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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

sYmantyX

"You've created a program that mines and tracks collective consciousness. Do you realize what this could mean to group dynamics?" More

The Swallow War

"This singular edifice sits in the center of the prison; it's open air and we call it the plaza. There are a couple of trees, some sickly grass, and… More

Freedom Feather

"I don't know if inmate Sanchez turned into a bird or not. It is interesting to imagine, isn't it, spending your life soaring where the air tastes the way… More

An Ungodly Godlike Man

"Not only can I hear everything, but I can feel the vibration against the thin metal wall as they wrestle with the prisoner inside the sardine can of a… More

Albert & Me

"I want to be a person to them, as much as I want them to be a person to me. Because if I'm not, that's when the floor drops… More

On a Railroad (Soo-Line)

"The Soo-Line was not the sole property of youth, though. Others, who had once been young and full of bravado, traveled on occasion down its rusted steel path. They were… More

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