Alex Friedmann was awarded 1st Place in Drama 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.


Act I of XX

Announcer (always offstage; during action below): “An estimated 55,000 to 62,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement, based on incomplete data, in local jails, state and federal prisons, ICE detention centers, juvenile facilities and other places of imprisonment in the United States. Over 10,000 are in Florida alone, according to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and around 3,000 are in Michigan according to a February 2021 report by Citizens for Prison Reform. Solitary goes by many names, including segregated confinement, restricted housing, administrative segregation or ad seg, and punitive or disciplinary segregation. Seg units are called Secure Housing Units, or SHUs (pronounced ‘shoes’), Special Management Units, or SMUs, or maximum security or supermax units. They all share similar conditions, such as keeping prisoners locked in their cells 22 to 24 hours a day, for time periods ranging from a few days to decades. Leon is one such prisoner, as he enters solitary confinement on Day 1.”

Action: (during announcer dialogue) – Cell door opens and Leon enters the cell with hands cuffed behind his back; Guards 1 and 2 can be seen behind him in the doorway. They shut the door with a loud metallic clang. Leon stands to the left of the door, in profile to audience. The food slot in the door opens, and Leon backs up to it, to have the cuffs removed. Once the cuffs are off, Leon rubs his wrists and moves to the center of the cell, as food slot cover slams shut. He looks around the cell, under the table and bunk, then flushes the toilet (flushing sound). Note—a dummy button on the side of the toilet/sink is used to “flush” the commode. Leon picks up the blanket, puts it on the table, then unfolds the sheet and spreads it over the mattress. He lifts up one end of the mattress and ties two corners of the sheet behind it in a knot, then does the same to the other end. He picks up the blanked and spreads it over the bed, tucks in the edges, and lies down on the bunk, feet towards the audience, hands behind his head, looking upwards.

[After announcer and action are done, stage lights off].

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.