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

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

Left Behind

“Everybody lock up!” The guard barked over the intercom. “Get in your cells, now!” “Oh God, what now?” one of the girls asked, picking up her plastic bowl and gathering… More

A Neighborhood Rite of Passage

The game was walking the plank, only this game was enacted over a ten story silo in a abandoned chocolate factory, at one time the employment epicenter of the… More

Inmate Jane Doe

If one is to believe all the reports that the media broadcast or prints, one would think that 99% of all offenders were male. With the exception of a… More

Boo to a Goose

I saw that phrase again: “He wouldn’t say boo to a goose.” It gets to me every time when I read it in some book, and thank God I… More

Shimmers of Light

Where do I go from here? That can be a tough question to answer for the 2.2 million Americans who are currently incarcerated. Nevertheless, there are serious consequences for… More

Kentucky’s Shameful Statistics

According to a report from the PEW Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States, Kentucky’s prison population increased in 2007 by 12%—nearly double the rate of any other state in… More

As the Creamed Beef Goes…

For those of you unfortunate enough to be unacquainted with this particular culinary delight, creamed beef is simply: browned ground beef, simmered in cream of mushroom soup, and served… More

The Pursuit of Character

Prologue If looking to the future can cause trepidation, what is this uneasiness I feel in looking back? Memory has a way of playing tricks on the mind, weaving minor… More

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