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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 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, check out 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 current 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.

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 about the Mentorship Program »

 

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

close up of $100 bills

A Short Play

"They can lock my body up but they can't cage my mind. I'm still free. Just cause you're locked up don't mean you can't be free." More

Lexie’s Books

"It is the essence of transformation, the protean nature of our imagination and expressions that compel us to write, to rant and rave and strive to be heard." More

Time Reversal Invariance

"It used to be that physicists  / thought the world might run / the same forward as in reverse: / that is to say, we had no means / to know which… More

My Penal Vacation

"I caught the elderly lady looking toward the bus stop a few times, probably disappointed at the loss of a customer. Count your blessings lady, I think to myself.… More

The Named and the Nameless

"I had never known Vince very well. He was of my father's generation, and during the sixties and seventies that was reason enough for me to maintain a respectful… More

Limp Gray Fur

"I am neurotically productive, reading, studying, writing, exercising – doing something at all times, anything except nothing." More