Geneva Phillips was awarded 3rd Place in Nonfiction Memoir 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.


There is an exaggerated metallic thunking, the air-hiss of the heavy gauge locks. I wake as the door shaped slice of fluorescence swings wide, revealing a vaguely humanoid blob punctuating the blinding brightness.

The voice of command sounds, “Phillips! Pack up; you’re going to Eddie Warrior. Be downstairs before the 5:30 count.”

I automatically squash the resentful, anti-authoritative default setting and all the unwise responses it elicits. I watch silently as the door swings abruptly closed, with a much softer and less permanent click.

I feel the deep and sudden dread of irrevocable change sweeping over me. I look at the cheap clock radio, red number glaring at me like I am glaring at it. 3:00? Two hours, give or take, to sort through, pack up and discard all I can’t take with me. The last seven years come down to this moment. I can’t stop it any more than I could stop stepping off the prison bus in the first place. Any more than I can stop discharging in another seven years. This is, actually, one of the hardest parts of prison, a part that persists unrevealed to the world at large. It is rarely ever, if ever, discussed among inmates themselves.

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.