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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

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

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

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