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

The Centaur’s Son

As I lay in my crib, sleeping only three crow miles away in another small sandstone farmhouse was a 15-year-old boy who was dreaming of graduating from high school… More

Consensus of Death

“Hey, Captain Dixon, can you get me a television?” It sounded like Tony. “Sure,” he said, “they’re installing televisions for all of you.” “Really?” John asked. “Fuck no!” he answered. More

Dark Corners

As I sat alone at a picnic table eating lunch prepared by a woman in the congregation—chips, BBQ, chicken, corn on the cob, spaghetti, and cake—I was visited by… More

The Colfax Crew

There's no sexy way to say it. There's no way to sprinkle magic dust over the truth to make it disappear. No matter how much time passes between then… More

Tears of Blood

Tiffanee likes when I tell her stories; she says it allows her mind to escape the prison of poverty, letting her thoughts run free from this five-by-five-foot tunnel. Far… More

Symmetry Gates

Under the very best of circumstances, it’s hard to get a solid night’s sleep in prison. For one thing, your mattress is only half an inch thick. Then there’s… More

The Summer I Lost My Innocence

She was alive. I could see the covers move over her shoulder just a little bit. The morning light creeping through the sheer curtains at an odd angle across… More

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