Daniel Pirkel was awarded an Honorable Mention in Nonfiction Essay 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.


On September 14, 2021, my brother Josh killed himself at about 5:15 in the morning. Only 31 years old, Josh had spent his life looking for positive social relationships, and found mostly rejection. Despite exacerbating his mental health issues when I was a boy, more recently, I was one of the few people who helped him cope with his schizophrenia. However, my incarceration, with its severe length and conditions, hindered our relationship, contributing to my brother’s tragedy.

While the loss of social connections is a natural result of a prisoner’s removal from society, American correctional systems have adopted unnecessary policies that stifle relationships. For instance, many states house inmates hundreds of miles away from home. While sometimes necessary depending on a department of correction’s infrastructure or a prisoner’s security level, officials often refuse to consider a prisoner’s social needs when closing old facilities, opening new ones, or transferring prisoners.

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.