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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

Jail Play

Here you go Frankie. Back again none too soon. Couldn’t resist coming back could you? Is it my smile? Or my size that keeps you coming back to jail?… More

Siddhartha’s Loop

I been goin’ to the Jersey shore since I was a kid and ain’t never seen a condom or syringe wash upon the sand. The only thing hazardous was,… More

Planted in Concrete

I stood and stared at the vent on the wall above the toilet in my cell, holding a ripped piece of my sheet in my hand. I knew the… More

After Prison

I have 10 minutes until a call-out to see the mental health case manager I call Mr. Forgiveness. I don’t want to see him, not because he is always… More

Accomplice

It was a treat whenever Cameron jumped on his Huffy and bicycled his way from his Barry Circle apartment complex in Bloomfield to our home in the next town… More

How Should I Look?

Would you prefer I meet your expectations, / Grasp your neck with yellow-clawed fingers, / tobacco-stained tips squeezing off your airway, / Sour breath tinged with yeasty fumes of… More

Catching the Setting Sun

“Mama, why does the sun go in the water?” “To let us sleep, son. To let us sleep.” “Why do we have to sleep?” “‘Cause we tired. Ain’t you… More

Examination

For a long time I wished someone would break my nose, but nobody has ever had the guts, or, more likely, the time to do it. After a while… More

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