Breathe into the Ground: 2020 Prison Writing Awards Anthology

Breathe into the Ground book cover

The 2020 anthology, titled Breathe into the Ground, is an impressive collection of poetry, nonfiction, and drama from incarcerated writers in the United States. This year, we include personal letters from the writers about their experience during the pandemic, and we introduce the PEN America/L’Engle-Rahman Award in Mentorship with moving letters from our mentorship pairs. Also included is original artwork accompanying pieces provided by incarcerated artists through the Justice Arts Coalition.


Praise for Breathe Into the Ground

“There is so much longing and humanity coursing through this collection, and also artistry. The voices in it will stay with me.”
—Emily Bazelon
Author of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration

“I am so thankful for the writing and visual art in this anthology. The reverence and meditations on making a life under austere, punitive conditions are astounding. In verse and visuals, these writers and artists bring to fore the power of creativity for our very survival. Collectively, these works propel us all forward to imagine a society beyond bars.”
—Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood
Author of
Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration

“This anthology is a testament to the human body and it’s resilience, even when caged. Much more than a collection of pains and grievances, Breathe Into The Ground reaches from behind the highest fences toward something we might call freedom. As our institutions are being stress-tested, we would be wise to turn to these writers and find out how they’ve still managed to hand us diamonds when the pressure felt unbearable. Read this book and take survival notes, for they are on every page.”
—Justin Rovillos Monson
PEN America Writing For Justice Fellow

“What I love most about this anthology is the range of voices inside of it. The work in this remarkable collection rejects the flat, two-dimensional renderings often imposed upon those incarcerated. No two works are the same. It is expansive, it is breathtaking, it is brilliant. This anthology is essential reading both as a collection of literature, and as a reminder that those who are incarcerated have so much to tell us. Now it is up to us to listen.”
—Clint Smith
Author of
How the Word Is Passed: A Journey Across the Country that Black America Built