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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

PEN America’s Writing for Justice Fellowship commissions writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. Learn more about the 2018 Fellows »

 

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

Jesusland

1 My name is Jesus. And I’m back. I always wanted to say that. “I’m back.” Like the Austrian Oak, what’s his name, the governor of California. Schwarzenegger, Arnold—if you’re into… More

The Years In Between

The tall gray wall encircles fifty-five acres of land. Spired towers with narrow steel doors, loophole windows, and floodlights straddle the wall, like spines on a fearsome dragon. Rolling… More

Apple Jelly

“Clem! Where you been hidin’? Ain’t seen you in a month o’ Sundays!” “Tell ya what Emmett, you buy me a Pabst an’ I’ll tell ya ’xactly where I been.… More

The Blessing of Jebidiah Goodytake

That damned Bernie! One night, without invitation or provocation, he just burst into my room and began tapping my pillow—thump thump thumpity thump—as if he were jabbering off some… More

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

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