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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

The PEN America Writing For Justice Fellowship will commission six writers—emerging or established—to create written works of lasting merit that illuminate critical issues related to mass incarceration and catalyze public debate. Applications open on April 15. Learn more »

 

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

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

Sessions

Fine, I saw all that, and I saw…sweat. Dying sweat on a forehead, rage sweat coming down a face, scared sweat above a lip. You know what I think?… More

Death by Dominoes

The maximum-security prison was a depraved place, a hermetic kingdom of the damned, haunted by its own terrible spirit. It was a hulking brute of a building, stout as… More

Conviction

Ben didn’t know his way out, so I’ve had to show him. And I couldn’t have done it without your help. For that, I’m not going to kill you. More

Appeals from the Senseless

I’ll flood the courts with my appeals. / I’ll complain about my prison meals. // Here’s another thing I refuse to see. / The courts are slow because of… More

People I Know

They are girls in buffalo stances, / that dance for men they hate, / who even sometimes hate themselves, / but still paint the pain on in the morning… More

Prison Diary

How can I communicate what it is like to get arrested when you have one four month old daughter and a second daughter on the way, and then be… More

Of Ash and Bone

Even the legend of the two self-garroters varied according to the storyteller. In some versions the men were star-crossed lovers who died tragically, side by side. In others the… More

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