Julian Blanchard was awarded the Fielding Dawson Prize 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.


He was in his thirties and looked like a grizzly bear with a clean-shaven face and a modified mohawk. Kenny had people eating dreams out of his hand and licking up the crumbs. Forgive me for this latest outburst of unfavorable judgment, but there was nothing you could mention—from wineries to water parks—without Kenny spinning what had to be a phony tale about how he used to own one of those.

Kenny claimed to have grown up poor and he was highly adept at peppering his speech with Black slang. He connected unusually well with Black men, as well as with Latinx inmates. You’ve never seen such unquestioning approval lavished upon a white-collar offender by such a vast array of mostly drug-trafficking tough guys. People dropped into our room for an interminable series of shouted discussions about cryptocurrencies and all kinds of investments.

These men were not readers, and talk was their thing. They were not enthusiastic about working for others. They craved not just houses, but mansions; not just average-sized motorboats, but multimillion-dollar yachts. And all of this had to be theirs with a minimal expenditure of effort.

I made a point to slap on headphones and tune into a jazz station or NPR whenever Kenny held court; I didn’t want to know anything about inmates’ business activities, which—in many cases—were likely to be questionable.

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.