus, sprawled across 45 acres of green grass, wooded countryside and hills, a hawk spots a… More

The Secret of the Sky

The Secret of the Sky CHARACTERS   The PRISONER: The JAILER: The MONK:     a man in his early 30s—bearded, disheveled, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt, gray sweat pants, and (when standing) sandals. a man of… More

Escape Risk

CAST   SKULL LESTER TOOTY BUZZARD ERSKINE GRANGER BETTY JEETER   A madman A fool A blimp An old pervert A runaround A guard A nurse An off-stage voice SCENE: A four-man CELL, open toward the audience, back of the cell are vertical steel bars, with a center… More

Beasts of Autumn

FADE IN: EXT. FRANCE - NIGHT - WINTER SUPERIMPOSE over HOWLING WIND and snow: “FRANCE, 13TH CENTURY” Gradually revealed, an eminent well-built castle crowning a prominent hill. A lord’s residence and a… More

Second Chance

FADE IN:  INSERT: A collage of photos and headlines covering a century of Hollywood’s fame and splendor. EXT. LOS ANGELES CITYSCAPE - NIGHT The vast black carpet unfolds below. The speckled… More

Raw Bones (Live and Encaged!)

Raw Bones (Live and Encaged!) Darkness has settled in now. All day long their area was highlighted. Their loud, uneven snores are indicative of the grueling tasks that befell these… More

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