Ryan M. Moser was awarded 3rd 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.


Eight years in the penitentiary will make a man as hard as steel and turn him into a stone wall that can’t be broken through, but when I heard my boy call me dad for the first time since he was a toddler—I choked up. “Yeah…yeah…you can. It ain’t gonna be a 2020 model though…you get a shitkicker just like me and all my friends started out with.”

The next several days were hard; Ma was needy and filled with animus, asking the same questions every day. Dylan was moody and combative after school, never telling me anything about his day or his life. It was like the moment we’d had was gone; or maybe he was just being a bratty teenager. We did have something to agree over each night in the living room—we’d make fun of people on TV while Ma scolded us from her worn recliner. And we both hated Mojo.

“You boys be nicer to people, you never know who you meet that might be an angel.”

“Okay, Ma.”

Against my will, I learned how to administer medication, tutor algebra, research a mysterious disease, talk shit to a gray parrot, comfort the woman who’d comforted me for so many years, explain my past to my child while feeling ashamed, apologize more than I ever had before, and ask for help for maybe the first time in my life.

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.