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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

10-Minute Shakespeare

10-Minute Shakespeare   THE PLAYERS   Chris BJ JT Ralph Frost Dave Jeff Savage Richard John M   Shakespeare 1 Shakespeare 2 Othello Emilia Desdemona Duke of Venice Cassio Montano Edward De Vere Brabantio Desdemona Iago Roderigo CHRIS:   We waited a year for you to get here—And now let’s be      perfectly clear In our… More

Not Guilty

FADE IN: EXT. A BLUE SKY - MORNING 7:02 A.M. Flying over an isolated campus, sprawled across 45 acres of green grass, wooded countryside and hills, a hawk spots a… More

The Secret of the Sky

The Secret of the Sky CHARACTERS   The PRISONER: The JAILER: The MONK:     a man in his early 30s—bearded, disheveled, dressed in a long-sleeved T-shirt, gray sweat pants, and (when standing) sandals. a man of… 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

A Neighborhood Rite of Passage

The game was walking the plank, only this game was enacted over a ten story silo in a abandoned chocolate factory, at one time the employment epicenter of the… More

Inmate Jane Doe

If one is to believe all the reports that the media broadcast or prints, one would think that 99% of all offenders were male. With the exception of a… More

Boo to a Goose

I saw that phrase again: “He wouldn’t say boo to a goose.” It gets to me every time when I read it in some book, and thank God I… More

Shimmers of Light

Where do I go from here? That can be a tough question to answer for the 2.2 million Americans who are currently incarcerated. Nevertheless, there are serious consequences for… More

Kentucky’s Shameful Statistics

According to a report from the PEW Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States, Kentucky’s prison population increased in 2007 by 12%—nearly double the rate of any other state in… More

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