Prison Writing

Founded in 1971, the PEN Prison Writing Program believes in the restorative, rehabilitative power of writing and provides hundreds of imprisoned writers across the country with skilled writing teachers and audiences for their work. It provides a place for these writers 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 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. You may also request or purchase one on behalf of an incarcerated person.

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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. 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 incarcerated writers, 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 Destitute

The / ceiling hovers like a heavy mist, / dark and putrid, thick and barbed, / chocking any head held high. More

Chessman’s Lunch

I poke at my salad, / sip water from a plastic cup / my corner fiefdom overrun now by strangers / a compromised rook / removed from the board More

Probe

Ah ... the cost and rewards of imperialism. I get a better return on a two-dollar trout fly. More

Bleak Housing & Black Americans

The United States seems not merely to tolerate but actually to revel in inflicting barbaric human degradation upon prisoners—not just for months or years, but for decades and lifetimes... More

Jail Play

Here you go Frankie. Back again none too soon. Couldn’t resist coming back could you? Is it my smile? Or my size that keeps you coming back to jail?… More

Examination

For a long time I wished someone would break my nose, but nobody has ever had the guts, or, more likely, the time to do it. After a while… More

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