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

Labels Break Me

He grows and he grows and still dreams of space. But along come friends to show him how to get there. A little plastic bag no bigger then his… More

Music

I crave / to look at my life / and retrace the past / which floats before / me like ghost music More

Inferno

You can scream, you can holla, you can yell, you can shout! / It won’t change a thing, they not letting us out. More

Sedimentary

Years before we moved into the little white house / on the hill a road construction crew sliced off / the hillside edge to make way for the highway… More

Yonder

Some of the travelers around the square blinked away from gazing at the dreamily whitening and reddening coals, and looked up at Auntie. She defied every stare, until their… More

Come Break Me Down

I try to envision hanging myself from a locker that is shorter than I am. It seems impossible even in my head, despite any amount of dedication. I decide… More

Desert World

Being the queen can be the most lonely job in the world sometimes and Carmelious was the closest person to her. Sending him out here most have been very… More

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