Rahsaan “New York” Thomas was awarded 2nd Place 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.


The Blacks are putting the cards back into boxes. The Ese stop working out. The TV cuts off. The Whites are packing up the chess pieces midgame. Then they rise and head for the hallway where our cells are located, just to the left of the dayroom. I peek at the clock on the wall and see we still have an hour before count time. I’ve been in this county jail two weeks and have never seen this pattern before. Whatever it is, obviously I have to go back to my cell too.

I get up and follow the crowd. Without a chance to shower, the Hispanic guys go into their open cells, as does everyone else. I reach cell 14, where I am housed, and see the door is closed. I look around. The other cells are still open. I stand in front of the sliding metal door to cell 14 and observe everyone else being locked in. I shrug my shoulders and wait for a deputy to open my gate.

A tall deputy, middle-aged, red hair and beard, with a slim build hosting a pot belly bulging against a tight uniform shirt, approaches. He’s saying something. I shake my head because I don’t understand him.

I sign, “I’m deaf,” using American Sign Language. His mouth opens wide and closes fast while he points at me aggressively. This motherfucker is yelling at me.

I yell back with my hands, hitting the signs slower but harder, like maybe he’ll understand me.

The deputy points his flashlight at my face and turns the beam on.

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.