Thomas Bartlett Whitaker was awarded an Honorable Mention in Fiction in the 2022 Prison Writing Contest.

Every year, hundreds of imprisoned people from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population.


“This hot?” lronwood asked, nodding towards the diminutive package.

“Not even a little bit. Message only, encoded. You get jammed up, give it up.”

“Okay. I may have something I need your help on next week. Won’t know for a few more days.”

“I’ll be here,” Marlow lied.

“Later, then,” he replied, then paused, turning back. He gave Marlow a lengthy inspection, his head tilted slightly to one side.

Marlow jammed down on his kill switch, voiding his features of all affect. “What?”

“No… it’s nothing,” Ironwood responded at last. “It’s just that you were smiling. Don’t think I’ve ever seen you do that before.”

“Get out of here,” Marlow waved dismissively, turning back to his bunk so the other man couldn’t see his face.

“No, seriously. You’re like exuding all kinds of happiness or some shit.”

Marlow lifted an arm and sniffed it. “Must be this new soap. Got to go back to the old stuff that put out only misery and loathing.”

“Come to find out Licky gave up the booty last night,” Ironwood said, elevating his voice as he reached in to tap the sleeping man’s head.

Marlow grimaced. “And here I was, having such a nice morning.”

To finish reading this, as well as the works of all other contributors, purchase Variations on an Undisclosed Location: 2022 Prison Writing Awards Anthology here.