Prison Writing

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


my father, ashamed, sank down into his seatrnas someone behind him declaredrn“no one can act that good”rn More

Isla Mujeres

Listen sweetheart. There are only two types of people in this world. Sharks and Tuna. Sharks are apex predators. They go after what they want. Tuna feeds the world.… More


See, prison in Pennsylvania is a rough stop: no smut, period. More


Ezekiel Caligiuri was awarded First Place in Memoir in the 2015 Prison Writing Contest for his account of the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. More

Page 3 of 1612345...10...Last »