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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

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

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

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

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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