Torlando McDonald was awarded the Dawson Prize in Poetry in the 2017 Prison Writing Contest. McDonald is currently incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois.

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. On November 28, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading, Breakout: Voices from the Inside. Participants including 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award-winner Lisa Ko and 2010 National Book Award-winner Terrance Hayes will read from the prize-winning manuscripts.


Run Chile Run

I don’t like this place-
Locks on the cabinets-
And cable cords strapped around da refrigerator’s waist-
She doesn’t like my face-
Even, when Im working fast enough-
She doesn’t like my pace-
She doesn’t like me-
Why doesn’t she like me-
The other kid’s candy bar is bigger than mine-
And she treats them politely-
          Why me-
Sometimes, I’d wished I was white-
Or just inside a different body-
Long tube socks, big glasses, and an afro-
In the mind of Spike Lee-
My tenth foster home-
And DCFs still haven’t tracked down my Mommy-
Where is my Mommy-
She’s (the lady) pushing me to run away-
If she keeps hurting me-
Sometimes, I feel invisible-
Until I see her-
          I walk with my head down-
And eat, quietly-
I fight off the other kids-
And even, they tease me-
No matter what I say-
The caseworker won’t believe me-
She says-
I’ve got lucky-
And that Im gaining weight-
And this is a nice family-
Suicidal thoughts crossed my mind-
No one would listen to my sorrow-
She has one more time-
Before Im pushed to run away tomorrow-
And one more time-
Was one more word-
Was all I heard-
Before I jumped out of the window-
(Run Chile Run)