Karol House was awarded First Place in Poetry in the 2017 Prison Writing Contest. House is currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility.

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 November 28, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading, Breakout: Voices from the Inside. Participants including 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award-winner Lisa Ko and 2010 National Book Award-winner Terrance Hayes will read from the prize-winning manuscripts.


This is Where

I’m from Bineshi’s bloodline.
That’s Bill Baker if you don’t speak Ojibwemowin1.
          Ni migizi dodem2.

I’m from sitting on green boxes on
6-mile corner, watching cars go by.
Sometimes their four doors didn’t match.

I’m from Packer games on Sundays, Greyhound trips for the
holidays, and Easter baskets with Karla.

I’m from women with the same last name and a father
          none of us knew.

I’m from the woods; northern.
Where pines and birch bark blanket
both bends of tribal roads,
          paved and gravel.

I’m from a single-parent household.
Michael Jackson cassette tapes, Purple Rain posters, and latchkey kids.
I’m from Title V programs. Commods on pantry shelves,
          cucumbers grown in
grandpa Jake’s garden, and a
          mean ol’ dog named Turkey.

I’m from “crying won’t change anything” and you
          “should’ve known better.”

I’m from where silence is normal and
Hugs are warm and forced Catholicism still
weighs heavy on my mother’s shoulders.
          At 73—the burden has lightened.

This is where I’ll always return.

1.Ojibwemowin: Ojibwe language.

2.Ni migizi dodem: I am eagle clan.