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

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House of the Interpreter

Moyet, our interpreter, quietly translates to him what is being said, unconsciously keeping his hand to his throat, with steady eyes focusing on the dead girls. More

This is Where

I’m from where silence is normal and / punitive. / Hugs are warm and forced Catholicism still / weighs heavy on my mother’s shoulders. / At 73—the burden has… More

Run Chile Run

I don't like this place / Locks on the cabinets / And cable cords strapped around da refrigerator's waist / She doesn't like my face / Even, when I’m... More

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33 Days

He turned around and looked out into the empty hallway. No clocks, of course. Inside it was always the eternal sunshine of the fluorescent tube. More

Glimpse: Year 26, 2016

There’s a lot of gray / in what’s left of my hair— / my George Jefferson tonsure / monks somewhere still wear / ... / Styling changes I spied… More

The Setting Sun

I climbed through the side door because the passenger side didn’t open, tossed my sleeping bag in the back. I thought about how lucky other kids were who had… More

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