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

Runaway Justice

Just a few miles from the courthouse the two Durham County deputies stopped at a diner and bought me a hamburger and milkshake, and from there the four-hour ride… More

Voice of an Unheard Nation

On the eve of November 4, 2008, the entire world rejoiced in Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States of America. The land of the… More

Walla Walla IMU

The bread is moving. A small piece broken off of what was pushed through the narrow cuffport to me earlier that morning. A horde of tiny red ants have… More

Terremoto

We had to put my husband in an asylum. My daughter corrects me whenever I use this word; it’s a psychiatric clinic, Mother, she says. According to my daughter… More

A Wonderful Thing

1. The streetlights cast a hazy yellow glow on the cobblestone road, reflecting lazily off the mist-covered bricks. The scent of confederate jasmine was in the air, along with the… More

Brother’s Peeper

It began with a collect phone call, a crosscountry Greyhound ride, and a one-meal-a-day budget. Jeffery Digger got off at night, picking his teeth with a ticket stub. Nobody… More

Blood Brothers

Morris Rybeck lowered his eyes from the mute storm clouds in the west, inky with smothered thunderbolts. He leaned forward in the high-cantled saddle and wriggled his hips a… More

Matthew

Matthew was a grave little boy. When I say that he was grave, what I mean is that he was not the type of little boy who would run… More

Lessons

Well, I originally contemplated about trying to sugarcoat what I had to say; but in the end, I arrived to the conclusion that it was best to not mince… More

The Little Prisoner

I was one of the luckiest prisoners ever because I’d done eight months in prison and I don’t remember a single second of it. I was spared the hardship… More

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