Kevin Schaeffer was awarded an Honorable Mention 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.


“Furcate,” I recite. “To divide into branches.”

Ah, crud. Try reading Jess’s face next—but there’s no comprehension to be found. Just sincere and unwitting hope.

Could he really not get it? After all those stories of two-sided infidelities, run-ins with the law? That month he spent beneath the overpass after pawning her dog for beer money? All the frying-pan bruisers she gave him? Or that last time he stumbled home and passed out on the lawn chair, and Pony cut off all his hair? (This being the event, as Jess saw it, which led to his Samson-like downfall and present legal woes.)

Start to spell it out for them: “Bi, meaning two…so bifurcate, or bifurcation, would mean…”


“The division into…two branches,” looking around at all the dumb stares. “Anyone with me?” Knowledge is a curse—don’t let anyone tell you different. Especially in a place like this.

Anyway, they say the cost of any action should be weighed against its intentions, so there’s that. And those guys all know I was the only one in school for a lousy business associate’s. How was I to know, in a strictly legal sense, “bifurcation” really had nothing in particular with divorce? That it just meant the judge had divided his lawsuit against the Cozy Can & Cushion Co. into liability and damages proceedings?

“Dang, man,” is all I manage. “Your old lady, she’s…leaving you.”

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.