Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of inmates across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for inmates 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 incarcerated 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. Request your copy of the handbook or purchase one on behalf of an incarcerated person.

Annual Prison Writing Contest

Every year hundreds of inmates 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 inmates, 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

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

salsa meditation

my hands will smell for days of onions, garlic and jalapeños despite repeated washings after slicing, dicing and mincing with my trusty lid-o-matic and plastic picnic knife essential utensils of a prison… More

Villanelle to Pio

Speak to me. Though you find me deaf as a stone,/ help me to find the lonely, bloody son of Ruth,/ who speaks to hearing ears that they are… More

Lines

lines that bind or tie together our shared histories meander like the mighty Mississippi intricate web—emit the life of our times, flow organically as tree branches etch a map upon our brows, cheeks … visual reminders to all… More

Longings

I miss the feeling of weightlessness while floating in the ocean and staring at the clear blue sky, gently bobbing to the rhythm of events beyond the horizon. I miss the salt stinging my… More

Feather

A single feather fell from my ceiling I certainly was not expecting that Nor was I expecting such a feeling From inside this jail cell where I’ve sat Minute after day after month,… More

The Apple

A limb reaching heavenward just as we journey in awkward crooks and juts and bends at knobby intersections yet upwardly The Apple Fruit snapped free *Broken open by patio bricks Devastated potential for late summertime… More

Diary

i name bridges of every day the morning commute is a bridge connecting the comfort of my bed to the grind of the pens that i push— papers i fold into model F-14 tomcats More

Rehabilitation

No sky. No grass. No trees, No travel. No children. No wife. No man’s best friend. No trust. No suffrage. No income. No autonomy. No power to do good. More

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