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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

Hell’s Kitchen

Chapter 1 The sign was unmarred, the wide steel door gleaming proudly with a virgin layer of bright royal blue paint. It read: “No Hostages Will Be Permitted Through These… More

Untitled

A voice that’s tinted with the hint of memory. I can hear myself not say the words, I can taste the salt of the tears you would not cry. … More

Black Settlement Photo: Circa 1867

Twelve ancestor souls have been preserved In sepia tones one hundred forty years deep. Still uncomfortable in their two-year-old freedom. It’s a pseudo-freedom, the kind that pinches Expressions tight… More

Knotty Dreams

Knotty Dreams Staccato bursts unravel my thoughts Woodpeckers hammer at a camera tower oddly pleased with each aluminum notch they leave behind Somewhere a sparrow mends her nest in the city dome’s framework tugging at frayed wire and steel shavings I crouch… More

Longevity

I cannot sustain your voyages, these corrosive minglings of hydrogen and oxygen, seeking the green rivers of your blooms. More

Forgiven

I forgave her but she didn’t seem to hear, For all the wrongs, real and imagined, Over all the years we called ourselves married, Through too many spats and… More

Play

toy soldiers arrayed for battle dirt clods piled high, piled ready hands work, hands arrange, the cattle a shout of challenge joyfully proclaims my hill, my clods, my… More

A Chair Full of Ashes

Of all the ways to lose a person, death is the kindest. —Emerson When I was six, my father inherited some money. With it, he bought some property and built… More

Escape Risk

CAST   SKULL LESTER TOOTY BUZZARD ERSKINE GRANGER BETTY JEETER   A madman A fool A blimp An old pervert A runaround A guard A nurse An off-stage voice SCENE: A four-man CELL, open toward the audience, back of the cell are vertical steel bars, with a center… More

Beasts of Autumn

FADE IN: EXT. FRANCE - NIGHT - WINTER SUPERIMPOSE over HOWLING WIND and snow: “FRANCE, 13TH CENTURY” Gradually revealed, an eminent well-built castle crowning a prominent hill. A lord’s residence and a… More

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